A Look at Bossier City’s Taxes and Expenditures
As noted in my first column of the new year, this appears a good time to review how our local governments are financed. While a reader’s comments on a past column is the primary motivation for this review, timing is also a good reason – the Bossier City Council and Mayor elections are in May.
The Bossier Parish School Board will be asking voters to approve two property tax renewals this fall. It’s also possible that a Cypress Black Bayou millage renewal will be before voters in 2013.
First up: Bossier City.
A visit with City Finance Director Joe Buffington for a tutorial on how the city is financed should probably be divided into a couple of visits or “classes.”
While many may believe all revenues to the city are tossed into a big pot for distribution to fund various city functions such as public safety and transportation – the reality is a voter authorized revenue stream that pays for very specific city functions.
Buffington’s sales tax election history of the city’s five half-cent sales taxes starts with the “original” city sales tax of one cent approved by voters in 1963.
One-half cent was dedicated to the maintenance of the city’s Fire and Police Departments; the other one-half cent was dedicated to purchasing land and related items to build Bossier Medical Center. In 1978 Bossier City voters approved a re-dedication of the hospital half-cent to debt service, and then the balance for capital items.
In 1982, voters approved another one-half cent sales tax dedicated to payment of the city’s fire and police pension funds followed by salaries for all city employees. Buffington said that the city’s police and fire pension fund (not to be confused with the state’s public safety retirement systems) should be fully funded by 2017-18.
The fourth half-cent sales tax was approved by voters in 1987 for the Red River (ART) Parkway and capital improvements. It was rededicated in 2002 for debt service, and then funding fire, police and other city departments.
Finally, in 1991, voters approved a half-cent sales tax for the city jail, fire stations, streets and drainage, and salaries other than for fire and police.
Additionally, the city collects three property taxes approved by voters, and a fourth, at 5.57 mills, is authorized in perpetuity by the state for general operations of the city. The three voter authorized property taxes are an 8.45 mill and 2.75 mill levy renewed by voters in 2004 and up for renewal again in 2015, and a 5.98 mill levy renewed in 2010 and up for renewal in 2020. These three millages are all dedicated to fire and police operations and salaries.
Bossier City property tax payers may want to take note of two fairly important points here: property tax millages have been rolled back to their lowest ever and the majority of property taxes collected are from businesses – not homeowners.
The city’s Department of Public Utilities – water and sewerage – is funded by a rate-based revenue stream. According to the Bossier City Charter, the utilities are to be “… managed together as nearly as possible as a single self-supporting business enterprise.” As such, both maintenance of and improvements to the system rely on rates paid to users of the system.
Riverboat gaming revenues to the city average about $11 million annually in revenues to the city and are used to pay debt service and fund capital improvements. The city’s 2007 transportation improvement bond (a host of road and traffic projects to lengthy to detail here) is funded in part by gaming revenues. Buffington also noted that increases in utility rates to fund the current massive improvements to the system were kept to a minimum through the use of a low interest state DEQ loan, and dedication of some riverboat revenue to the 2010 utility bond repayment.
The very specific purposes for hotel/motel tax revenues include downtown and riverfront development, along with funding any deficits in the Civic Center and CenturyLink Arena budgets. Finally, fees collected for permits and inspections in the Engineering Department go into the general fund, as do fees collected Parks and Recreation Department to help pay for these departments.
City utilities – water and sewer service, and maintenance and improvements to the system – are rate-payer funded, as directed by the Bossier City Charter. Sanitation (garbage pickup) is also funded by the users of the service. And the city’s Emergency Medical Service is funded by a monthly fee on utility bills.
The foregoing generally accounts for the city’s revenue stream. From the revenue projections based on the foregoing, a spending plan is developed and the annual budget evolves.
A copy of the budget can be obtained by contacting one’s council member or the mayor’s office. In the meantime, for those who might disagree with how the city is financed, please keep in mind that in largest part, we, the citizens approved this plan at the ballot box – and more than once.