Family, friends, state and local elected officials honored Bossier Parish Administrator Bill Altimus Wednesday, December 15, in celebration of his years of service to Bossier Parish.
“It’s been quite a ride,” Bill Altimus said as he pondered his 25 years serving Bossier Parish, as a member of the parish police jury and as parish administrator. “Who would have thought in just twenty years we would be recognized as one of the most progressive and fastest growing areas in the state.”
Since 2002, Altimus has guided the parish from his administrator’s chair. During that time, he has played an integral part in helping the parish become an example of what establishing relationships with government and civic organizations (at all levels), teamwork and a “never say no” attitude can accomplish.
Now, Altimus says, it’s time to hand over the reins of leadership, and he will officially retire from service with Bossier Parish on December 31. He will be handing over a parish that went through some lean years on its way to becoming a positive example for others.
“I was appointed in 1997 and when I came on board, the police jury was filling potholes with dirt and clay,” he remembered. “If it rained, they’d go back and do it again. That’s all they could afford and they did the best they could.”
Over these 25 years, things have changed dramatically. In 1997, the police jury worked with a budget of just under $29 million and served a parish with 98,000 residents. At its last meeting, the police jury approved a 2022 budget totaling $183.7 million. And, the latest census figures show Bossier Parish is now home to just over 128,000 residents.
“There was no magic bullet that caused us to grow. It was a combination of forming relationships, looking ahead to recognize opportunities and being aggressive in economic development. Also, there was a continuity in leadership on many levels that contributed to much of the success we’ve had as a parish,” he said.
As the budgets grew over the years, Altimus said the Bossier Parish team set priorities that would meet the needs of current and future residents. And now, over the next two to three years, Bossier Parish will spend about $100 million on a variety of infrastructure projects that Altimus said will accommodate development and future growth. “We look at the growth patterns and comprehensive land use studies we already have,” he said.
“The areas that needed to be worked on in 2004 are where we’re working today. Our philosophy is to never begin by saying ‘no,’ but to try and move the ball forward. Maybe we can’t do all of something but we have to be ready because in this business, you never know when an opportunity will present itself.”
One such opportunity was the parish’s water and sewer system, an issue Altimus considers one of the most important during his term as administrator. The need for a parish-wide water and sewer system was first addressed in 1975, at a time when the police jury had no money for a project of that magnitude.
“A letter was written that outlined the importance and necessity of a public health system but at that time, the jury couldn’t tackle it. But today, here we are and it’s going to bring great rewards,” he said. “It’s a good thing to have water and sewer anywhere in the parish because where the system is, that’s where people are going to build and businesses are going to locate.”
While Bossier Parish has seen unprecedented growth, so has the police jury’s responsibilities. Under Altimus, new departments were created to accommodate the needs of parish residents. “When I first came on the jury we didn’t have an animal control department, no mosquito control, no Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit, no parks and recreation, no water and sewer. We didn’t have the money,” he said. “We recognized the needs and over time, we responded as we could.”
Altimus said the parish’s burgeoning parks and recreation system was the first big fix, and it was born from a phone call at a time when money was tight.
“We got a call from an oil and gas company about royalties they had been holding on a parcel of land. They said research showed the landowner was the police jury and that a check for half a million dollars would be coming to us,” he said. “That’s a lot of money today but back then, it was really a lot of money.”
Altimus approached the police jury with the idea that this one time windfall could be best spent on parks. With those non-recurring dollars, Tall Timbers Park was born and improvements were made at Lake Ivan, which the jury had a lease to operate. Money was spent on Parish Camp in south Bossier and from those investments, Bo Brandon Park and South Bossier Park later became realities.
“It was the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “We recognized an opportunity to do something that would improve the quality of life and now we have a department and a director. It was that initial half million that kicked it all off.”
Another major accomplishment during the Altimus years is the Cyber Innovation Center (CIC), which has helped attract other major companies to the campus on East Highway 80 in Bossier City.
“That has brought us 1,500 jobs and that number should keep growing,” he said. “These are good-paying jobs and those investments show how important the cyber industry is both to this area and to the nation.”
Bringing such a high-tech industry to Bossier Parish was the result of the cooperation of many agencies and organizations in the area, Altimus said. Many individuals worked tirelessly to achieve the goal of attracting CIC.
“Bossier City officials and many others played a key role in making the cyber center possible. And, the parish school system helped prove the importance of the education equation. This, much like anything else, shows how critical it is to establish relationships on all levels,” he said.
Another issue that has received much of his attention is the attempt to make broadband services available to all areas of the parish.
“Broadband service is absolutely necessary in so many ways today,” Altimus said. “Just a short time ago, who would have ever thought of having ZOOM meetings or requiring that students work from home because of a pandemic. The country and the world are connected, and service to all households is vital.”
Looking back, Altimus said his three-plus terms on the police jury helped make him a better administrator and also gave him the confidence to approach jury members with both opportunities and solutions to problems.
“It helps that police jury members have confidence in me because I’ve been there, done that,” he said. “I know there are many things they have to consider, but I also know that I have to be right about what I propose. There could be legal or financial or personnel ramifications, so we often consult with our staff. I trust their input.”
When Altimus leaves his office, he will also be stepping down from several boards and commissions on which he serves. Among others, he’s been a member of the board of Barksdale Forward and the Military Affairs Council, the Pine Country Foundation, the RECC Committee of 100 and the North Louisiana Council of Governments (NLCOG). And, he is a director for the Norwela Council Boy Scouts of America and will continue to serve as a commissioner for the Port of Caddo-Bossier.
“I hope to remain on a couple of these and I’ll always be available to serve on others if the need arises somewhere,” he said.
Retirement plans include travel, lots of time with his children and grandchildren and enjoying his hobbies in the “man cave.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve taken a real vacation,” he said. “The trips to Washington, D.C. or Baton Rouge or to a conference were like vacations to me. But I’ve still not been to a place where a phone couldn’t find me with a work-related problem. Those phone calls are something I won’t miss, but I’ll still be available if I’m needed.”
Altimus said one of the most important things that has helped make his job enjoyable is the people with whom he has worked. Over the years, he has used his management style and philosophy to put together a team that has shared many successes.
“It’s satisfying being part of a team that has accomplished so much. The staff and the police juries I’ve worked with are a second family. My management style has always been to find good people and let them do their jobs,” he said.
“My philosophy is if there’s a problem, we’ll solve it together,” Altimus said. “I’ve been fortunate to have very good people and jury members all these years. Every day I’ve come to work, I’ve tried to make it better than when the day started. I hope I’ve done that.”