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Bossier Parish mayors gather to talk priorities, challenges and future

The Bossier Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of Bossier Address at the Hilton Garden Inn Thursday, April 19. (Courtesy of Bossier Chamber of Commerce)

Bossier Parish’s leaders gathered together Thursday to discuss their priorities, challenges, and hopes for the future.

The Bossier Chamber of Commerce’s State of Bossier Address at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bossier City hosted Bossier Parish Police Jury President Glenn Benton, Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker, Benton Mayor Shelly Horton, Jr., Haughton Mayor Jack Hicks, and Plain Dealing Mayor David Smith. The officials began with their top priorities for 2018.

Walker said his major priority is traffic congestion, adding they are addressing the problem with projects like adding Innovation Drive and Shed Road improvements.

“It has been a problem for several years and, unfortunately, is going to continue to be a problem. But a lot of parishes would die to have the problem we have.”

Hicks’ top priorities are infrastructure improvements in water and sewer, police protection, and business development like the $4 million Duckwater Services business development announced earlier Thursday morning.

Horton said his top priority is completion of the town’s street improvement projects that started in 2015. So far, Horton said 50 precent of roads have been improved and their current project that is due to finish this year will bring the total up to 75 percent.

Smith noted that jobs are his No. 1 priority, adding, “We have an industrial park in our town with 27 acres and we’re looking for the right fit.”

Benton said the police jury is focused on infrastructure, explaining, “The growth has made it hard for our infrastructure to keep up with.”

He went on to say that it’s also their biggest challenge, noting that the parish has seen a population increase of nearly 29,000 since 2000.

“It’s good to have, but we have to have the infrastructure — we have to build roads, get them water and sewer,” said Benton. “People are moving out into rural areas and we have to get quality roads and recreational facilities”

It was a common refrain from the mayors with Hicks saying infrastructure is also a challenge for Haughton, joking, “We’re not like Bossier — we don’t have any money to throw around.”

Walker said Bossier City’s challenges are caused by their success. He explained that they have greatly reduced the number of city employees and it has created a challenge in supplying services to a growing population.

“On any given day, we’re operating Bossier City with 260 fewer people than when we were a smaller city. It’s a good problem to have, but we have to work hard to supply those services that make Bossier City a great place to live,” Walker said.

Horton said attracting businesses to Benton is a challenge.

“We have inquires all the time, probably daily. Our commercial property cost is so expensive it doesn’t encourage a business to move to our town. But we get inquiries and try to help them.”

Smith said funding is his major challenge.

“Our governor is always talking about how economically challenged the state is. Little towns like ours, we live by grants to help fund projects,” he said. “Our tax is 8.57 mills and that money is pretty stretched out.”

Looking ahead, Walker believes that there will be a larger presence of Louisiana Tech in regards to cyber-related activities and that Barksdale’s nuclear mission will continue to grow.

Hicks said that all the growth in Bossier City will continue to help his city, adding, “With anything happening to Bossier City or Barksdale, it affects us.”

Horton also looked forward to growth in population and attractions for them, forecasting, “The Burt Boulevard corridor is doing really well. I see more development in the industrial park and the expansion of our city park and sports complex.”

Smith said Plain Dealing is anticipating the completion of I-49, saying, “That will put us in a favorable condition for industry to come. We can be a north-south corridor for Arkansas and Louisiana.”

The event’s guest speaker Doug White, center for business and economic research at LSU Shreveport, shared stats that painted a picture for how the economy has performed recently.

White said the past few years have been “rough” but trends show there is cause for more optimism about the future. His stats showed that Bossier Parish itself had outperformed the Shreveport-Bossier metropolitan statical area (MSA) — which includes Caddo, Bossier, Webster, and De Soto Parishes — although the area’s trend persisted.

“2015-16 were rough, but we seem to have turned the corner,” White commented.

He noted that the yearly average of unemployment in 2014 peaked at 7.1 percent and had dropped to 5.9 in 2017.

“Unemployment declines because you can have people quit looking for jobs and drop out of the labor force…or you can actually have people find jobs. I’m happy to report that we’re seeing that second case,” White said.

Bossier Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lisa Johnson added, “We’re basically at full employment. If you own a business and are having trouble finding qualified workers, this might be why.”

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Sean Green is managing editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune.