Cypress Black Bayou Board’s hard work pays off

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Just in time for the holidays, the Cypress Black Bayou Recreation and Water Conservation District’s board is demonstrating the results that a few months, lots of hard work and planning can provide to taxpayers – a little holiday gift, if you will.

The board’s December meeting was an opportunity to amend the 2013 budget and introduce next year’s spending plan. The last several months have been an opportunity for the board and interim executive director Robert Berry to review all aspects of the park’s costs, revenues and avenues to improvements.

Those improvements include staffing changes, a capital plan to improve the park’s infrastructure and develop a capital funding plan for future improvements. Already, this month a contract was awarded for rebuilding the handicapped pier, which has been closed since 2008. Construction of two new cabins is planned, and updating the facility’s water system to comply with the state Department of Health and Human Services is underway.

Additionally, one of the park’s boats is being rigged out to use for vegetation control to assist state efforts. And Berry will be trained after the first of the year to apply vegetation control to the lakes.

The board also discussed establishing a quarterly inspection system for park structures, which include the gates that drain the lakes, the spillways and the dams. These structures are 40 years old (average lifespan was said to be 40-50) years, so instituting such a system in critical to keeping these structures in good repair, or determining potential problems early.

The meeting also featured Nature Center Director Melissa Whittington’s report that a new map of the park’s trails will soon be available for hikers and nature lovers. Just a short drive through the park gives a view of much work done to refresh and clean up the facility – and the board has plans to do more.

One sticking point remains in the zoo operation, but the board is seriously working to resolve this feature’s drain on the budget.

Board members appear resolved to rein in zoo costs ($173,000 in 2013) by restoring the zoo to what voters approved in voting for the district’s millage in 2003 – a “Children’s Zoo.” As such, the board would not fund animals that aren’t indigenous to northwest Louisiana – nor would funding be provided for the Rehab Center.

The Rehab Center appears to have grown substantially under previous boards, and while it’s certainly available to treat zoo animals, it reportedly sees another 650-700 injured animals a year brought in by members of the public. The problem is that taxpayers are paying this tab and the volume simply increases year over year. And the non-indigenous animals – zebra, llama, emu, etc., are expensive to maintain.

These exotic animals and the Rehab Center were never a part of the original zoo plan, and funding for these additions was not based on any strategic plan of how to pay for them.

For now, the board is working with zoo supporters to decide how best to handle downsizing the zoo the board believes it should pay for – and allowing supporters to locate reliable funding sources for the exotics and the Rehab Center or moving the exotics and significantly downsizing the center to a vet clinic.

The point, however, is that board members are committed to controlling spending, planning responsible budgets that include capital funding for needed projects and upgrades, and to effectively shining up one of Bossier Parish’s real jewels.

That’s good holiday news.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at m_carlso@bellsouth.net