Opinion: Budget item falls through coverage cracks

2094

A couple of Bossier City news stories reported last week during the morning news on the local station I watch left me wondering if a little more information about both issues might have distinguished what’s really “news” and what’s not.

The “news” that received the most coverage involved a CenturyLink Center audit that revealed a $200,000 annual deficit in the arena’s 2013 operations.  Also noted:  the arena experienced a deficit in 2012.

What was not noted was that this circumstance is fairly common for arena operations – meaning this isn’t big news at all.  In fact, Bossier City Finance Director Joe Buffington recalls that in the nine years he’s worked for the city, 2009 was the only year that the arena made money.  Moreover, the annual shortfall averages about a half million dollars a year, plus whatever the city might spend in capital improvements.

When CenturyLink was planned and constructed, extensive discussion by city leaders make it clear that an arena would add a major quality of life asset to the city and region, but that it was not expected to be fully self-supporting. But that’s where the hotel-motel tax revenues come in to balance the fund; these revenues are derived from visitors to our area – not taxpayer dollars.

News?  Not so much – or if it was meant to be, the subject deserved a good deal more research.

On the other hand, a short little “memo” during last Tuesday morning’s broadcast advised that a special Bossier City Council meeting later that day would include council action on a $122 million bond sale.

That was it.

But this story really was the news — and though it got no further coverage — the result of this council action means a nearly $1 million annual interest savings to the city’s utility capital fund every year for the next 24 years.

Here’s the “news” as supplied by At-large Council member David Montgomery.

“Originally (2008) this bond issue was to build a new water plant and refurbish the old plant, taking our capacity from roughly 20-22 million gallons a day to 50 million gallons a day, plus greatly improving the quality of the water … That made up probably $80 million – there were additional sewer improvements, both at the plants and the infrastructure, which made up the difference,” said Montgomery

Montgomery explained that with the continuing decline of interest rates in today’s market from the original issue in 2008, “…the city’s financial advisors are able to run market analysis periodically and when the market is right, interest rates are at a point when we can reap the savings … much like refinancing the mortgage on your house.  Your house note goes down.”

Montgomery said the city is essentially refinancing the water plant and the infrastructure improvements that started in 2008, “ …and in this case the refunding or refinancing allows the city to put $970 thousand back into the (utility) capital improvement fund that the city won’t be spending annually on interest.

And that, said Montgomery means that the city won’t have to look to citizens for future rate increases – although he did point out that last year’s rate increase was necessary to stay ahead of the curve to prevent the hugely expensive issues other cities have experienced when federal agencies start looking at the problems in their utility systems.

Montgomery said the city has also used this same strategy in other areas.  “We’ve done it with our transportation bond issues … which again puts money back into our coffers and we can use it again rather than pay interest to somebody else.”

This was a news story that certainly deserved more coverage.

Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at martycarlson1218@gmail.com