SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, along with several city officials, addressed the city Saturday in a State of the City address to discuss infrastructure, crime rates, education, economic development, and more.
This address is the first of its kind in recent history. It comes after concerns over crime and economic development have increased in the area. Perkins and several other officials addressed developments planned for the city and Caddo Parish in a pre-recorded address. They also highlighted successes within their organizations and in Shreveport. Many of these issues are related to rising concerns over increases in crime, trouble in schools, city infrastructure problems, and lack of opportunities and economic development.
“Good evening, my fellow Shreveport Citizens. I stand here before the Bakowski bridge of lights. The reigniting of lights after many years will serve as a symbol of re-emergence and hope in our community. We have been through a lot, but I’m happy to report in the first state of the city in recent history that we have not only survived, we have thrived,” Perkins said.
According to Perkins, the economy is the strongest and most fiscally healthy than in decades, and the city is utilizing new technologies. He says the unemployment rate has dropped below pre-pandemic levels to 4.6%. In his address, he stated the sales tax receipts are the highest they have been in the city’s history. The city has built up an operating reserve of $34 million as of Jan. 1.
The mayor directly addressed some of the challenges the city has faced in the last two years. The pandemic caused 965 deaths and many business closures. The nationwide supply chain struggles and labor market issues are also affecting Shreveport, as the economy continues to feel the after-effects of COVID. He also said that deficits in city services and maintenance, retirement contributions, and rising labor and health care costs continue to be challenges for the city. The bond proposal put forward hopes to address many of those issues.
A 10% pay raise is proposed for the 2022 budget. The 2021 bond proposal would give police a new headquarters and renovate fire stations. After the freeze last winter that shut off water to much of the city, the mayor says the proposal would invest $64.7 million in upgrading the water and sewer systems above federal requirements.
The city’s first Chief Technology Officer, Keith Hansen, and his team created Text Box to address wait times for water and sewer customers. The city has also developed a new app to report illegal dumping and areas where bulk pickup or city maintenance are needed. Perkins mentioned the Real-Time Crime Center was built ahead of schedule and under budget and was recognized nationally.
CEO of the North Louisiana Economic Partnership Justin Dixon also participated in the address, discussing developments that will bring more job opportunities to Shreveport. He says they anticipate the Amazon fulfillment center under construction should be completed in 2022 and will bring 1,000 jobs to the area. Perkins says that it will also bring another 1,000 indirect jobs and 800 construction jobs.
Dixon said their work with Hunt Forest Products will bring another 130 jobs to the local forestry industry. Future development and new jobs are coming, he says.
Caddo Schools Superintendent Dr. T. Lamar Goree joined the address, stating, “This year, we’ve achieved an all-time high graduation rate.” He says that the district leads the region in perfect scores on the ACT and 17 Caddo students are semifinalists for the National Merit Scholarship.
Dr. Goree said the Caddo Parish School Board approved the Big Dreams Start Here Plan, giving students and staff more access to mental health resources and technology. The plan is estimated to be implemented over three years. He also said the school has been working with healthcare officials to stay open for in-person classes.
Perkins said future generations will be needed in trades and STEM as the population ages and loses more people in those professions. There will also be a continued need for healthcare workers to care for the aging population.
President of the Caddo Parish Commission Lyndon B. Johnson said the parish continues to work with local officials to provide community services in response to COVID-19, including vaccine clinics and mobile testing sites. He says that no parish services were interrupted. They provided more than $21.6 million in rental assistance through the Emergency Rental Assistance Program in partnership with federal, state, and local partners.
Johnson said the American Rescue Plan Act will give the parish $46.6 million over the next two years. The money is designated to help with COVID response, economic recovery, and improvement to water, sewer, and broadband services. Recent infrastructure improvements include repairs to 60 roads and bridges and upgrades to security cameras, parks, electrical, and plumbing systems.
Nearly $200 million in projects are pending or have been announced for the downtown area, according to Mayor Perkins. He says that another $300 million in projects are planned for areas nearby to revitalize the area.
In response to recent crimes, they worked with the school board and city officials on Shreveport’s new curfew law. This law is an attempt to curb gang and gun violence incidents and truancy in the city. Perkins said, “I must say that we are not content or satisfied with the current state of public safety in our city, and we never will be.” In the last two years, Shreveport went from a 40 year low in violent crime to record murders.
There are also plans to replace the Walter P. Jacobs Nature Park Center. The project will be part of the American Rescue Plan and is estimated to cost $10 million. The new center is expected to host over 80,000 visitors a year and be the only facility of this kind in the state.