Bossier Chamber hosts State of All Things Bossier webinar

Stacey Tinsley | BIZ. Magazine

The Bossier Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of All Things Bossier Thursday via Zoom.

This event was combined with the annual State of Education and State of Public Service.

The State of All Things Bossier featured a panel of speakers who gave an “annual report” for 2020 and an outlook for 2021.

Speakers included Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker, Bossier Parish Engineer Butch Ford, representing the Bossier Parish Police Jury, Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington and Bossier Parish Schools Superintendent Mitch Downey. 

Title sponsors of the event were Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, platinum sponsor Barksdale Federal Credit Union and diamond sponsor CHRISTUS Shreveport-Bossier Health.

Listed below are a few key points that each speaker spoke about:

Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker:

“I want to give you a rundown of some of the many great projects that the city council and my administration are working on currently,” said Walker.

—Walter O. Bigby Carriageway Phase 1: That is 80% complete and should be complete by mid-January of 2021.

—Walter O. Bigby Carriageway Phase 2: It is to bid in mid-December for a bid opening in January.

—Swan Lake Improvement: It’s a joint city and Bossier Parish project and it’s 85% complete. It will have some traffic signals at Innovation Drive. We estimate it will be done in December of this year.

—Innovation Drive: Was opened on the 23rd of last month and will help reduce the traffic in the North part of our city.

—License plate readers: We’re also installing some license plate readers in nine different locations within the city. This is not a law enforcement project. This is just a thing to be able to locate people, but not to enforce the law.

“I ask everybody to think about wearing a mask as we go into this very, very crucial part in our fight against this pandemic. It’s extremely important that we do that. Thank you to everybody who has been complying. I urge everybody to continue to do so,” said Walker.

Bossier Parish Engineer Butch Ford:

“With all the gloom and doom that you’ve heard across the country, things are well in Bossier Parish. The casino revenue of course has dropped, but our sales tax collections are up, which have offset their decline. In our Highway department alone this year, we are seeing a million dollars extra than what we budgeted for in 2019 for 2020. It’s kind of ironic that we are seeing upticks. Our building permits for home constructions are actually going to be greater than what they were in 2019,” Ford said.

“I believe that’s due to two things. We have good schools and we have a safe community. In the parish, thanks to our school system and our sheriff’s department. That’s what’s driving all these people moving into the parish,” he added.

—Haughton MPC: We believe Haughton is going to be the next big corridor for residential growth.

—Sales tax revenue: Vehicle sales are up and the Haynesville Shale. When we see an uptick in the Haynesville Shale, we always see sales tax revenues increase.

—New Businesses: We are seeing new businesses coming to Bossier. We have WK Palmetto about to finish up a facility. They have also bought land on Airline North of Swan Lake Road. We have new restaurants coming on Airline Drive. Dollar General is coming to Bellevue.

—Library system: The library system is doing well. They have plans to build a new central library. A $10 million dollar investment. We believe that is going out to bid sometime in the second quarter of 2021.

—Overlay Program: Will overlay 36 roads next year.

Bossier Parish Sheriff Julian Whittington:

“I guess it would be easier for me to say what hasn’t happened. Law enforcement is essential and can’t quit and go home. We have no choice but to go out there and maintain public safety. It’s a top priority for us,” said Whittington.

—Beginning of the year: 2020 started with a bang at the beginning of the year. In January, an F2 tornado hit the area. Three people unfortunately perished. Two of them were in-laws of one of our deputies. With all of the bad thing’s that happened, we got to experience and see a lot of neighbors jumping in and volunteering to help clean up, get supplies and do great things. 

—When COVID hit our area: We’ve been involved in everything from distributing masks to trying to enforce the governor’s rules. It’s been trying, as everyone is aware. 

—Hurricanes in September: Although we brace for them here. Fortunately, we weren’t hit that hard. But our neighbors in South Louisiana were not. We were able to send teams down there. Rotating shifts out 10 at a time for nearly five weeks. We were really proud of our efforts. 

—SRO program: Just can’t say enough about it. I just shudder to think if that were not here one day. I don’t think the people would allow it. It’s just so important. 

“We continue to keep public safety here in Bossier our number one priority. It’s all about safety. We know that low crime, great schools, growing infrastructure are all those things that add up to a great quality of life. And that’s what we have here in Bossier,” said Whittington.

Bossier Parish Schools Superintendent Mitch Downey:

“The vaccine hopefully will be here and available so that we can get back to what we knew nine months ago as normal. Some of the things that we are having to adhere to will lessen. That’s our hope and our desire. I think that in the next few weeks we will have a better idea of what kind of time frame we’re talking about as far as the vaccine being available to everybody,” said Downey.

—Impact on the Schools that took place in March: Our teachers, administrators, bus drivers, custodians, all had to shift to what I call a “new normal”. We were challenged with trying to pivot to virtual instruction when the governor’s order came out in March. We had to try to teach remotely. That challenged all of us. There were a lot of things that we had to do to try to make that possible. We have learned a great deal since then, and we’ve also been able to identify some of our deficiencies. This challenge has forced us to grow and learn. Probably at a rate that would have taken 10 years in a normal setting.

—Remote instruction: We were able to adjust with remote instruction. Even though we were able to adjust, we still have some connectivity issues. We are working with local, state, and national leaders to try to address those. We’ve all been made aware that probably internet services are essential services as far as water and sewer. 

—Meals for students: We were able to continue to provide much-needed meals for students during the spring and summer. We served over 180,000 meals from March-July. 

—Adjustment to new protocols: We had to adjust to a number of different protocols that were put in place by the LDH, the office of public health, and the Department of Education. We’re taking daily temperatures of every student that comes on campus. Masks are required for grades three and above. We have lessons daily on handwashing hygiene and social distancing. We’ve had to adjust on how our meals have been served. We’re not having mass assemblies and we restricted visitors to schools. 

“Our teachers have been amazing. They help with our sanitization of our schools on a daily basis. Along with the maintenance techs. Our food service people and bus drivers have been incredible. Everybody has taken an opportunity to do everything they can do to try to provide the safest environment possible for our students and our employees,” said Downey.

“The infection rate in Bossier Schools has been less than one half of one percent. Students are not contracting the virus at school,” he added.

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