By Angel Albring | BIZ Magazine
While 2020 “was a year of trials and tribulations,” according to Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, it was also a year of many firsts and some surprising growth for the city of Shreveport.
In a year-end annual report issued by the mayor’s office, Perkins outlines the ways his administration stuck to his campaign promises of “public safety, economic development, and technology.”
In the statement, the mayor said that Shreveport has “had over 18,000 COVID cases and lost more than 520 lives. COVID-19 has robbed us of family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. It has threatened our livelihoods and forced local businesses to close their doors.”
Despite these obstacles, Perkins said that Shreveport “has made significant progress on several fronts” and the city led the nation for several firsts.
One of those was geolocating COVID-19 cases to track the spread of it within the community.
“This information was used to direct resources and target messaging—an approach that saved lives and was featured on the Washington Post’s front page,” Perkins said.
The city’s communications department initiated an aggressive public safety messaging campaign that included PSAs aired on local stations, press conferences, interviews, printed materials, celebrity cameos, and daily social media posts about viral spread and the best practices during the pandemic.
Shreveport continues to partner with LSU Health Shreveport to provide COVID testing at SPAR facilities. The City distributed 90,000 washable masks at 10 locations to residents, and Mayor Perkins was an early advocate for masks. Shreveport was one of Louisiana’s first municipalities to issue a mask mandate and mask usage remains a consistent feature of the City’s COVID-19 messaging.
Beyond health concerns, the Mayor said that he started his term with a $1.2 million budget deficit and “the economic crisis resulting from the pandemic threatened to worsen the City’s fiscal outlook.”
However, the mayor said that CAO Henry Whitehorn and CFO Sherricka Fields Jones “successfully mitigated a $23 million projected budget shortfall. The City of Shreveport posted an excess fund balance for 2020 and a projected Operating Reserve balance of $24.5 million for the 2021 fiscal year, the highest in over two decades.”
In addition to that, Shreveport maintained a clean financial audit and the number of external audit findings fell from 27 in 2018 to 7 in 2019. Perkins said all of those findings are either now resolved or are being monitored.
“We also established a Chief Financial Officer position to realize my administration’s financial priorities, improve long-term fiscal planning, and help us continue to improve the City’s financial outlook,” Perkins said.
This improved financial outlook enabled the city to make investments in public safety.
“We implemented a six percent raise for police officers and firefighters (four percent plus annual two percent longevity). We also budgeted for vehicle and equipment packages for each department. Together, these measures will help fully staff our police and fire departments and make our community safer,“Perkins said.
In the report, the mayor’s office said that major crimes were historically low in Shreveport for 2020, but acknowledged that the city followed the national trend of spikes in homicides and shootings. Shreveport suffered 75 homicides in 2020, which was a 74 percent increase from 2019.
“When added to the hundreds of COVID deaths we’ve endured, this is a heartbreaking and intolerable loss of life for one community to bear,” Perkins said. “Shreveport Police are working tirelessly alongside community partners to address this surge of senseless violence and make our community safer.”
Following George Floyd’s death, and the protests and demonstrations that followed, the Shreveport Police Department also worked to implement policy changes, with all officers receiving “additional training in cultural diversity and dealing with emotionally disturbed persons.”
Funding was acquired for officers to receive procedural justice training in 2021 and all uniformed officers will be equipped with body cameras in the near future.
Mayor Perkins also announced a Commission on Race “that aims to better race relations in Shreveport and identify measures that foster unity and greater understanding.”
In another first, Perkins said the city’s IT Department “scaled up our remote work capacity to maintain city services and keep employees safe during the pandemic.”
“When the pandemic shined a light on the digital divide’s disadvantages, IT devised an innovative, first-in-the nation approach to mapping the divide. They mounted WiFi detecting raspberry pis to trash trucks. Now, they are working to bridge that divide by bringing affordable internet into low-income neighborhoods,” Perkins said.
To aid in that endeavor, Shreveport was awarded a $200,000 grant from AEP SWEPCO to expand wireless internet access to residents from SPAR recreation center.
To help businesses that were impacted by the pandemic closures, the city partnered with the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce, the African-American Chamber of Commerce, SUSLA, and CoHab to create Shreve.Biz, a helpdesk for local businesses impacted by COVID-19.
Shreve.Biz contains information about the financial assistance available to businesses. It also has a volunteer team of banking, accounting, legal, and business professionals who offer free one-on-one counseling via phone or video to help business owners and managers understand and access SBA Disaster Loans, federal stimulus dollars, and private credit options.
The city also partnered with the Cities for Financial Empowerment and the United Way of Northwest Louisiana to launch the Shreveport Financial Empowerment Center (SFEC). The SFEC is the first in the State of Louisiana, offering free one-on-one financial counseling that helps people tackle debt, save money, establish and improve credit and find affordable banking options.
“This year was full of trials and tribulations, but I am proud of what we have accomplished for Shreveport citizens. I am honored to serve alongside such a talented and dedicated team of public servants. They adapted to unprecedented challenges and worked to manage the impact of COVID-19 on our community while maintaining the city services citizens depend upon,” Perkins said.
“We have made considerable progress over the past two years. In 2021, we will continue to manage the pandemic, but we will heavily invest in our recovery. We are going to build a safer, smarter, more prosperous future for Shreveport families.”