Our View: City’s goals dependent on variety of issues

Published 12:17 am Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bogalusa officials are conceptualizing the city’s future, and with the assistance of a government grant they will have the financial wherewithal to draft a comprehensive blueprint.

The city has received a $346,000 Comprehensive Planning Grant from the Office of Community Development Disaster Recovery Grant, which will cover land use planning, zoning and mapping.

A noble concept to be sure, but the lofty goal of whatever urban template is ultimately adopted relies on two key components that have been difficult to achieve in the short-term and will no doubt prove challenging in the future.

According to city officials the stated goal is ensure a stronger economy by preserving the current tax base and by creating an environment for it to grow.

Unfortunately, officials are currently saddled with a withering tax base, one that has been shrinking for decades. Not only has the population dramatically dwindled to approximately 12,000 residents, a once thriving downtown is littered with skeletons of shuttered door fronts and boarded windows.

The success of the first component, however, will be directly dependent on the second. Without creating a favorable environment for economic development the tax base will continue to diminish as residents, perhaps reluctantly, continue the exodus to find employment elsewhere to provide for their families.

Creating the desired favorable landscape as envisioned by city officials encompasses key elements such as crime and public education, two areas in which Bogalusa has lagged. Police have been diligent in their efforts to battle a burgeoning crime problem and are receiving additional assistance from Sheriff Randy Seal, who has adopted a no-nonsense approach to law enforcement in his first nine months in office.

But crime remains a concern.

The struggles of public education have been well chronicled but at least help is on the way in the form of alternative choices.

Fortunately, the positive column of the city’s ledger has shown rapid expansion. A new charter school is scheduled to open in August, presenting parents a choice as to where they want their children educated.

Also, the state’s voucher program will likely remain in effect during an expected court battle, providing one more choice for parents who deem Bogalusa City Schools unacceptable.

Interestingly, Bogalusa is also becoming renowned for its culture. The Bogalusa Blues and Heritage Festival was a tremendous success in its first year and even more is expected with its sophomore event.

The Museums at Cassidy Park are also playing a critical role in the city’s cultural rebirth.

In recent years, healthcare, specifically LSU Bogalusa Medical Center, has become the leading industry in Washington Parish. LSUBMC faces well-documented obstacles with budget cuts that have resulted in layoffs but hospital administrators remain confident of a private buyout, thus preserving its future and its economic stamp on Bogalusa and the parish.

Finally, the iconic paper mill is secure with International Paper purchasing the plant earlier this year and making nearly $10 million in improvements, a tangible signal that preserves the mill’s heritage and place in Bogalusa history.

City officials, who appear energized by the challenges that lay ahead, have set an ambitious goal. How effective they are in identifying and resolving those issues will determine the plan’s success, as well as define their own legacy.