Posted: Dec 16, 2021, 6:17 PM
“It’s been quite a ride,” Bill Altimus said as he pondered his 25 years serving Bossier Parish, as a member of the parish police jury and as parish administrator. “Who would have thought in just twenty years we would be recognized as one of the most progressive and fastest growing areas in the state.”
Since 2002, Altimus has guided the parish from his administrator’s chair. During that time he’s played an integral part in helping the parish become an example of what establishing relationships with government and civic organizations at all levels, teamwork and a “never say no” attitude can accomplish.
Now, Altimus says, it’s time to hand over the reins of leadership, and he will officially retire from service with Bossier Parish on December 31. He will be handing over a parish that went through some lean years on its way to becoming a positive example for others.
“I was appointed in 1997 and when I came on board, the police jury was filling potholes with dirt and clay,” he remembered. “If it rained, they’d go back and do it again. That’s all they could afford and they did the best they could.”
Over those 25 years, things have changed dramatically. In 1997, the police jury worked with a budget of just under $29 million and served a parish with 98,000 residents. At its last meeting, the police jury approved a 2022 budget totaling $183.7 million. Latest census figures show Bossier Parish is home to just over 128,000.
“There was no magic bullet that caused us to grow. It was a combination of forming relationships, looking ahead to recognize opportunities and being aggressive in economic development. Also, there was a continuity in leadership on many levels that contributed to much of the success we’ve had as a parish,” he said.
As the budgets grew, Altimus said the Bossier Parish team set priorities that would meet the needs of current and future residents. Over the next two to three years, Bossier Parish will spend about $100 million on a variety of infrastructure projects that Altimus said will accommodate development and future growth.
“We look at growth patterns and comprehensive land use studies we already have,” he said. “The areas that needed to be worked on in 2004 are where we’re working
today. Our philosophy is to never begin by saying ‘no’ but to try and move the ball forward. Maybe we can’t do all of something, but we have to be ready because in this business you never know when an opportunity will present itself.”
One such opportunity was the parish’s water and sewer system, an issue Altimus considers one of the most important during his term as administrator. The need for a parish-wide system was first addressed in 1975 at a time when the police jury had no money for a project of that magnitude.
“A letter was written that outlined the importance and necessity of a public health system, but at that time the jury couldn’t tackle it. But today, here we are and it’s going to bring great rewards,” he said. “It’s a good thing to have water and sewer anywhere in the parish because where the system is, that’s where people are going to build and businesses are going to locate.”
While Bossier Parish has seen unprecedented growth, so has the police jury’s responsibilities. Under Altimus, new departments were created to accommodate the needs of parish residents.
“When I first came on the jury we didn’t have an animal control department, no mosquito control, no Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit, no parks and recreation, no water and sewer. We didn’t have the money,” he said. “We recognized the needs and, over time, we responded as we could.”
Altimus said the parish’s burgeoning parks and recreation system was the first big fix, and it was born from a phone call at a time when money was tight.
“We got a call from an oil and gas company about royalties they had been holding on a parcel of land. They said research showed the landowner was the police jury and that a check for half a million dollars would be coming to us,” he said. “That’s a lot of money today but back then, it was really a lot of money.”
Altimus approached the police jury with the idea that this one time windfall could be best spent on parks. With those non-recurring dollars, Tall Timbers park was born and improvements were made at Lake Ivan, which the jury had a lease to operate.
Money was spent on Parish Camp in south Bossier and from those investments, Bo Brandon Park and South Bossier Park later became realities.
“It was the biggest bang for our buck,” he said. “We recognized an opportunity to do something that would improve the quality of life and now we have a department and a director. It was that initial half million that kicked it all off.”
Another major accomplishment during the Altimus years is the Cyber Innovation Center which has helped attract other major companies to the campus on East 80 in Bossier City.
“That has brought us 1,500 jobs and that number should keep growing,” he said. “These are good-paying jobs and those investments show how important the cyber industry is to this area and to the nation.”
Bringing such a high-tech industry to Bossier Parish was the result of the cooperation of many agencies and organizations in the area, Altimus said. Many individuals worked tirelessly to achieve the goal of attracting CIC.
“Bossier City officials and many others played a key role in making the cyber center possible. And the parish school system helped prove the importance of the education equation. This, much like anything else, shows how critical it is to establish relationships on all levels,” he said.
Another issue that has received much of his attention is the attempt to make broadband services available to all areas of the parish.
“Broadband service is absolutely necessary in so many ways today,” Altimus said. “Just a short time ago, who would have ever thought of having ZOOM meetings or requiring that students work from home because of a pandemic. The country and the world is connected, and service to all households is vital.”
Looking back, Altimus said his three-plus terms on the police jury helped make him a better administrator and also gave him the confidence to approach jury members with both opportunities and solutions to problems.
“It helps the police jury members have confidence in me because I’ve been there, done that,” he said. “I know there are many things they have to consider, but I also know that I have to be right about what I propose. There could be legal or financial or personnel ramifications, so we often consult with our staff. I trust their input.”
When Altimus leaves his office, he will also be stepping down from several boards and commissions on which he serves. Among others, he’s been a member of the board of Barksdale Forward and the Military Affairs Council, the Pine Country Foundation, the RECC Committee of 100 and the North Louisiana Council on Governments (NLCOG).
He is a director of the Boy Scouts, Norwella Council and will continue to serve as a commissioner on the Port of Shreveport Bossier.
“I hope to remain on a couple of these and I’ll always be available to serve on others if the need arises somewhere,” he said.
Retirement plans include travel, lots of time with children and grandchildren and enjoying his hobbies in the “man cave.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve taken a real vacation,” he said. “The trips to Washington, D.C. or Baton Rouge or to a conference were like vacations to me. But I’ve still not been to a place where a phone couldn’t find me with a work-related problem. Those phone calls are something I won’t miss, but I’ll still be available if I’m needed.”
Altimus said one of the most important things that has helped make his job enjoyable is the people with whom he has worked. Over the years, he has used his management style and philosophy to put together a team that has shared many successes.
“It’s satisfying being part of a team that has accomplished so much. The staff and the police juries I’ve worked with are a second family. My management style has always been to find good people and let them do their jobs,” he said.
“My philosophy is if there’s a problem, we’ll solve it together,” Altimus said. “I’ve been fortunate to have very good people and jury members all these years. Everyday I’ve come to work, I’ve tried to make it better than when the day started. I hope I’ve done that.”
During his years as Bossier Parish Administrator, Bill Altimus has formed relationships that have been beneficial to the parish and the region. Here’s what some with whom he’s worked closely have to say about his contributions.
RICHARD BRONTOLI—RED RIVER VALLEY ASSOCIATION:
Bill Altimus has been a great supporter of the Red River Valley Association and my efforts to develop our water resources for the benefit to the citizens of our region. He has always provided me sound guidance on the operations and political process of our local parishes and cities. His mentorship has been of great value as I develop relationships with the leadership in or region at the local and national level. I will miss his wisdom and our personal relationship.
DR. WOODY WILSON, CADDO PARISH COMMISSION:
Over the past 16 years in my tenure as Caddo Parish Administrator and CEO, it has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to have worked with Bossier Parish Administrator, Mr. Bill Altimus. The working relationship that Bill and I have enjoyed is the embodiment of what people can achieve by working together on items of common interest and shared regional goals. This collaboration has greatly enhanced our region. Bill and I have supported each other in improving our region through the crafting of state and local legislation, and advocating for our Parishes at the national, state, and local level for positive changes that have improved the quality of life for area residents.
I am blessed to have had the opportunity to serve alongside of Bill, and I would not think of making this professional journey without him. Our relationship transcends our professional roles as Administrators, and we have regarded and treated each other as brothers. Any time, I needed his help and feedback on administrative matters, I could always count on him to provide me with an honest and direct response, which I highly valued and greatly respected. It is very seldom in life that you have the opportunity to meet a person like Bill Altimus, and it is quite a remarkable experience to have worked with such a high caliber person such as Bill. I am certainly going to miss him in my day-to-day role as Caddo Parish Administrator, but I would like to extend my very best wishes for him in his retirement. He has done an exceptional job for the citizens of Bossier Parish and the State of Louisiana. Job well done!!! To my lifelong friend, Bill, go and have some much deserved fun!!!
CRAIG SPOHN—CYBER INNOVATION CENTER
Bill Altimus is a trusted friend in a time where those can be hard to find. Bill has selflessly worked for the parish of Bossier building up things where nothing had existed before. The rewards are seldom but the demand for his attention never wanes. He is always able to respond and he will be deeply missed.
He has brought a professionalism to the job that is admired across the state and country. Many boards and committees have benefitted by his willingness to say yes when asked to help, and he always brings a wealth of experience.
JIM BONSALL—PRESIDENT, WEBSTER PARISH POLICE JURY
It’s hard to say in a few words what Bill Altimus has meant to me and Webster Parish. If I have to sum it up, Bill has always been there for us. I think I met Bill sometime after I was first elected to Webster Parish Police Jury in 2005. It did not take me long to realize when Bill was talking I need to listen. He has great insight to Parish Government.
We have worked together on many projects over the years. I have called on Bill many times for help from Bossier Parish or just advise. He never disappoints. I am proud to call him my friend and I and Webster Parish will miss him greatly. I pray he enjoys his retirement over many years.
STEVE BROWN—PARISH ADMINISTRATOR, PARISH ENGINEER DE SOTO PARISH
When I first became the Administrator for the DeSoto Parish Police Jury I frequently needed guidance on important matters. Bill was always there to help me. When I saw an opportunity to participate in organizations for the betterment of DeSoto Parish citizens, Bill was always there to open doors for me. When projects in Northwest Louisiana benefited smaller parishes like DeSoto, Bill was always willing to help even if the project had no direct benefit to Bossier Parish. Bill is the quintessential “friend;” a friend for life.
MURRAY VISER, PRESIDENT, COO BARKSDALE FORWARD, INC.
I have known Bill Altimus for more than ten years through his service on the Barksdale Forward, Inc. Board of Directors. Bill is a very thoughtful, generous man. I have always appreciated his council in difficult times as well as his friendship. Bill possesses a wealth of practical wisdom and stability. I feel fortunate to call Bill a friend. Bill will do well in retirement and he has earned every bit of our gratitude. Bill, you may be retired, but no off the hook. Godspeed, my friend.