In The News › Editoral: Another whack at reform

Apr 28, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Editoral: Another whack at reform

EDITORIAL: Another whack at reform
Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Seven months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is struggling to provide police, fire and
sanitation services. But while residents are suffering plenty these days, state lawmakers so far
have managed to shield the city’s army of elected officials from any pain.

The opening of the general legislative session Monday gives Gov. Kathleen Blanco and the
Legislature another chance to shrink New Orleans’ bloated government. The city still has seven
elected assessors, two sheriffs, two clerks of court and a plethora of separate court systems. This
setup is a waste of money.

It didn’t make sense when the city had more than 600,000 residents, and it surely doesn’t make
sense now. Gov. Blanco needs to push hard for reform of city government, and legislators from
across the state need to be willing to change the status quo.

Merging the seven assessors’ offices would be a good start.

Before the hurricane, Orleans and Jefferson parishes had roughly the same number of residents.

According to the Bureau of Governmental Research, salaries and expense accounts for New
Orleans’ seven assessors cost city taxpayers more than $676,000 a year — not counting
retirement and health care. In Jefferson, the comparable figure is only $115,000 a year. If New
Orleans had a single assessor, the city could spend more money hiring professional appraisers —
or use the savings to address other needs.

Gov. Blanco’s personal involvement would go a long way toward getting reform legislation passed.
In the final days of this year’s special session, her administration pushed hard for legislation to
reform the metro area’s system of levee boards — and fended off sinister amendments that would
have weakened the bill.

By contrast, the governor did nothing to push consolidation bills. Instead, she acted as though she
had discharged her obligation to city taxpayers just by putting the issue on the agenda for the
session. This time, Gov. Blanco needs to use the weight of her office to make sure reform bills
pass.

And private citizens need to get involved, too. Fortunately, some of the same groups that pushed
for levee board reform are poised to lobby for bills to shrink city government.

Even so, the resistance to merging assessors’ offices will be stiff. Some legislators who stick up
for the status quo are subject to term limits and want to maximize the number of political offices
they can run for in the future. Others are helping out their family me mbers. Rep. Jeff Arnold, the
son of Algiers Assessor Tom Arnold, has emerged as the leading defender of the seven-assessor
system. Which is to say, Rep. Arnold is leading the effort to squander taxpayers’ money.

Proponents of the current system claim city residents want to have personal relationships with
their tax assessors. That claim can and should be tested.

A consolidation of the assessors’ offices would come in the form of a constitutional amendment —
which could not take effect unless approved by a majority of voters in Orleans Parish and
statewide.

The assessors and their supporters obviously fear that a reform amendment will pass. Either way,
the New Orleans electorate should get its say on the issue. At a time when residents are having
trouble getting their trash picked up, they deserve the chance to vote on whether multiple
assessors are really a wise use of public money.

Apr 28, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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