In The News › Marlin Gusman’s tax plan draws tepid support from Bureau of Governmental Research

Marlin Gusman’s tax plan draws tepid support from Bureau of Governmental Research

By Jonathan Bullington | The Times-Picayune

April 8, 2015

A nonprofit government think tank has issued tepid support for the Orleans Parish Prison tax proposal on the May 2 ballot, saying Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s questionable oversight and contracting practices should be cause for concern.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, which issued a report on three separate tax proposals slated for the May election, recommended that voters approved the tax proposal. But BGR also said it was “extremely concerned” with how Gusman could use proceeds of the proposed 10-year Law Enforcement District tax freeze — a nearly identical proposal rejected by Orleans Parish voters last fall.

BGR is extremely concerned about the governance of the Law Enforcement District and the sheriff’s contracting practices and believes that major reform is needed,” the report states. “BGR is supporting the tax proposition only because it is clear that the public will have to directly or indirectly provide additional revenue to implement the costly court-ordered reforms at the parish prison.”

Gusman spokesman Philip Stelly said he had not read the report Wednesday (April 8), and could not comment on its contents.

The Sheriff’s current property tax rate of 2.8 mills would not change if voters approve the ballot measure, BGR said, noting that a homestead-exempt property owner whose home is valued at $300,000 would continue to pay the same $63 in property taxes to Gusman’s office.

The current tax rate is set to dip with the office’s waning debt obligations from capital project bonds. The ballot measure, if passed, would take the difference between the frozen tax rate, and what would be a declining tax rate, and funnel it to pay for 2013 federal consent decree obligations at the much-maligned prison.

The BGR estimates the tax could produce roughly $53.3 million over the 10-year period. Gusman has committed in writing, according to BGR, to use the tax dollars only for consent decree obligations.

Those obligations include:

  • Higher wages for deputies
  • Better recruitment and retention of deputies
  • Hiring 200 new deputies
  • Creating positions of corrections chief and compliance officer
  • Improved inmate medical services

The BGR report noted that Gusman faces little oversight in his decisions, and contracts issued from his office have drawn significant scrutiny over the years.

“The sheriff could use (tax proceeds) for any operating expenses that he chooses, including costs that have nothing to do with the consent decree,” BGR noted.

Later it added: “While it is clear that court-mandated costs associated with the consent decree will have to be funded, there are serious questions about the use of the Law Enforcement District’s current resources.”

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