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Our Views: Vote for tax plan in Saturday’s city election

The Advocate

April 8, 2016

Today is Election Day across Louisiana in many parishes, with tax proposals and some city elections in many communities. There is a special election to fill a vacant legislative seat in Baton Rouge and other special elections in various places.

But it’s a big tax election in particular for the greater New Orleans area, and we take this opportunity to urge passage of several propositions important to the city and the Northshore.

New Orleans Public Safety: Yes

We urge citizens to back long-term funding to hire more police officers and settle a long-standing lawsuit between firefighters and New Orleans city government.

If voters approve, property taxes would increase by 7.5 mills for 12 years starting in 2017. The increase, which would not be subject to the homestead exemption, would cost the owner of a house assessed at $150,000 an extra $112.50 a year.

NOPD would get an additional 5 mills, or about $17.73 million a year. The money would largely go to pay for new recruits as the department tries to expand from 1,163 officers to the 1,600 that officials have set as their goal. To do that, the NOPD would have to train 185 officers a year through 2020, with the expectation that about half of those would replace existing officers who leave over time.

Some have questioned the city’s capacity to achieve such a large increase, as the department added only 31 officers last year. But in a community where fighting crime is a high priority in almost every neighborhood, it makes no sense to stint on starting to add new officers.

Another 2.5 mills, about $8.87 million a year, would go to the Fire Department. Technically, that money would be used to pay part of the city’s yearly contribution to the firefighters’ retirement system. But in doing so, it would free up existing funds to pay off a $75 million settlement between the firefighters union and the city over a decades-old lawsuit involving back pay. It’s a long standing problem that Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration has worked diligently to solve.

Both issues are combined on the April 9 ballot, as both relate to the city’s obligations to protect its people. We agree with the civic watchdogs at BGR favoring a vote for this proposition.

New Orleans streets: Yes

A second proposition in New Orleans authorizes the city to issue 30-year bonds for streets, parks and firefighting equipment. Payments on the $120 million raised would be financed by an existing millage for bond issues; Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration refinanced existing bonds and freed up money it says is sufficient to pay the bonds off over time.

We share some of the reservations of the Bureau of Governmental Research, www.bgr.org, about long-term bond issues for street repairs that might last, at best, for the length of the bond payments. Still, BGR is for the bond issue because of the “abysmal” condition of New Orleans streets, where most of the money will be spent.

The money would cover street work that is not eligible for the big new award for repairs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA money can be used for streets damaged by storms, but local money is needed for other streets. As BGR said, the bond money would help provide a “holistic” approach to repair of the street grid.

North shore juvenile center: Yes

Law enforcement in five parishes is trying again, after voters rejected in November renewal of a tax that has been in place for 10 years for the Florida Parishes Juvenile Detention Center.

The 3-mill property tax since 1995 provides the bulk of the operating money for the juvenile center that serves Livingston, St. Helena, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa and Washington parishes.

We hope that voters will reconsider their earlier vote against renewal of the tax. By banding together, the parishes have demonstrated leadership in providing an alternative to housing troubled adolescents in adult jails. At $9.5 million a year, it’s a good investment in public safety.

If the operations of the center are wound up, law enforcement in the five parishes will eventually have to shoulder more costs later.

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