In The News › Proposed tax hike in New Orleans for police, fire departments would be ‘major commitment’

Proposed tax hike in New Orleans for police, fire departments would be ‘major commitment’

By Jeff Adelson

The Advocate

March 16, 2016

The Bureau of Governmental Research is recommending that New Orleans voters approve a $26.6 million tax increase and a $120 million bond issue on the April 9 ballot.

A report issued Wednesday by the nonpartisan research group argues the tax increase, which would fund the hiring of more police officers and pay off a legal judgment won by the city’s firefighters, is needed to meet obligations and city goals without cutting other programs.

That’s particularly true of the $17.7 million that would go to the New Orleans Police Department, which plans to use the money to expand the department to 1,600 officers. The report says the additional money will be needed for new officers even if the city falls short of its hiring goals.

“Approval of the tax would represent a major commitment by taxpayers to give the troubled Police Department the resources necessary to rebuild its ranks, reduce response times and provide better public safety outcomes,” according to the report.

Combined, the police and fire tax increases will amount to 7.5 mills, about 5 mills of which would go to the Police Department.

While recommending approval, the report does acknowledge some concerns about the city’s plans. It acknowledges that the recruitment effort envisioned by the city is “ambitious” and would require hiring at a rate not seen in nearly 20 years, though it suggests a $750,000 plan to attract new officers and recently implemented police raises would help to meet those goals.

“The City Council and administration must hold the NOPD accountable for achieving its goals and carefully calibrate funding to the department’s true needs,” the report says. “The goals should include increasing the number of officers assigned to calls for service.”

The report also comes out in favor of the second part of the proposed millage, a 2.5-mill increase to the Fire Department tax that would be used to cover pension costs, freeing money to pay a $75 million judgment firefighters won against the city for unpaid back pay.

BGR’s approval wasn’t a sure thing. The group came out against the last tax increase sought by the city, a 2.5-mill increase for the public library system. It said the city had not laid out a detailed plan for how it would spend the additional money.

Voters nonetheless approved that increase overwhelmingly last year.

The bond issue on the April ballot would provide $50 million for projects this year and $70 million in 2017, with about $100 million of the money going to streets work. The bonds would be paid off with money from an existing tax.

While the report expresses concern that the city could be paying off the bonds for 30 years while asphalt streets have only a 20-year expected lifespan, it says the money would go a long way toward closing the gap between the city’s more than $45 million in annual street maintenance needs and the $8.3 million now dedicated to them.

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