In The News › ‘Yes’ for more money for New Orleans police, firefighters and streets: Editorial

‘Yes’ for more money for New Orleans police, firefighters and streets: Editorial

By The Editorial Board, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

March 20, 2016

The NOLA.com | Times-Picayune editorial board makes the following recommendations for the April 9 ballot.

ORLEANS PARISH

POLICE AND FIRE PROPOSITION

To levy a 7.5 mill property tax, 5 mills for police and 2.5 mills for fire protection, for 12 years

Yes

Making sure that New Orleanians are safe is arguably Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s most important mission. The loss of roughly 300 officers due to a hiring freeze early in his tenure and the costs of implementing federal consent decrees for the Police Department and jail have made that task more complicated. This tax revenue would go to hire several hundred new police officers and help pay decades-old legal judgments the city owes firefighters. Those are crucial needs.

In October, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune in partnership with WVUE Fox 8 News reported that a person calling a police officer in New Orleans had to wait an average of 73 minutes for help to arrive. In parts of Gentilly and eastern New Orleans, the average wait was over two hours. Those sorts of delays make residents feel less secure and could make it less likely they will call police for help. Superintendent Michael Harrison redeployed 94 officers from desk jobs and specialty duties to the streets after Mardi Gras to reduce those waits. That is a good start, and the department may be able to find more ways to reorganize. But NOPD also needs to replenish the officers it has lost.

The city’s goal is to get the force back to 1,600 officers within five years, which would allow NOPD to effectively target violent crime and handle the pressures 10 million visitors a year put on New Orleans.
As for the firefighters’ settlement, it is long overdue. The dispute over back pay festered during several mayoral administrations before a $75 million agreement was reached in the fall. Firefighters and their heirs will finally get the money they are owed, and the city achieved some pension reforms for long-term savings.

Although the city’s finances are in far better shape than when Mayor Landrieu took over in 2010, and revenues are up, the city’s analysis shows there isn’t enough growth in the budget to absorb all these costs. Increasing the public safety millage — 5 mills for police and 2.5 for firefighters — will fill that gap. According to the Bureau of Governmental Research, which is supporting the increase, the owner of a $350,000 home would pay an additional $262.50 in taxes each year. That is less than $22 per month. For each additional $100,000 of value, the tax would be another $75 per year. Commercial property owners would pay $105 per $100,000 of value, BGR said.

With state lawmakers raising sales and other taxes and the increasing cost of property insurance post-Katrina, New Orleanians may feel beleaguered. But unlike state leaders, Mayor Landrieu has gotten city finances in order and has New Orleans on a positive fiscal path. It is important to invest in the city to keep it going strong, and there is nothing more important to that goal than public safety. That makes this tax increase a wise choice for voters.

STREETS, CAPITAL PROJECTS PROPOSITION

To issue $120 million in bonds to repair and improve streets and to buy equipment and make building improvements

Yes

The bulk of this bond issue – $100 million — would go toward projects on New Orleans’ $9.3 billion list of street repairs. The city is getting an additional $1.2 billion from FEMA that can be used to fix damage that occurred during Hurricane Katrina and the flooding from levee breaches. The Fix My Streets Working Group was formed in December to come up with a long-term strategy to fully fund the rest of the massive backlog. It is important to add this $100 million to the mix in the meantime.

The bond money would allow the city to fix streets with damage that is not connected to Katrina. Those streets aren’t eligible for FEMA funding. The city is in the midst of a survey that is identifying the highest-priority needs for the money. Every New Orleanian could name a contender. In fact, residents exasperated with the condition of neighborhood streets started the Fix My Streets movement that has inspired the city’s working group.

The other $20 million will be used to buy new fire trucks, replace a bridge at Joe Brown park, build a police/fire station in Algiers, pay for improvements at the Youth Study Center and cover several recreational projects. The city expects to be able to repay the bonds without raising its 25.5 mill debt service tax. The bond payments would use about 2.5 mills of the existing millage. “A 2.5-mill tax amounts to $68.75 per year for the owner of a $350,000 residence covered by the homestead exemption. For each additional $100,000 of value, the tax would be $25 per year,” BGR said in its analysis of the bond proposition. That is a relatively small amount to pay to help smooth out the city’s pothole-filled streets.

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