On the Ballot

Bureau of Governmental Research urges voters to reject tax to fund elderly services

By Jeff Adelson

Source: The Advocate

March 12, 2019

The Bureau of Governmental Research is urging New Orleans voters to reject a proposed property tax hike to fund services for senior citizens, saying that city officials have not properly detailed how the money would be used.

In a report released Tuesday, the nonpartisan policy think tank acknowledges the “important and laudable” goal of providing meals, senior centers and other services to the elderly.

But the report says the city has not provided specifics on how the new tax money would be used to further those ends and suggests it would be better to continue paying for those needs through the regular city budget, rather than through a dedicated tax.

Voters will be asked to approve the tax March 30. The City Council took the unusual step last year of approving the ballot measure over the opposition of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration, which raised many of the same objections listed in the BGR report.

The 2-mill tax would raise about $6.6 million a year, money that the City Council has suggested would go to the New Orleans Council on Aging.

It would add $25 to the tax bill for a homestead-exempt residential property valued at $200,000.

Last year, the city provided about $1.5 million to the Council on Aging for services and in funds for senior centers and the Meals on Wheels program.

According to BGR’s report, that puts New Orleans far below other large Louisiana parishes when it comes to spending on the elderly. The city spent about $108 per elderly resident in poverty last year, while Jefferson Parish spent $279, St. Tammany Parish spent $361 and East Baton Rouge Parish spent $1,152, the report says.

If the new tax were approved, New Orleans’ spending would rise to about $592 for each person in that category.

The Council on Aging has argued that more money is needed to provide more services, including providing food to about 1,200 people on a waiting list for Meals on Wheels and other programs such as assistance with housekeeping.

But BGR said there is no spending plan that would determine where the money would go and ensure it is spent effectively.

While the report is largely sympathetic to the idea that more should be spent for elderly residents, it argues that the money should come from the city’s regular budget.

Approving a specific tax for elderly services means that money will be dedicated to just that purpose, which ties up funds that might be needed for other city priorities such as public safety and infrastructure, according to the BGR report.

That was an argument made by the Cantrell administration as it urged the council not to put the tax proposal before voters.

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