On the Ballot

Council puts library and housing property tax renewals on the November ballot

By Michael Isaac Stein

Source: The Lens

July 15, 2021

Orleans Parish voters will decide in November whether to renew two property taxes that expire at the end of the year — one for the public library system and another for affordable housing and blight initiatives. It appears likely that an additional three property taxes will be allowed to expire at the end of the year without a renewal vote.

The New Orleans City Council voted on Thursday to add two ballot measures to the Nov. 14 election, one for each property tax. The taxes, if approved, would be renewed for another 20 years. The library tax was expected to bring in roughly $10.5 million this year while the housing tax was expected to generate roughly $3.6 million, according to estimates from a 2020 report from the Bureau of Governmental Research.

All the money generated by the housing tax is deposited in the city’s Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund, or NHIF. The fund can be used for three purposes — financial assistance for homeownership, alleviation of blight and financial assistance to create more affordable housing.

There are three other property taxes that are also expiring at the end of the year. But it appears that they will be allowed to expire without a vote to renew them. The three taxes — for streets and traffic lights, capital projects and economic development — were expected to bring in a combined $9.3 million this year, according to the Bureau of Governmental Research report.

The total property tax rate that property owners pay in Orleans Parish is composed of several distinct property taxes, called millages, some of which are dedicated to specific purposes like libraries or the fire department. Some of the taxes, like those dedicated to public schools, aren’t directly levied by the city and are controlled by other entities, like the school board.

The five expiring millages are controlled directly by the city government. Last year, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration tried to renew all of those millages a year early. Her proposal would have kept the total tax rate the same, but it would have reshuffled how the money would be dedicated. The biggest change was taking the majority of the library millage and shifting it to economic development, maintenance and early childhood education.

Voters soundly rejected the mayor’s plan in December.

Soon after that, Cantrell announced that she had no plans to make another attempt at renewing the expiring millages in 2021. The current attempt to renew the library and housing millages is being driven by the City Council.

But Cantrell has already announced her support for the library millage renewal. And her chief of staff, John Pourciau, told The Lens that the administration was also not opposed to the housing millage.

“We’re supportive of both,” he said. “The Mayor is not in opposition to the extension of NHIF. She’s been a big proponent of NHIF.”

As for the other three expiring taxes, Pourciau said that the administration would be taking a holistic view at the city’s finances in early 2022 — if Cantrell wins her reelection bid later this year — to figure out whether to renew those millages, replace them with new taxes dedicated to other purposes or simply keep the tax rate at its new, lower level and forfeit the extra revenue.

“Should the voters re-elect the mayor, which we’re hopeful they will do, there’s a chance to have a conversation about the longer term financing structure for the city,” Pourciau said. “We’re going to look at all of it. So, do we need additional millages to meet these needs? Are there other ways to fund that stuff? There’s going to be a very thorough conversation overall around our funding mechanisms and our opportunities and we’ll see what happens at the end of it.”

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