On the Ballot

Elderly services tax fails in New Orleans, with Mayor Cantrell leading opposition

By Greg LaRose

Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

March 30, 2019

New Orleans voters rejected a new property tax Saturday (March 30) to support elderly services, money the Council on Aging intended to use to shorten waitlists for its Meals on Wheels and housekeeping services programs. Unofficial results showed 12,335 ballots, 71 percent, were cast against the proposal.

The tax request was the only item on the ballot in New Orleans, where turnout was pegged at 6.7 percent unofficially.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell had come out early against the 2-mill tax, which would have added about $20 to a homeowner’s tax bill for every $100,000 of home value about the $75,000 homestead exemption. Infrastructure is currently a higher priority for New Orleans, the mayor said, adding that more accountability and transparency are needed for agencies that use city money without City Hall oversight.

“I do not believe we can millage our way out of the existing conditions in the city,” Cantrell said in an interview two days before the vote. Her political action committee, Action of New Orleans, spent just less than $20,000 on mailers and social media ads detailing the mayor’s position against the tax, the PAC’s communications director said.

The nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research also opposed the tax, saying the proposal gave no assurance to citizens that the tax money would be used properly.

Harold Rodgers III, the local Council of Aging’s executive director since 1999, said BGR and the mayor’s stance gave the impression his organization has not been a good steward of the public resources it receives. The city has budgeted $1.4 million for the agency this year. Its $5 million in operating revenue for 2018 included a comparable amount from the city, $2.5 million from the Governor’s Office for Elderly Affairs as well as federal and charitable grants.

Cantrell said more accountability measures and a specific budget are needed from the Council on Aging and any other agency that receives city funding. She also cited complaints from its clients about the inequity of services at the 14 senior centers the group oversees and poor food quality.

The proposed tax would have provided $6.6 million annually to the Council on Aging, although that dedication wasn’t specified in the ballot measure voters considered.

Rodgers pointed to the Council on Aging’s history of clean audits that are available for public view as evidence that it has handled city money properly.

“Seniors aren’t going anywhere. The problem isn’t going anywhere.” Rodgers said when asked last week about his options should the tax fail.

City Councilman Jason Williams was among the supporters of the proposal. He had said council members would follow with a specific dedication to the Council on Aging if voters approved the tax. In an interview last week, he insisted that the city could address its pressing infrastructure needs while also providing resources for the elderly.

“I’m not ready to pit pipes against people,” Williams said.

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