On the Ballot

Independent study supports redistribution of citywide parks and recreation taxes

By Claire Byun

Source: Uptown Messenger

April 9, 2019

An independent New Orleans research group is backing the proposal to replace three existing property taxes into one millage for citywide parks and recreation. But there’s a caveat: If passed, the city is urged to monitor the park agencies’ spending plans and performance outlined in a cooperative endeavor agreement.

The Bureau of Governmental Research, a nonprofit public-policy research organization, released this morning their study on the City-Wide Parks and Recreation Proposal.

The proposal allows the city to reallocate taxpayer revenue for park spaces, while tacking on inter-agency cooperation among the city’s four park powers: City Park, the Audubon Commission, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, and Parks and Parkways. This ordinance does not include tax increases for residents; it just redistributes current revenue to help improve citywide infrastructure while assisting the lesser-funded agencies.

The BGR report cites a 2017 study that found the city has inadequate funding to grow its parks and playgrounds. There’s also “inadequate coordination” among New Orleans’ independent park management agencies.

BGR endorses the new millage, which would not raise taxes, but emphasizes the importance of a cooperative agreement among the four agencies. That agreement calls for greater collaboration among park officials, including maintenance, programming and capital project-planning. It also requires the city and agencies to create a 10-year citywide master plan for parks, recreation and open space.

They have agreed to “contribute reasonable funding and use reasonable best efforts to secure philanthropic support” for the plan, according to the study.

“The agreement has a low bar for termination, so it will depend heavily on the good faith of the city and park agencies to achieve its aims,” the study said.

The tax reorganization proposal, overall, appears the most promising alternative to improving the agencies’ financial support without a tax increase, the study said.

Critics question the 20-year duration of the tax, expressing concern over a citywide millage in a fixed timeframe. Taxes for recreational purposes in neighboring parishes vary between 10 to 20 years, which lends credence to New Orleans’ proposal.

“The four recipients, who collectively manage 85% of New Orleans’ park land, have developed detailed spending plans that align with their priority needs and broader strategic plans and objectives. In addition, their cooperative endeavor agreement with the City lays the groundwork for greater planing, coordination and public accountability for the
agencies,” according to the study.

The special election will take place May 4, on the second weekend of Jazz Fest this year. Early voting runs April 20-27.

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