On the Ballot

New Orleans area voters to decide on tax issues in Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany on Saturday

By Jessica Williams

Source: The Advocate

May 3, 2019

Voters in much of the New Orleans area will head to the polls Saturday to consider mainly requests involving taxes, as a parks and recreation tax in Orleans Parish, a teacher pay tax in Jefferson Parish and a school security tax and bond issue in St. Tammany Parish are all on the ballot.

Covington voters will elect a council member in the only area race involving a public office.

Experts predict low turnout across the board on a Saturday when thunderstorms are expected and Jazz Fest is among the events competing for potential voters’ attention.

The only proposal on the ballot in New Orleans is a new finance plan for parks and recreation. That plan would take the current 6.31 mills in taxes — roughly $22 million a year — that benefit city green spaces and recreation agencies and redivide the money.

The Audubon Commission, which runs the Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas and other facilities, would give up much of its present tax revenue to the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the city’s Department of Parks & Parkways, and New Orleans City Park. In return, Audubon would get its remaining millage extended until 2040.

Property owners would the pay the same amount they pay now. And City Park would get property tax money for the first time in its history.

The plan has the support of Mayor LaToya Cantrell and most other elected officials, along with the nonpartisan Bureau of Governmental Research. Some residents oppose it, however, chiefly because of Audubon’s involvement.

Turnout in the week of early voting that ended April 27 was about 2 percent in Orleans Parish, which is consistent with past single-issue elections, said University of New Orleans political scientist Ed Chervenak.

In Jefferson, voters will consider for the second time in three years a tax to finance a pay raise for public school employees. The 7.9-mill tax hike on the ballot Saturday would raise new teachers’ salaries to $46,000 a year, or 11 percent more than they make now and slightly above the regional average.

While Jefferson voters in 2017 narrowly rejected a tax for the same purpose, that tax, at 8.45 mills, represented a greater expense for property owners and did not have the widespread political support that the current plan enjoys.

Both the teachers union and business organizations, which are frequently on opposite sides of Jefferson education issues, back the idea. So do Schools Superintendent Cade Brumley and BGR.

If it passes, homeowners would pay $79 a year per $100,000 of the taxable value of their home above the homestead exemption, according to BGR.

Separately, the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office is asking voters to renew the single mill — producing almost $4 million a year — that funds the office. The owner of a $200,000 house with a homestead exemption would continue to pay $12.50 annually if voters approve Coroner Dr. Gerry Cvitanovich’s request.

And on Jefferson’s West Bank, voters in the Timberlane neighborhood will decide on a $1,950 annual fee per property to bail out the subdivision’s golf course.

On the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, St. Tammany voters will decide whether to permanently fund school security measures put into effect in the parish last fall after 17 students and staff were killed at a Parkland, Florida, school.

The proposed 2-mill tax would let the system continue to station police officers and mental health providers at its 55 schools. The tax would generate roughly $4 million a year; the owner of a $200,000 home would pay $25 more annually.

St. Tammany voters will also decide on a $175 million bond issue to replace aging modular classrooms and upgrade security and technology. Those bonds would be paid off with revenue from 13.90 mills the school system already levies.

The runoff for Covington’s District E council seat will also be decided Saturday. Democrat Meghan Garcia and independent Mark Verret led in the March 30 primary. Both say that improved drainage and infrastructure, business recruitment, and maintaining Covington’s quality of life are issues they would focus on if elected.

Meanwhile, St. Tammany’s Fire Protection District No. 7 and Recreation District No. 4 are seeking to renew 5-mill and 10-mill taxes, respectively, for another 10 years.

Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.

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