On the Ballot

New Orleans voters OK parks & rec tax consolidation

By Beau Evans

Source: NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

May 4, 2019

New Orleans voters approved a consolidation of soon-to-expire taxes for New Orleans parks and recreation organizations Saturday (May 4). The 20-year property tax will be split four ways among two city agencies and two park operations, including the first-ever local tax revenue for City Park.

With about 10% of the votes left to count, more than three-quarters of ballots had been cast in support of the tax. In addition to City Park, the other beneficiaries are the Audubon Nature Institute, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission and the city’s Department of Parks and Parkways.

Supporters, including Mayor LaToya Cantrell, said the tax consolidation adds a needed layer of accountability to the privately run Audubon, which for decades has collected taxes exclusively for its zoo and aquarium. Opponents say even more transparency is needed before any public resources are devoted to private interests.

The measure keeps a combined 6.31 mills currently in place for Audubon, NORDC and Parks and Parkways, and adds City Park into the revenue mix. Existing tax dedications expire in 2021 and 2022.

Audubon will see its existing annual tax share cut nearly in half to $6.4 million, down from the $10.8 million it currently receives, according to estimates from the Bureau of Governmental Research. NORDC and Parks and Parkways should see a bump of about $1.6 million and $1 million, respectively. City Park gains about $2 million.

According to BGR, the 6.31 mills levied by the existing parks and recreation taxes round out to about $20.8 million estimated for next year. The average New Orleans homeowner will continue paying roughly $179 a year.

In addition to Cantrell, the proposition had the support of New Orleans City Council members and a host of advocacy and neighborhood groups. BGR also backed the measure in its report, calling it preferable to alternatives, such as shifting money from other city government areas to cover parks and recreation needs once the existing taxes expire or raising the admission prices for certain City Park and Audubon attractions.

Opponents criticized the measure for its 20-year lifespan and argued the tax gives too much money to Audubon as compared to the other parks-oriented groups.

They also question whether the four groups and city officials will follow through with a citywide parks and recreation master plan they’ve agreed to produce as part of the tax initiative.

“It’s an inequitable distribution of public revenue,” Debra Howell, a Carrollton resident who’s long been critical of Audubon, said Monday. “Had this all been planned in public, I think we’d be seeing a completely different millage proposition.

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