(Opinion) VOTER EDUCATION GUIDE: SATURDAY, APRIL 29, 2023
By ANTIGRAVITY Staff
Source: ANTIGRAVITY Magazine
April 21, 2023
PW Law Enforcement District
5.5 Mills In-Lieu – Sheriff – 10 Yrs.
Shall the Law Enforcement District of the Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana (the “District”), levy a tax of 5.5 mills on all property subject to taxation in the District (an estimated $23,805,370 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of 10 years, beginning with the year 2024 and ending with the year 2033, for the purpose of providing additional funding for Orleans Parish Sheriffs Office, including, but not limited to, payment of salaries, equipment and training, with said millage levied each year to be reduced by the millage rate levied that year for the Districts currently outstanding General Obligation Bonds, said tax to be in lieu of and replace an ad valorem tax of 2.8 mills authorized to be levied in the District through the year 2025 at an election held in the District on May 2, 2015?
Since the 1990s, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office has levied property taxes to fund the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District, a special taxing mechanism founded by the Sheriff’s Office to become independent from City funding and garner additional funding for daily operations and expenses like jail construction. The Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District currently collects a voter-approved 2.8 mill property tax yielding nearly $11 million annually. (“Mills” in tax terms refer to dollars of tax collected per $1,000 of assessed property value, so a 2.8 mill tax charges property owners $1 for every $1,000 of property value, after various exemptions). This proposed millage will replace the 2.8 mills with a 5.5 mill (or $5.5 per $1,000) tax and collect approximately $24 million property tax dollars per year starting in 2024. Meanwhile, the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District has outstanding bond repayments for general obligation bonds used to fund jail construction. The annual millage rate of 2.9 mills levied to repay those bonds will detract from the 5.5 millage rate until the outstanding general obligation bonds are repaid.
We don’t think including tax jargon on voters’ ballots is at all useful, so the important thing to know is that this will route up to $13 million more tax dollars per year directly to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office. According to a Bureau of Governmental Research report released last year, 2019 jail operating revenues in New Orleans were mostly funded by the City ($66.1 million, 77% of funds) and property taxes ($9.8 million, 13% of funds). To give a broader perspective, Orleans Parish Sheriff Hutson last year advocated for a $13 million budget increase from the City to help fund deputy salary raises, though the City Council ultimately kept funding at roughly the previous year’s level, with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration arguing vacancies meant raises would still be possible. At the time of writing, Hutson and her office haven’t said much publicly about this ballot measure, and both the Times-Picayune and Gambit have urged voters to reject it, citing in part the lack of transparency.
As an independent fund run more or less directly by the sheriff with little oversight by City officials, the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District has seen questions about its use of funds for decades. Meanwhile, Sheriff Hutson is attempting to address a staffing crisis within her office, where only 45% of staff positions are filled and deputies make less than $16 per hour. The City Council is in support of these raises but have expressed concern over “frivolous” expenses. Recent reports point to more than $29,000 for Mardi Gras-season hotel stays for 13 deputies and more than $15,000 in outside consultant fees, as well as the removal of four top staff members and other office strife.
There’s great concern for the mismanagement of funds, particularly when the Sheriff’s office has sole authority over a silo of taxpayer dollars. The Bureau of Governmental Research has recommended the City and Sheriff’s Office “improve fiscal transparency and accountability, both to ensure adequate City funding for the jail and careful tracking of how the Sheriff uses it.” Without a clear path toward stabilizing the office’s administrative operations, increasing the amount of taxpayer money is not a valid organizational solution for the Sheriff’s Office.
Summary: This would potentially double the amount of direct property tax money currently allocated to the Sheriff’s Office. Even if that’s where we wanted our money going, the office has historically proven they cannot manage it effectively. No.
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