On the Ballot

Recommendations for May 4 election

By The Louisiana Weekly

Source: The Louisiana Weekly

April 30, 2019

Some very critical tax measures go before the voters on Saturday. Teacher pay raises and commitments to public greenspace and facilities in both Jefferson and Orleans. Even on the second Saturday of Jazz Fest, these millages are worthy of fifteen minutes of your time. Please visit the polls between bouts of fun on a late spring day.

Like many of you, our Editors wish that these initiatives would have been included on the Autumn ballot instead. A delay of a few months could have allowed them to receive the attention of a wider electorate, already traveling to the polling precincts to vote for governor as well as other statewide and parish offices. Nevertheless, there is no excuse to refuse to support our parklands and teachers.

Orleans Parish
PW Parks and Recreation — 6.31 Mills (In Lieu) – CC – 20 Yrs.: VOTE YES

This renews an existing tax, for a much wider purpose. Like many New Orleanians, our Editors initially expressed skepticism at the idea of renewing the millage, first created to rebuild Audubon Zoo and construct the Aquarium. To transform the tax into a permanent funding method for the city’s four park systems seemed a bit odd.

Criticisms that the money would be divided, and at the same time would remain undedicated to any specific purpose, also proved temporarily compelling. That is until we saw the details of the proposal, and more importantly the almost historic willingness of the disparate park systems to work together – a coordination of efforts by the respective leaderships which has proven elusive in the past, to say the least.

Some of the parish’s greenspaces, like City Park, have never received dedicated tax funding. Others have enjoyed millages for facilities construction, but not a dime to actually repair the buildings as they aged. With this milliage renewal, the lionshare of the money going to NORD-C, Orleans Parks & Parkways, City Park, and Audubon will be used to provide basic maintenance to older buildings, something quite close to the tax’s original purpose, though now repairing facilities on a citywide scale.

The remaining revenues, divided amongst the four, will be used to expand programming at all. More importantly, the tax will fund the first emergency and security personnel to be employed at City Park in recent memory. Right now, should a security incident occur, the limited park staff must wait for NOPD, often for hours. Onsite peace officers are sure to increase both response times and the physical well-being of visitors.

Perhaps the most important achievement of the effort to renew this millage rests in the way that the different park officials have begun to plan jointly for the future.

Jefferson Parish
PW Forensic Medical Facilities —1 Mill Renewal – PC – 10 Yrs.: VOTE YES

This one mill property tax constitutes 60 percent of the budget of the Jefferson Coroner’s office. First approved by voters in 1990, this millage has been twice renewed. To deny this small tax a fourth decade would not just endanger autopsies, but mental health services as well.

Parish Coroners are responsible for involuntary mental health assessments and treatment, as well as medical resources in sexual assault cases. They do a lot more than just deal with dead people, in other words. Tell a rape victim, the family of a potential suicide, or substance abuse patient – teetering on the edge – that $17.50 per year per homestead does not constitute a worthwhile fee to save a life?

PW School District No. 1 — 7.90 Mills – SB – 10 Yrs.:VOTE YES

This is not a small tax increase, but it is a critically necessary one. The Bureau of Governmental Research praised the Jefferson School Board pay raise plan as “very nuanced” and our Editorial Board agrees. It is one of the best-designed, results-oriented educational funding proposals we have ever seen, far different from the millage that the electorate rejected a year and a half ago.

The pay plan would cost $32 million, with $5 million coming from the current budget. The rest would come from the 10-year property tax dedicated to employee salary increases, 75 percent of which would go to teachers and the rest to other workers. The monies are specifically targeted to increase starting instructors’ salary from seventh in the New Orleans region to second; retain experienced teachers who might leave for higher pay; and reward educators who perform well or work in hard-to-fill positions such as impoverished neighborhoods, schools with many English-language learners, special education, or the STEM subjects of high school chemistry, mathematics, and physics.

With this 7.9-mill tax hike for salaries, the owner of a homestead-exempt property valued at $300,000 would pay an extra $177.74 a year. That’s still a small price to pay to have quality teachers in our schools.

Timberlane Neighborhood Imp. and Beaut. Dist. — $1,950 Special Assessment – BOC – 10 Yrs.: VOTE YES

Golf courses and country clubs around the nation are failing. The old model of membership-only clubs works solely in the rarest and most exclusive of locales. When Golf Courses permanently close, the property values of the houses in the subdivisions nearest the links suffer the most.

This neighborhood improvement assessment offers an answer not only for Gretna’s Timberlane course, which has struggled with mounting infrastructure costs, but for the region as a whole. Essentially, the assessment would not only save this 7100-yard greenspace, which is essential to non-golfers as a place for water to gather in Gretna during storms (so as to mitigate flooding), it also creates essentially a new public park. Transforming Timberlane from what was once a restricted membership-only model, the Golf Course would be able to stand open to all citizen-duffers. Moreover, the taxpayers who foot the bill to transform it into a public course (similar to Audubon or City Park) would be the homeowners around, those who reap nearest geographic benefits.

Truthfully, Timberlane has already proven a model corporate citizen in the transformation from private to public. For the last few years, golfers have been able to play on its links regardless of race, ethnicity, or background by just paying the very affordable green fees. More importantly, Timberlane’s Clubhouse was opened to all as a restaurant operated by “Café Hope.” Similar to Central City’s Café Reconcile, the restaurant training program provides disadvantaged youth, mostly African-Americans, an opportunity to learn about the culinary arts and apprentice in restaurant management. The food is excellent as well. Should the golf course close, this wonderful West Bank version of Café Reconcile could easily cease to exist for lack of customers.

This article originally published in the April 29, 2019 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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