On the Ballot

Sheriff wants property tax hike to fix jail, hire more deputies, watchdog group opposes

By Kenny Kuhn

Source: WWL-TV

April 20, 2023

NEW ORLEANS — On April 29, property owners in Orleans Parish will have to decide on a millage that would increase property taxes to better staffing and conditions at the Orleans Parish jail.

If approved, the millage would increase a homeowner’s property tax, on average, an additional $50.

Orleans Parish Sheriff Susan Hutson explains that the property tax increase will go to fund much-needed upgrades to the parish jail and help pay to increase staffing at the jail.

“There are 10 elements of an effective and safe jail and almost all of them have to do with staffing levels. We are at least 300 deputies down that’s for the jail. That’s for our courts, Civil Court, Criminal Court, for justice to function, we have to be properly staffed. And to keep people safe in that jail and eventually get out of this consent judgment, we got to do four things — we’ve got to number one, take care of our personnel in the jail and in our courts, we have to have a real pay plan they’ve never had that the city did that about 10 years ago, it’s our turn to do that as well,” Sheriff Hutson says.

She adds, “This is something that is just good business and allows us to plan it. Number two, we’ve got to fix these broken buildings. This building is dangerous, the jail that has been open for less than eight years is dangerous. And we have to fix that. Every day we battle there are life and death decisions in that jail because it is unsafe, we have to fix that, now. It is not something we can kick down the road. My deputies are unsafe working there, we have to fix that.”

Sheriff Hutson also says upgrading the technology at the jail will help become more compliant with the Federal Consent Decree.

“We have to fix the IT system to show that you’re complying with the consent judgment, you have to have the data to show. We have an antiquated 40-year-old system that we can barely pull data out of and is almost impossible to put data into. We have to do better, we have to be a smart jail as well, an efficient jail. And therefore, we have to deal with the root causes of crime. People say they’re tired of taxes, but also their number one issue right now is public safety.”

Sheriff Hutson also says the money would help reduce crime by providing programs to help rehabilitate inmates.

“If we deal with the root causes of crime, while we have people in our custody, we give them something to do better, help give them hope for a future education, training jobs. Every day, we meet somebody who wants to help us do re-entry work, we can do this, and this will help our community.”

However, the president of the independent watchdog group Bureau of Governmental Research, Rebecca Mowbray, says they are against the millage, and says the Sheriff’s plan does not include a detailed plan for spending the money among other concerns.

“We believe the employee compensation plan is not complete. There’s the Sheriff’s Office says that there are about 400 positions at the jail that they deem essential. They’re not even part of the plan. The federal court has ordered the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s office in the city of New Orleans to build the phase three addition to the jail for medical and mental health things that are also not part of this plan. And then any capital expenditures aren’t really detailed,” Mowbray says.

“There’s a general list of things they’re interested in, but no detailed list of priorities.”

Despite the sheriff providing information on her plan for the increased funding to BGR, Mowbray says the plan needs more work.

“This sheriff has been very generous with her time and her staff’s time, but there simply wasn’t enough detail in their plans. There are two years left before their current millage expires. And we at BGR believe that there is time for them to go back and provide additional planning to the public and also work more closely with the city of New Orleans, which by law is required to fund the jail to adequate levels.”

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