The New Orleans Tribune is urging its readers to say “no” to the April 9 public safety millage and to the $120 million bond proposition.
As for the bond proposition, $120 million for street improvements, public facility improvements and for new fire trucks sounds good, especially if the bonds could be retired in 30 years using 2.5 mills of the current property tax rate without an increase. And that is the problem. Orleans Parish only “expects” and “proposes” that it can pull this off without a tax hike for homeowners, but there is no guarantee. And with the current trend of inflated property values brought on by gentrification under the guise of neighborhood “redevelopment”, it is a shaky promise. Residents struggling to hold on to property in areas targeted for this special brand of “redevelopment” cannot risk the possibility of higher taxes. In fact, the language of the proposition states that there is no expected tax increase in the first year. What about the second, the third, the 20th year and the 30th? So let’s say the current situation changes. Maybe some time in the next 30 years, debt service costs rise. If the city has to increase the property taxes by as much as 2.5 mills to satisfy this bond, it will. To be clear, if the bond proposition is approved, the parish will have a constitutional right and obligation to collect the taxes needed to satisfy the bond debt. In short, they can only promise the bond proposition will not result in higher taxes; but if necessary, that promise can and will be broken.
Now on to the proposed public safety millage, which includes 5 mills dedicated for police and 2.5 mills dedicated for fire protection. The 7.5 mills would be dedicated and not subject to the homestead exemption. If approved by voters, it would raise a total of $26.6 million that would be used to hire and pay for additional police officers and to pay firefighters what they are owed as part of the pension settlement reached last year. The 5 mills dedicated to the police are expected to generate $17.7 million. The 2.5 mills dedicated to fire are expected to generate $8.9 million.
Of course, we believe public safety is important. But we just can’t support these property taxes—not right now. Too many New Orleanians are already struggling with skyrocketing home prices and rents they can’t afford in the very same neighborhoods they and their families have called home for generations.
If the public safety millage is approved, an owner of an $183,700 home will pay $138 more in property taxes annually, or approximately $11.50 more per month. The owner of a $250,000 home will pay $188 more annually; and the owner of a $500,000 home will pay $375 more annually.
And let’s not forget that New Orleanians like all Louisianans are now paying more in sales tax as a result of the state legislature’s failure to cut corporate welfare for big business, opting to stick the working people of this state with the burden of balancing the state budget instead.
Actually, we consider the Data Center’s recently released report on the condition of youth in New Orleans; and we see it as one of the main reasons this proposed millage makes little sense to us right now. Of the many dismal stats, this report tells that 43.8 percent of children under 18 in New Orleans live in poverty and the percentage of children in New Orleans under the age of 18 with at least one working parent significantly lags behind the state and the nation. Make no mistake—these children are a part of the families that will feel the burden of more taxes. And let’s face it, until we start addressing the issues of deep-rooted poverty and economic inequity, we will continue to have a public safety problem that we will never be able to tax or police our way out of.