The New Orleans Tribune: Our Endorsements
Orleans Parish voters still have a few decisions they need to make with runoffs in the U.S. Senate race as well as the Criminal District Court, Section D, along with a 2.5 mill tax referendum that, if approved, would fund the New Orleans Fire Department budgets to satisfy the city’s back pay debt owed to about 1100 firefighters or their heirs.
CRIMINAL COURT, SECTION D
PW Prop. (Fire Protection) – 2.5 Mills – CC –12 Yrs.
If approved, this proposition will levy a 2.5 mill property tax on the value of all real property in Orleans Parish for 12 years to generate money to satisfy the back pay owed to New Orleans firefighters. The cost of the tax will be about $25 a year for every $100,000 of residential property value. For example, the owner of a home valued at $250,000 would see his tax bill rise by about $62.50 a year because of this tax.
At The New Orleans Tribune, we are never pressed to ask our readers to vote in favor of tax increases because we understand that every penny counts and that our government officials have an obligation to act responsibly with the revenue already being generated to meet the needs of the city, its employees and residents. Leaders cannot expect to satisfy every financial demand, whether real or perceived, by going to the voters whenever the spirit hits them with a new tax proposal. That doesn’t work for us.
But we have reflected on this particular tax proposal and are encouraging our dedicated readers to vote “YES”. Here’s why:
It’s Dedicated: The first time this proposal came before voters it was packaged as a two-part, wholesale public safety millage for the fire and police departments. And while the 2.5 mills raised for the fire department would have been specifically earmarked to satisfy the back pay debt, the use of the other 5 mills for the police department was a more ambiguous. We urged our readers to vote no. We didn’t like the idea of the city being able to arbitrarily decide how funds would be used and even questioned whether the funding for police, in particular, was necessary. Now that the dedicated firefighter millage has been offered separately, our chief reservations to this referendum have been addressed. The money raised from the millage will be used for one purpose and one purpose only—to pay firefighters back money they are owed by the city.
It Expires: The millage is expected to raise, at this time, a bit more than $8.8 million annually for 12 years. After 12 years, the debt owed to firefighters will be satisfied and the millage will end. The pay issues that landed the city in this mess were addressed under the Nagin administration; as such, once this debt has been satisfied, this issue will no longer exist for the city and its firefighters. Note to city leaders: We are encouraging our readers vote in favor to once and for all address an issue that has lingered for nearly three decades; however, please do not come with another millage for another cause any time soon. New Orleanians are already stressed by rising tax bills due to skyrocketing property valuations, rising utility bills and increased costs of living. For folk already spending as much as or even more than half of their income on housing costs (we do expect landlords to pass this cost on to renters), even an additional $25 a year is a sacrifice to be sure. In other words, the well is running dry, so don’t keep coming to it to fill your buckets. Oh, and please do not dare try to renew this millage after 12 years. We will remember.
The City is Obligated: Firefighters will get the money owed them one way or another. A judge has ruled; appeals have been exhausted; and the firefighters have made concessions, agreeing to reforms to their pension program and foregoing some interest owed on the back pay debt. If the millage fails, the city would take longer to meet this obligation and would likely have to make cuts to other city services to do so. The city of New Orleans owes about 1100 of its firefighters roughly $75 million in back pay. Some of these men and women have retired waiting on this money. About 10 percent of them have died, leaving their heirs to deal the legalities of getting the money that was owed to them. Another 40 percent of these men and women are still active with the department. In short, they have already waited too long. Let’s meet this obligation and move on.