Packed house inside French Quarter proposed sales tax meeting

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NEW ORLEANS -- A large crowd gathered inside the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter on Tuesday night to learn more about a proposed quarter-cent sales tax for public safety.

"I think we need to surprise these knuckleheads one night and clean the whole Quarter up," said one audience member to city leaders and politicians.

The city of New Orleans put together a presentation delivered by Ryan Berni with the mayor's office. The city says the French Quarter sales tax would generate about $2 million per year and would be matched by the hospitality industry to help fund 30 troopers in the Vieux Carre.

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The five-year sales tax would only impact the French Quarter and also mean continued funding for the French Quarter Task Force and NOLA Patrol.

According to a Bureau of Governmental Research report released on Tuesday, in the last four years the French Quarter has seen a 55-percent increase in overall crime. BGR also points to a 35-percent drop in the number of officers assigned to NOPD's 8th District, which includes the French Quarter.

While police work on hiring and training more officers, the watchdog group supports the sales tax proposal.

 

"We actually like the fact that there's a five-year sunset on this tax because it gives the voters an opportunity to come back in five years and reassess: Where are we? Do we need this tax anymore? Has the NOPD built up its ranks to the point where there's no longer a need for this?" said BGR President and CEO Celeste Coco-Ewing.

However, critics say the tax would be a short-term fix for a much larger and long-term problem.

"We can't let NOPD disappear while we save the French Quarter. We're a part of the city, not apart from the city," said French Quarter resident Larry Lane, who opposes the tax.

Currently, an additional 50 state troopers are assigned to the French Quarter to help NOPD officers with patrols there. The extra manpower has been funded by the local hospitality industry through January 2016.

Registered voters living in the French Quarter are the only ones making a final decision on the proposed sales tax.

Early voting runs from Oct. 10-17. The primary election is Oct. 24.