Voters reject tax renewal for OPP reforms

WWLTV
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NEW ORLEANS -- Voters said no to the renewal of a 2.9-mill tax to fund the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District controlled by Sheriff Marlin Gusman.

Gusman and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu wanted voter approval to use the money earmarked for construction projects, to help implement court ordered reforms at the parish prison.

The tax proposition failed by a 53 to 47 percent margin.

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Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin said the wording may have confused some voters.

"I think that the way the ballot language was written would have suggested to some voters that was actually a tax increase when all it was a renewal of an existing tax at the very same level," said Kopplin.

Councilman Jared Brossett said money for the jail will now have to come from somewhere.

"We're in a budget process right now and we're going to have to revisit what that impact will look like on the mayor's budget proposal," said Brossett. "No one wants to hear about cutting services. There are a lot of issues from streets, public works, and the like that we face ahead."

Council President and Budget Committee chair Stacy Head said rather than cuts, she would like to see Sheriff Gusman downsize his jail to one the city can afford.

"He just signed a contract for a $15 million a year health care contract for prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison," said Head. "It's almost that you want to go to OPP to get better health care than you would if you were a regular citizens in the city of New Orleans."

Head said other costs at the jail are also staggering.

"We continue to house prisoners from out of the parish. We continue to house prisoners from DOC, which are state responsibilities. No other parish does that because you lose money on it. Unfortunately, we don't have the ability for the sheriff to use his own money for it. Instead, we're going to the general fund dollars."

The city is asking a federal judge for permission to phase in the reforms.

"We didn't develop the problems at the jail overnight," Kopplin said. "We're not going to fix them overnight. I think all of the parties need to be cognizant of the incredible fiscal pressures that the city has faced since Katrina."

The law enforcement district tax renewal must now lay over for at least six months before the sheriff can put the issue back on the ballot.

Gusman issued the following statement:

"We were pleased to have the support of the Bureau of Governmental Research, as well as area newspapers and online publications for this measure. A victory would have allowed us to redirect funds no longer needed for debt service to operations, deputies and inmates. We will have to go back to the drawing board."