NEW ORLEANS - The Bureau of Governmental Research has come out in support of two tax proposals on the April 9 ballot in New Orleans, one to increase funding for police and firefighters, the other to pay for street repairs and other improvements.
The police and fire tax would increase property taxes by a total of 7.5 mills. 2.5 mills would be dedicated to fire protection. A 5-mill increase for police would be dedicated to recruiting, hiring, equipping and paying police officers for increased police protection.
That tax would help fund the city’s efforts to add about 450 officers to the current police force by the end of 2020. The department is grappling with a manpower shortage which has impacted police response time, as highlighted in a series of recent reports by Eyewitness News and The New Orleans Advocate.
The owner of a $350,000 home would pay an additional $262.50 in taxes each year, according to the BGR report. Commercial property owners would pay $105 per $100,000 of value.
“The fire tax will provide the funding to help resolve longstanding city financial obligations to firefighters. Without the tax, the city would have to cut other areas of the budget in order to fund these obligations,” according to the BGR.
“As to the police tax, the funding will help the NOPD to rebuild its ranks to desired levels. Detailed plans for deployment of new officers give taxpayers a clear sense of where their money will go. In addition, the 12-year duration allows voters to revisit the tax if the NOPD does not accomplish its goals.”
The BGR report gives a detailed analysis of the NOPD hiring situation and the challenges the city has faced in boosting manpower, as well as funding challenges brought upon by the federal consent decree.
"City officials acknowledge they have set an ambitious goal," BGR says of the plan that would require the NOPD hire 185 officers a year over the next five years, to combat attrition.
While raising questions about the tax, the BGR ultimately agrees that "Approval of the tax would represent a major commitment by taxpayers to give the troubled police department the resources necessary to rebuild its ranks, reduce response times and provide better public safety outcomes."
The bond proposition for street repairs and public improvements would authorize the city to issue $120 million in general obligation bonds. $100 million would be used for streets and improvements to sidewalks, curbing, street lighting, drainage and landscaping. $15 million would be used for public buildings, parks and recreational facilities and $5 million would be used for fire trucks, equipment and land acquisition.
The city has said it needs $9.3 billion to fully repair the city’s streets and subsurface infrastructure. FEMA committed to $2 billion of that cost in December. The bond proposition would cover streets that are not eligible for FEMA funding but are adjacent to FEMA projects.
If voters approve the proposition on April 9, the city plans to issue $50 million in bonds in the second half of 2016 and $70 million in 2018. According to the Board of Liquidation, City Debt, the bond issues would be repaid over a 30-year life. The combined annual debt service payments would be about $8 million, or the equivalent of 2.5 mills at current property valuations. “According to the city, the existing debt service millage is sufficient to cover the bond payments, meaning there would be no increase in the current tax rate,” BGR reports.
“This relatively modest bond proposition would enable the city to take a more holistic approach to impending street repairs by funding work that either is ineligible for federal disaster funding or will be identified through the pavement condition survey," the BGR analysis said.