Battle lines drawn for tax vote for Audubon Nature Institute


Posted on March 14, 2014 at 10:15 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 15 at 12:16 PM

Dennis Woltering / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @dwoltering

NEW ORLEANS - The Audubon Commission wants voters to approve a tax that would provide $11.9 million a year for the Audubon Nature Institute, which runs the zoo, the aquarium, the insectarium, the species survival center and Audubon Park among other facilities, and that tax would run for  50 years raising $595 million.

“More than half a billion dollars to one institute, to one private organization with no list of projects?  Is that the best use of our taxpayer dollars?” asked Ramsey Green, of Friends of Wisner Park. “And I question that.”

The original tax for the zoo still runs until 2021. The tax for the aquarium goes until 2022. Combined they amount to 3.31 mills.  Audobon wants to replace them with a combined tax that amounts to 4.2 mills. Audubon calls it a tax renewal.

“I don’t consider it a tax renewal,” Green said.  “And this new one -- 50 years, 27 percent of an increase, more than half a billion dollars, there are no deliverables.” 

Green questions why Audubon, which charges a family of four $77 to visit the aquarium, $59 to visit the zoo, needs additional tax revenue. He'd rather see additional tax money going to neighborhood parks like Wisner at the intersection of Laurel and Upperline streets.

“Every neighborhood in the city deserves a beautiful park like Wisner Park,” Green said.

But the president and CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute, Ron Forman, insists what voters are being asked to approve is a renewal, saying millages go up and down and will fluctuate in the future. He argues the tax is necessary to keep the Audubon facilities world class.

“Some of the exhibitry at the aquarium is 26 years old,” said Forman. “You can't maintain a world-class attraction by keeping it the same level forever.” 

Forman says this tax issue is about families, education and quality of life.

“We want to build new attractions.  There'll be an aquarium. There'll be a new major penguin exhibit.  We’re building a new Caribbean exhibit.  There’s going to be a new otter exhibit. At the zoo we’re building an elephant exhibit, an African exhibit,” Forman said.

Yet opponents argue for all this money, “There’s no accountability,” Green said.

“That is absolutely absurd,” Forman counters.  “We are an asset of the city of New Orleans. We are audited each every year.” 

If voters approve the Audubon issue, the tax bill for a $200,000 home would go from just over $41 per year to just under $53 per year.