NEW ORLEANS - Most residents of New Orleans would agree that more police officers are needed on the street. It's something many are demanding but to recruit and attract more officers requires money.
House Bill 111, backed by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, is proposing a property tax increase that would be dedicated to public safety issues including police recruitment, payment to firefighter pensions and reforms for both the New Orleans Police Department and Orleans Parish Prison. The combined cost of those endeavors and obligations could cost the city more than $40 million a year.
Mayor Landrieu said maintaining and improving safety in the city could hinge on the proposed tax increase. There are few good options. Money to pay for consent decrees and the firefighter pension is nowhere to be found. Those two areas ones in which the city is legally obligated to address. If no source of revenue is found, Mayor Landrieu said hard decisions must be made.
"What it does is limit our options. Our options would be then to cut, and then unfortunately we would have to choose. Do you want to cut the police department, fire department, lay people off?" said Landrieu.
On Thursday, an amendment made to the bill would allow the city to raise the tax for public safety up to ten mills.
It was originally set to increase 1 mill, from 5 to 6. But bill sponsor Rep. Walter Leger, (D) New Orleans, said allowing for an increase of up to 10 mills would give the New Orleans City Council "flexibility" to address public safety issues as they may develop. The tax would not be subject to a homestead exemption.
The current bill would require approval from several levels. Since it involves the amending of the state constitution, if the bill gets legislative approval, the tax proposal would be involved in a statewide referendum. If it clears that hurdle it would then return to Orleans Parish where the City Council would decide on the millage rate and then ultimately head to a parish wide referendum. Voters would ultimately decide the matter.
Annie Bell has lived in New Orleans East for more than 30 years. Bell says there is a lack of police presence in her part of the city. She would welcome more officers but potentially paying more than $100 extra per year on her tax bill is a hard sell.
"No, I cannot afford to pay any of those taxes, especially if you're not guaranteed any results from the increase. We need more police but would we get them if paid?" said Bell.
The dilemma of financing public safety will cost the city. The price may be up to the voter.