NEW ORLEANS – Rejecting the wishes of the mayor, police and fire leaders and the departments’ unions, Orleans Parish voters on Saturday rejected a property tax increase to boost police and fire funding in New Orleans.
With 95 percent of the precincts reporting, voters were rejecting the tax by some 1,700 votes, 53-47 percent.
The 7.5-mill increase had the strong backing of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, the city’s police and fire superintendents and the police and firefighter unions, as well as a host of other unions representing city workers and members of business and civic groups.
“We are asking the people of the city of New Orleans to give us the resources to provide the services to them that they have demanded from us and rightly so,” Landrieu said earlier in the week.
Supporters called the tax crucial to ensuring the city can fund an expansion of the Police Department’s depleted ranks. They also argued it would properly fund firefighters’ pensions and pay a $75 million judgment owed to firefighters for unpaid wages.
Of the 7.5 mill increase, a 2.5-mill increase for the Fire Department would have provided about $8.9 million a year. The remaining 5 mills would raise $17.7 million for police, for hiring more officers. The mayor and police chief said the money would help expand the force from 1,163 officers to about 1,600 officers by 2020.
“This helps us get to our 1,600 by the end of 2020, where we can hire up to 180 officers beginning next year and every year through 2020,” NOPD Supt. Michael Harrison said.
The tax increase would have taken effect in 2017. It would have raised the average homeowner’s taxes by about five percent. According to The Advocate, it amounted to a tax increase of $112.50 a year for every $150,000 of a property’s value.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu made a statement regarding the election results:
“While we are disappointed with the election’s results, we remain fully committed to public safety, as our top priority. Unfortunately, this means that we will not be able to grow the NOPD to what it needs over the next few years barring some unforeseen stream of revenue. And in order to honor our commitment to our firefighters and pay them what they are owed, other parts of the budget will have to be cut. We are appreciative of the public’s support for the streets renewal so that we can continue our positive momentum forward in repairing our aging infrastructure.”
Also on Saturday, voters approved a $120 million bond issue that will largely be used for repairing streets. The bond issue would be paid for with existing taxes. The money would go toward street repairs, with some money for new trucks for the Fire Department.