Voters to get N.O. property tax hike _lowres

Advocate Photo by MICHELLE MILLHOLLON -- State Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, on Thursday sponsored the proposed property tax hike for New Orleans.

On his second try in two years, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu succeeded Thursday in putting a proposed property tax hike in Orleans Parish for police and fire protection onto the statewide November ballot.

For a homeowner with a $200,000 home in New Orleans, the increase could mean roughly an extra $200 a year in taxes.

However, the mayor still has a number of hurdles to clear.

The Louisiana House voted 85-0 in favor of the proposal Thursday, giving House Bill 111 final legislative passage. Because the targeted property tax is in the state constitution, HB111 is a complicated measure that requires several layers of approval before taxes can increase.

First, it will go before voters statewide on the November ballot. If it is approved by the state’s voters and by New Orleans voters, the New Orleans City Council then would decide whether to put it before the city’s registered voters for a separate vote.

HB111 squeaked through the Legislature just days ahead of final adjournment. Last year, the proposal failed to clear the Legislature.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Walt Leger III, said legislators finally recognized the city’s financial challenges. Landrieu is under pressure to find millions of dollars to improve jail conditions and reform the Police Department and to fund firefighters’ pensions.

“It is clear that providing the City Council with opportunities to meet the city’s public safety obligations is clearly understood by the Legislature, and supported. Allowing local government options to address these needs is critical, and hopefully, the people of the state will understand the importance of the amendment. Eventually, the people of the city and the City Council will be able to weigh in on how they wish the city to meet those needs,” said Leger, D-New Orleans.

The mayor hopes to follow up the statewide vote on the constitutional amendment with a second vote as early as December for voters in New Orleans.

Asked for comment on the bill’s passage, Landrieu’s spokesman, Tyler Gamble, said in an email, “The mayor looks forward to working with the City Council and the people of New Orleans to put together a package to address our liabilities and priorities.”

For New Orleans property owners, the amount of their tax dollars at stake grew as the legislative session progressed.

Leger at first proposed increasing two separate property tax rates, one for police and the other for fire protection, from their current 5 mills each to 6 mills each.

Later, the proposed tax hike jumped up to a maximum of 10 mills each for fire and police protection.

Instead of generating an additional $5.6 million a year for the city, the amended bill could generate an extra $28 million annually for police and fire protection.

One mill generates $2.8 million a year for the city, based on 90 percent collection receipts, and translates to $20 per year for a $200,000 home.

The special police and fire millages are not subject to the homestead exemption.

HB111 is one of the few pieces of Landrieu’s legislative package to succeed at the State Capitol this year.

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