Louisiana voters will decide the fate of 14 proposed amendments in the Nov. 4 election. The Advocate is publishing a series of editorials outlining its positions on the amendments. Soon, we’ll publish a recap of our positions in a single format that voters can easily use when casting a ballot. Our complete editorial series on the amendments also will be available online at theadvocate.com.
Three amendments will go to voters on the Nov. 4 ballot dealing with issues surrounding the problem of neglected or blighted property, a huge problem in Louisiana since the flooding after the landfalls of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Here are our recommendations on three of the amendments.
Amendment 3: Delinquent tax sales. Yes.
A lawsuit blocked a New Orleans fee to a third-party collector for delinquent tax collections and sales. Hiring a contractor for this work has been done in several jurisdictions, but the courts found a constitutional problem: Parish tax collectors are authorized to do the work, not specifically contractors of the tax collectors. The amendment would clarify the law to allow, but not require, a fee to be paid to agents used by local government for collections. Particularly in smaller jurisdictions, tax collectors can use the expertise of a contractor in the often-complex process of collecting taxes due or selling abandoned property so that it can be put back into commerce.
Amendment 10: Tax sales of property. Yes.
In the tangle of legal complications of blighted property, one of the biggest is the constitutional requirement that owners have three years to pay past-due taxes. In cases where taxes are not paid at all, an investor may buy a certificate for the property but still must wait three years in most of the state, except for Orleans Parish, where the redemption period was reduced to 18 months in 1995.
The amendment brings the rest of the state into line with Orleans’ rule. Blight is not just a New Orleans problem. We think this amendment can have a positive impact by speeding up the process of putting tax sale properties into commerce.
Amendment 13: Lower 9th Ward. Yes.
The devastation of the Lower 9th Ward was one of the tragedies visited upon the city of New Orleans and its neighboring parishes after the 2005 landfall of Hurricane Katrina. The extent of the loss of houses alone drew the attention of the entire world. Unfortunately, at next year’s 10th anniversary of those events, much of the area will still be vacant lots.
That slow pace of recovery is frustrating, and this amendment and its companion legislation is the result. Passage of the amendment will require sale of the government-owned parcels for $100, a nominal sum that does not recover the costs of the property transfer, much less necessarily lead to appropriate redevelopment. With great respect for the desire of legislators to get something moving, the companion legislation for this proposal is flawed, as the BGR public policy group points out. BGR noted that the law requires the donations and sets a bad precedent for lawmakers basically giving away property that is under the authority of the city or the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority.
However, those flaws can be fixed and the effective donation of some of those lots might lead to progress in this neighborhood. We feel it’s worth a try.