A measure that would give the go-ahead to New Orleans residents to decide in a future election whether they want to increase the special property taxes to help pay for police and fire protection was ahead in early results Tuesday night, but a proposal to give the city permission to sell Lower 9th Ward lots for $100 was behind in the statewide election.
With 105 of 4,018 precincts reporting, 55 percent of Louisiana voters were in favor of Amendment No. 6, the property tax measure. However, about 52 percent of voters were against Amendment No. 13, related to property in the Lower 9th Ward.
The amendments need to pass in both Orleans Parish and statewide to move on to a separate local vote at a later date.
Amendment No. 6 is the first step toward doubling the maximum authorized rate for police and fire protection to 10 mills each. The constitution currently caps the rates for the two taxes at 5 mills each without applying the homestead exemption that covers all other tax millages in New Orleans.
Increasing the taxes would generate an additional $31.6 million for the police and fire departments. The new revenue would have to be used for services that directly contribute to residents’ safety. Both the Mayor’s Office and the firefighters union said they believe it could also be used to strengthen the Fire Department’s pension fund. The city is facing a $17.5 million judgment for underfunding the pension fund in 2012 and may owe another $54 million for three additional years of underfunding as alleged by the fire union.
Amendment No. 13 clears the way for the city to sell vacant lots acquired by the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority in the Lower 9th Ward for $100 per lot, a price set by the Legislature in a 2014 law. The amendment is necessary to override the state constitution’s prohibition on donating or selling public property at less than fair market value.
The law would give adjacent property owners who previously qualified under the now-defunct Lot Next Door Program the first opportunity to purchase lots. Priority would then be given, in order, to those who have leased property in the Lower 9th Ward for at least 18 months; former Lower 9th Ward residents, veterans, teachers, retired teachers and emergency responders; and anyone who agrees to build on the property and live there for at least five years. Developers, corporate entities and anyone with an active code enforcement violation or outstanding tax lien would be barred from purchasing.