Mandeville voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to change the term-limit rules for City Council members and whether the city should have greater flexibility in spending some tax money now earmarked for infrastructure.
In all, the voters will cast ballots on five measures: four amendments to the city’s home rule charter and one sales tax extension and rededication.
The four proposed amendments are the result of months of discussion that included several, sometimes contentious, charter review hearings held by the City Council.
Three of the four amendments involve mostly technical changes intended to simplify the charter and update obsolete language.
One includes a raft of small changes in wording to make the charter more closely align with state laws, including publishing city documents on the city’s website. Another would shift the responsibility for filling vacancies on city boards and commissions from the governor to the mayor when the council does not appoint a person in a timely manner. The third would change the city’s human resources director from an unclassified to a classified position, bringing it fully under the supervision of the city’s Civil Service Board.
The fourth charter amendment — and the only one that seems to be facing real opposition — would change the term limits for council members. The council has three district and two at-large seats, and at present, members can serve two consecutive terms in any one seat. Some council members want to remove the possibility of endless “musical chairs,” in which a council member could serve two full terms in a district seat, then run for as many as two terms in an at-large seat, or vice versa, then theoretically go back to a district seat.
The charter amendment would allow someone to serve three consecutive terms but would apply that limit to all service on the council, whether in a district or at-large position — in other words, two terms in a district seat and then no more than one at-large, or vice versa.
The proposal has broad support among the council, especially at-large Councilman Clay Madden.
The city’s current law is just “window dressing,” Madden said in an email urging constituents to vote for the measure. The amendment would “close a loophole we currently have in our charter,” he added.
The amendment is vigorously opposed by Mandeville Mayor Donald Villere.
“I think term limits are good,” Villere said, “but I oppose adding terms to the council or mayor.” He also said he thought “musical chairs” could be a good thing by allowing veteran members to stay on the council.
He cited the current council — four of whose members were elected for the first time in 2012 — as an example of a body that could use more experienced voices. Villere and the council has clashed, sometimes heatedly, over many issues, including the budget, city workers’ health care, flood protection and road projects.
The proposed tax rededication would take a 1-cent sales tax currently devoted to roads, drains and sewers and rededicate half of that money to the city’s general fund, meaning it could be used for purposes such as police and other city employees’ salaries and benefits. The tax, which brings in about $4.6 million per year, is one of three sales taxes totaling 2.5 cents that Mandeville levies.
The current proposition would extend the 1-cent tax — now due to expire in 2019 — for an additional 10 years and immediately rededicate 50 percent of it to the general fund.
The city’s other sales taxes are a half-cent for infrastructure projects and 1 cent for the general fund.
The proposed rededication has broad support from the council and the mayor, who over the past couple of years have grappled with skyrocketing employee health care and retirement costs. At the same time, the city’s sales tax fund — the reserve account where surplus sales tax money is deposited — has grown to eight figures.
Rededicating part of the sales tax could help the city by spreading more of the burden of paying for all government operations over a larger group than just people who pay property tax, Villere said. He has said he hopes that once the revenue from the rededication is realized, the city could lower the property tax rate, though he declined to speculate on when that could happen or how great the reduction could be.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.