Mandeville is not like other Louisiana cities. Just ask any of the city’s leaders, who will happily point to the picturesque lakefront, low crime rate and good schools as factors that make it distinctive.
But the city also differs from other municipalities in one other, perhaps more important, respect: It has money.
Lots of it.
For years, the cash has been piling up in the city’s accounts faster than it can be spent.
But most of that money is in special funds with strings attached. By law, it can be spent only on certain things, usually infrastructure or drainage.
Last year, Mandeville voters voted to rededicate a portion of the city’s sales tax revenue away from infrastructure and drainage to the general fund so it could be spent on police, employee salaries or other purposes.
With that money now flowing into the general fund, the City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to reduce the general fund property tax paid by property owners in the city from 7.34 mills to 2.57 mills, a 65 percent reduction.
Reducing property tax has been a goal of Mandeville leaders for some time. The main argument in favor has been that taking more general fund money from the sales tax spreads the tax burden among not just city residents but any other people who shop in Mandeville. Giving a property tax break to residents concentrates the refund among the city’s voters.
When it came time to actually reduce the property tax, the only dispute was over how big the reduction should be. Mayor Donald Villere proposed reducing the millage by about half, from 7.34 mills to 3.57 mills. That wasn’t enough for Councilman David Ellis, who moved to reduce it to zero.
But Frank Oliveri, the city’s finance director, said such a drop would be overly aggressive and could force the council to make tough budget choices this summer, when it takes up Villere’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting Sept. 1.
Council Chairman Rick Danielson, who is challenging Villere for mayor in the March election, agreed with Oliveri that dropping the millage to zero would be too drastic. Instead, he suggested cutting an additional 1 mill from Villere’s proposal, down to 2.57 mills, and the council agreed.
The council could, Danielson and others noted, drop the millage even further at this time next year.
As a result, Mandeville property owners will see their general fund millage drop from 7.34 mills to 2.57 mills. Add the city’s 8.46-mill property tax dedicated to police — which the council didn’t touch — and homeowners will be paying 11.03 mills to the city this year rather than the 15.8 mills they paid last year. For a person with a house assessed at $250,000, that means a savings of $119.
For the city, it could mean a loss of about $830,000 in general fund revenue, Oliveri said. City officials said they have projected about $1 million in general fund surplus for next year.
The council will hold a series of budget workshops this summer to review Villere’s proposed budget before voting on it.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.