Officials representing several public employee and labor unions in New Orleans came out Wednesday in support of a property tax hike for public safety, as well as a bond measure to fund roads, firetrucks and public buildings.
Both the bond issue and the millage, which would increase property taxes by 7.5 mills for 12 years, will be on the April 9 ballot.
Representatives of essentially all of the labor organizations representing city employees spoke in favor of the increase at a news conference Wednesday, including representatives of the fire and police unions.
“We have a broad base of support,” said Nick Felton, head of the firefighters union.
Other groups represented were the Police Association of New Orleans, the Black Organization of Police, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union and the state AFL-CIO.
The support of the public safety unions comes as little surprise. The millage increase, which would raise an estimated $26.6 million annually, is designed to tackle problems those groups have raised with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which proposed the hike.
That’s particularly true for the firefighters. About $8.9 million of the increase, generated by 2.5 mills, would cover the city’s annual payments into the firefighters’ pension system.
That would free up other money in the budget to pay off a $75 million judgment the city owes firefighters for back pay in a decades-long dispute that was settled in a deal the two sides reached last year.
Without the increase, the city would be forced to cut other city services to pay the $75 million and would have to stretch out the payments in the judgment over many more years, Felton said.
The police portion of the increase, which amounts to 5 mills, would go toward paying for an expansion of the Police Department as it seeks to boost the number of officers from 1,163 to 1,600 over the next four years.
The $17.7 million the Police Department’s 5 mills would generate would cover the cost of that expansion next year, though additional money would be needed in future years.
The bond issue would be paid for with an existing tax and would generate about $120 million over several years. About $5 million of that would go toward new firetrucks to replace aging equipment in the department’s fleet, while most of the rest would be dedicated to street improvements.
The property tax increase has also received the support of the Fraternal Order of Police, the Bureau of Governmental Research, Greater New Orleans Inc. and the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region. So far, no organized opposition to the measure has emerged.