A nonpartisan research group has endorsed a quarter-cent sales tax increase in the French Quarter to support an ongoing State Police presence in the city’s No. 1 tourist neighborhood.
But the Bureau of Governmental Research also cautioned that although the tax measure on the Oct. 24 ballot specifies that the money would go to support public safety in the Quarter, exactly how it would be spent could change without a public vote.
Still, BGR said in a report released Tuesday that the five-year dedicated sales tax boost, while a “novel approach” to funding neighborhood law enforcement, “makes sense as a stopgap measure” in a district where an estimated 9 million tourists visited last year but only about 3,800 people live.
City Hall has earmarked the $2 million in annual proceeds it expects the tax would bring in to support extra state troopers under an arrangement hashed out with the State Police, the Morial Convention Center and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The sales tax increase would not apply to hotel stays.
Only voters within the borders of the Quarter — from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue, North Rampart Street to the Mississippi — will decide the measure’s fate.
The cash would be set aside specifically for at least 30 state troopers to supplement — but not replace — the New Orleans Police Department’s depleted 8th District police contingent.
It would at least partially replace $2.5 million in funding that the Convention Center and the CVB have pledged through year’s end to add police presence in the Quarter.
The number of officers in the 8th District fell by 35 percent from 2010 to 2014. Discontent among French Quarter residents grew amid a perceived increase in violent crime and aggressive panhandling.
An early morning shooting spree on Bourbon Street in late June 2014, in which a young Hammond woman was killed and nine others were wounded, prompted Mayor Mitch Landrieu to plead for help from the State Police. The hotel industry followed with an offer to board and pay troopers to keep them in place.
Citing city figures, BGR said 10 to 15 on-duty New Orleans police officers are assigned to each patrol shift in the Quarter. That’s the range that the city has assured BGR it will stick to as a baseline, the report says.
Under one of the formal agreements that underpin the new arrangement, the Convention Center and the CVB would continue providing $1 million a year, and the city would add $500,000 for a melange of law enforcement efforts that include off-duty patrols launched by former French Quarter trash company owner Sidney Torres in March, as well as the mayor’s new yellow-shirted citizen foot patrol, NOLA Patrol.
Although a win for the ballot measure would lock in the new funds, BGR notes that changes to how the money is spent could come without voter approval. Only the consent of the city and the tourist boards would be needed.
Also, the city or State Police could pull out of the deal on 30 days’ notice. Where the money would go in that case is uncertain, according to the report.
If voters shoot down the sales tax hike, which would raise the overall sales tax rate in the French Quarter to 9.25 percent, the Convention & Visitors Bureau “has indicated that it intends to continue funding State Police patrols at some level,” the report says.
Still, the tourist industry could walk away if the tax increase fails, and questions about the broadly worded measure failed to deter BGR from backing it.
“The French Quarter is the heart of the city’s tourist economy,” the report concludes. “Creating a sales tax to fund additional security in the Quarter will improve safety for residents and tourists alike, while appropriately allocating the cost burden.”
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