Louisiana voters have agreed to let New Orleans residents decide in a future election whether they want to increase special property taxes to help pay for police and fire protection, but voters statewide rejected a proposal that would have given the city permission to sell vacant lots in the Lower 9th Ward for $100.
Both amendments needed to pass both in Orleans Parish and statewide Tuesday to take effect.
Amendment No. 6, the property tax measure, squeaked by in the statewide race, with about 51 percent of votes in its favor. It did much better in Orleans Parish, winning 60 percent of the vote.
Amendment No. 6 doubles the maximum authorized rate for special taxes for police and fire protection to 10 mills each. The constitution currently caps the rates for the two taxes at 5 mills each. The two taxes do not include the homestead exemption that covers all municipal local tax millages in New Orleans.
However, the City Council will have to schedule an election at which Orleans voters will decide whether to actually raise the two millages and, if so, by how much. The election cannot be held soon enough to affect 2015 tax bills.
Increasing both taxes to their new maximum level would generate an additional $31.6 million a year 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 have said they believe that language would cover strengthening 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.
The amendment was one of two related solely to New Orleans that needed the approval of voters statewide Tuesday. The other one, Amendment No. 13, lost by a wide margin statewide. It proposed clearing 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. Statewide, only about 40 percent of voters supported the measure. Orleans voters also turned down the measure, though by a much slimmer margin.
The amendment was necessary to override the state constitution’s prohibition on donating or selling public property at less than fair market value.
The law would have given adjacent property owners who previously qualified under the now-defunct Lot Next Door Program the first opportunity to purchase lots. Priority would then have been 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 have been barred from purchasing a lot.