It’s getting expensive to own property in New Orleans. So it’s incumbent upon the city to ask residents to pay more only as a last resort, and for needs that are genuinely dire — or at the least, fully vetted and backed by both the mayor and the City Council.
That hasn’t always been the case. Earlier this year, voters rejected a council-backed millage request to fund services for the elderly, after Mayor LaToya Cantrell argued that such funding should be part of a more comprehensive plan.
Now Cantrell is seeking a November election to raise 3 mills for infrastructure maintenance and other needs. The measure ran into trouble at a recent council meeting when members balked over language that would allow the proceeds to be used for things such as cybersecurity, furnishings and police cars.
"If we’re all going to have that collective and unified statement that infrastructure and drainage is our priority, we need to show that infrastructure and drainage is going to be our priority with how we’re going to be using our tax dollars," said Council President Helena Moreno, who joined in a 4-2 vote to defer the matter until the Aug. 8 meeting.
Recent surprise floods, Cantrell's successful push to wrest more money for drainage and roads out of tourism revenues and the administration's admission that still more is needed all point to the importance of strategically targeting new revenue.
The city has many pressing needs, but homeowners are stressed, particularly given news that assessments are up more than 18 percent overall and much more in some neighborhoods. That will translate into steep tax hikes for many even at the current millage rates, and well as additional revenue for City Hall, assuming that it rolls the millage rates forwards. And several millage renewals are also on the horizon, as is a long-discussed drainage fee.
All this creates the possibility of genuine tax fatigue among residents, who have shown on several occasions in recent years a willingness to reject millage requests. Higher taxes are an understandably tough sell.
New Orleans’ infrastructure and other needs are well-known, but the residents who pay these taxes have to prioritize when times are tight. They have a right to ask the same from their government.