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LaToya Cantrell.

The political appeal of a tax for services to the elderly is obvious. For one thing, members of the New Orleans City Council can tell you, the elderly vote in larger numbers.

But the Bureau of Governmental Research has relevant questions about committing in the March 30 election to a 2-mill property tax for elderly services. It would generate about $6.6 million annually for its five-year term. Early voting begins today in this city election, continuing for a week except for Sunday.

On the one hand, supporters of the new tax argue that East Baton Rouge Parish spends a lot more per person on its Council on Aging than does the Crescent City. If the property tax passes, spending on elderly services, per person, will be only a little more than half that of East Baton Rouge.

The City Council, pushing this initiative without the backing of Mayor LaToya Cantrell, unanimously voted to create that special fund, which they will control through their budget process. This means that the New Orleans Council on Aging is likely to benefit from the tax, but other organizations might also.

Further, services to the elderly population are inevitably labor-intensive: Think about delivering meals, staffing and managing senior centers, and so on.

Accountability for results and proper management might end up taking second place to making grants that employ folks.

It is very easy for open-ended grants to nonprofits connected with politically influential constituencies in neighborhoods to become an opening for spending without accountability. At least in theory, the politicians on the council will be exercising proper oversight of the spending of the elderly services fund.

About half of Louisiana's parishes have some dedicated tax for elderly services, typically directed to local councils on aging. The dedicated tax for the Council on Aging in Baton Rouge has probably been the most controversial in the state.

The BGR concern is that this City Council millage proposal has more political appeal than in-depth planning associated with it. Given the mayor's concerns about fixing city streets and other pressing needs, any tax proposal ought to be fully fleshed out.

“It provides a broad grant of spending authority to the City Council, which has not put forward any companion ordinance to clarify specific recipients, uses, and accountability and performance measures,” BGR said. “This is particularly problematic at a time when the city must confront, and voters must weigh, a host of critical needs competing for tax revenue.”

Given the differences between the mayor and council on this issue, we think it would be best if voters turn down this millage so that city leaders can get together on a more comprehensive and accountable mechanism for elderly services.