NO.cantrellcrime.082518.004.JPG

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell talks in her City Hall office in New Orleans, La. Friday, Aug. 24, 2018.

NEW ORLEANS MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL HAS DRAWN HER FIRST ELECTORAL BATTLE LINES since taking office last year. She opposes a new 2-mill property tax for senior services while she leads the effort to renew an existing 6.31-mill levy for parks and recreation. She says the difference between the two propositions is the level of accountability each offers.

Both moves will test her political coattails, but no one should doubt her mettle.

Cantrell showed her willingness to tackle tough issues when she took on the city’s hospitality industry, demanding a bigger slice of local sales taxes currently dedicated to tourism marketing, the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center. She wants some of that money to pay for infrastructure. That fight rages on.

The mayor’s opposition to the March 30 senior services referendum represents another principled but gutsy move. Virtually everyone, including Cantrell, agrees that local senior programs need more money. Nevertheless, she sent an email blast March 14 saying New Orleanians “cannot afford” the new tax.

“It does not go far enough to provide healthy outcomes for our seniors,” Cantrell said of the proposed millage, which would generate $6.6 million a year for five years. “This tax would go to a third party that is unaccountable to the public. And it’s a new tax on all of our homeowners, including seniors. We need a more holistic approach with services that meet all of their needs.”

Cantrell’s message drew a quick rebuke from the local Council on Aging, which said it needs a dedicated annual revenue stream to help fund 16 senior centers across the city. The agency cited a backlog for its Meals on Wheels program, which home-delivers free food to seniors.

The City Council voted unanimously last October to put the proposed millage on the ballot, at the request of the Council on Aging. Since then, however, there has been little public campaigning for it.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) gave Cantrell some cover by recommending rejection of the senior millage, calling it “laudable” but saying it “does not assure citizens of the effective use of the millage revenue” because the City Council “has not put forward any companion ordinance to clarify specific recipients, uses and accountability and performance measures.”

Cantrell’s support for the parks and rec renewal is a safer political move, though there’s always some risk in backing a revenue measure — even one that doesn’t increase taxes. That proposition appears on the May 4 ballot.

Unlike the seniors millage, the parks and rec proposition has gained widespread support and has the trappings of a well-organized campaign. One reason for its broader political base is a decision by the Audubon Commission to reduce its share of the millage significantly in order to give City Park property tax support for the first time in its history — and give bigger shares to parkways and recreation.

“These funds will reallocate an existing millage to provide greater transparency, accountability, and access for our residents,” Cantrell said of the parks and rec millage. “It will benefit hundreds of locations in every neighborhood.”

Early voting for the senior millage starts Saturday, March 16. It is the only item on the March 30 New Orleans ballot.