New Orleans residents will get to vote next year on whether to split tax money currently dedicated to the Audubon Commission among several local parks and recreation agencies, including City Park.
The City Council on Thursday agreed to place a referendum on the May 4 ballot that, if approved by the voters, would sharply cut the annual revenue the Audubon Commission receives to operate the zoo and aquarium.
That portion of the millage, which would also be extended for 20 years, would instead go to the Department of Parks and Parkways, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission and City Park, marking the first time the city's largest park would receive property tax dollars.
Four years after New Orleans voters soundly rejected a long-term extension of a property tax for the Audubon Commission, park and city officia…
The referendum is part of a push by officials to support a broader variety of green spaces and recreational offerings with residents' property tax dollars.
It also comes four years after voters rejected the Audubon Commission's proposal to hike its own tax revenue, but not share its wealth, over a 50-year term. Property owners would not see a tax increase under the revised proposal.
"I think this is a huge win for the citizens of the city," said Councilman Jay H. Banks, one of the measure's sponsors. "We are going to be reallocating the current taxes, and (levying) no new taxes, and this will be a huge benefit to the entire community."
The various agencies would be required to adhere to a cooperative endeavor agreement, still being finalized, that would call for monthly meetings of the agencies' leaders, shared capital improvement plans and other coordination.
The vote Thursday on the measure, which was requested by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, was unanimous.
If a concern for the welfare of others is the mark of a gentleman, Ron Forman is our beau ideal.
The reallocation "is a model for how we can work to balance resources more equitably to ensure that we are collaborating and making commitments to programming and infrastructure across the city," said Emily Wolff, head of Cantrell's Office of Youth and Families.
When the Audubon millage extension was voted down four years ago, some voters said they opposed giving the zoo and the aquarium more money while neighborhood playgrounds and neutral grounds seemingly languished with little funding, according to the Trust for Public Land, which helped the agencies create the new proposal.
The new referendum offers Audubon a way to secure long-term funding, even if at a reduced level.
"We fully support the changes," said Ron Forman, CEO of the Audubon Nature Institute.
The New Orleans City Council took a first step Thursday toward asking voters to shift some tax revenue from the Audubon Commission to other pa…
The plan would cut Audubon's annual $10.9 million tax intake to $6.5 million, reducing its 3.31 mills to 1.95 mills.
It would raise NORDC's current $4.9 million, on 1.50 mills a year, to $6.5 million on 1.95 mills. Parks and Parkways, which also maintains city green spaces, would be increased from its current $4.9 million on 1.50 mills a year to $6 million on 1.80 mills. City Park would receive about $2 million on .61 mills.
The 20-year millage would go into effect Jan. 1, 2021, and end Dec. 31, 2040.
The proposal will appear on the May 4 ballot as a single initiative, to be voted up or down.
City Park officials say they plan to use the new money to shore up security, while Parks and Parkways says it will hire new personnel and equipment for grounds maintenance and forestry. NORDC will use the funds to increase programming.
The provision setting up a formal arrangement for the agencies to work together to share services and programs was a council-backed change that members said will ensure that promises the agencies have made to cooperate will be binding if the voters give their OK.
Another change contemplated is more free-admission days for locals to attractions such as the zoo and the aquarium, a bid to soften the blow on residents if Audubon attempts to offset its loss of tax revenue with more fee-based events.
The agencies' cooperative endeavor agreement must be finalized and signed before the measure hits the ballot. The state Bond Commission must also agree to put the plan to voters.
The millage Audubon now receives can be used only for the zoo and the aquarium, not its other facilities. Forman said he's excited to be able to expand the areas where Audubon can direct its funding.
"The Nature Center just opened, and we are looking forward to expanding the services that we have there," he said.
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