With less than three weeks until the election, city officials are trying to drum up support for a plan to increase the sales tax rate in the French Quarter to raise money to keep state troopers in the district and reduce violent crime. But some residents worry the move will harm New Orleans’ own police force in the long term.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration is proposing a quarter-cent sales tax hike in the Quarter to generate $2 million a year for five years. The increase would not apply to hotel stays, though most of the burden still would fall on visitors.
That money, when combined with private-sector funding and the city’s portion of a voluntary self-assessment by hotels, would provide $4.5 million a year to fund 30 full-time State Police troopers, who would supplement the New Orleans Police Department’s 8th District patrols.
Only voters in the Quarter will cast ballots on the plan, which Landrieu’s office has worked on since a widely publicized Bourbon Street shooting last summer killed one person and injured nine others. It will be on the ballot Oct. 24.
But some Quarter residents see the plan as only a temporary solution to a long-term problem.
“I would be happy to vote for this if I saw funds to help rebuild the NOPD,” resident Larry Lane said after city officials presented the plan at a public meeting Tuesday night at a French Quarter hotel. “We need a safe city, period.”
Landrieu adviser Ryan Berni said the city has done much to boost the local police force. “There is a plan to get the Police Department back to 1,600 officers,” Berni said, citing Superintendent Michael Harrison’s oft-stated staffing goal.
“That’s why you saw us give police a 15 percent pay increase. That’s why you’ve seen us buy 400 new (police) cars. That’s why you’ve seen a half-million dollars spent on recruitment,” Berni said.
Lane was not alone in his doubts, though. Other people at the meeting questioned whether the NOPD presence in the district would diminish further as a result of state troopers’ involvement. Still others wanted details on how the money would be spent once it is received.
Berni said language on the ballot will stipulate that the money can be used only for supplemental public safety, meaning that the NOPD’s current force level in the Quarter must remain in place.
The city would put the money in a separate fund, which would then be transferred to the state to pay for the troopers, he said.
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.