Recently remarks were made at New Orleans City Council about siphoning off Downtown Development District revenue to fund an unnamed French Quarter organization. This is neither a legal nor workable idea. As a former chair of the DDD, I would like to clarify apparent misconceptions regarding the DDD’s charge and structure as outlined in its enabling legislation. The DDD is a special taxing district comprising bounded by the Mississippi River, North Claiborne Avenue, the Pontchartrain Expressway and Iberville Street. The DDD was created to provide enhanced, not baseline, city services in cleaning, public safety, and economic development “exclusively within the boundaries of the District.” (RS 33:2740.3)
At this recent meeting, the council member representing the French Quarter suggested diverting funds from the Downtown Development District to the French Quarter, consolidating French Quarter security, which is currently spread over 4 separate agencies. This is problematic on its face because it suggests DDD funds, comprised solely of a property tax millage paid by DDD residents and businesses, could be used for services provided to French Quarter residents and businesses. Not only does this violate the DDD’s enabling legislation, it is difficult to imagine that this would sit well with the taxpayers within the DDD.
It is undeniably important that the DDD and French Quarter coordinate on public safety efforts. Over the past eight years baseline public safety services have declined due to a shortage of NOPD officers. As a result, over the past few years, the DDD has increased its public safety budget by 40 percent. Currently, the DDD allocates approximately 35 percent of its budget to public safety, including underwriting enhanced policing on Canal Street — the gateway into the French Quarter. This percentage is far greater than other peer cities.
Changing course and segmenting funding based on City Council districts will result in a fragmented and unaligned public safety approach. As important, it would also undermine the DDD’s work with the homeless (including $3.5 million dedicated to the new low barrier homeless shelter), panhandling, severe mental illness and addiction disorders.
The best ideas regarding public safety are focused, efficient and effective. For example, the public safety program created and managed by the DDD: the Rangers. These are not are not armed patrols, but are uniformed, well-trained teams of eyes and ears, fully briefed daily, working hand-in-hand with DDD police detail officers to provide enhanced public safety. DDD Rangers effectively, and cost-effectively, address many issues without diverting limited police resources. Smart programs like the Rangers are the result of experience and professional knowledge of best practices for urban environments, which is what the DDD brings to bear.
Barbara Baker Motley
former chair, Downtown Development District of New Orleans