“Our job ... is only to say: ‘OK, the election’s in the proper format.’ We’ve studiously avoided getting into the merits of an election.” STATE TREASURER JOHN KENNEDY
A squabble among residents in an upscale New Orleans neighborhood spilled over at the State Capitol on Thursday.
Three residents of Eastover, a gated subdivision of roughly 300 homes in New Orleans East, asked the State Bond Commission to yank a vote on making their neighborhood dues mandatory from a Nov. 16 ballot. The panel approved holding the election.
The residents cited a number of concerns, including questions about how the $1,652 to be collected every year from each property owner would be spent. The fees could generate nearly $500,000 a year.
“Allow our community to have a voice,” resident Sarah Cousin said.
The residents contend that the neighborhood is not the pristine golf-course community it was before Hurricane Katrina.
On the opposite side of the argument is a neighborhood official who counters that the gated community still needs to be maintained while differences are worked out with the developer in charge of the golf course.
State officials listened and then told the residents to take their dispute to the courthouse or to the voting booth. They said the residents can file a legal challenge or persuade their neighbors to vote down the mandatory fee.
“Our job ... is only to say: ‘OK, the election’s in the proper format’,” state Treasurer John Kennedy said. “We’ve studiously avoided getting into the merits of an election.”
At issue are neighborhood improvement and security districts that are created through legislation. The districts make parcel fees — essentially, neighborhood dues — mandatory, by wrapping them into property taxes with the approval of a majority of the registered voters in the districts.
The Bond Commission, which oversees state borrowing, is tasked with looking at the ballot language for the fees before it goes before voters. On Thursday, the panel quickly approved allowing residents in the Baton Rouge neighborhoods of Park Forest and Sherwood Forest to decide on Nov. 16 whether to pay a mandatory yearly fee of $75 per property owner.
Also zipping through the commission:
- Ballot language concerning a five-year extension of property taxes aimed at generating $13.1 million for improvements to school facilities in Central. The community’s voters will decide the issue Nov. 16. Among the projects at stake is a two-story academy for ninth-graders at Central High School.
- Up to $37.1 million in revenue bonds, or borrowing, for drainage and other infrastructure at the Juban Crossing mixed-use development off Interstate 12 in Livingston Parish. The borrowing will be repaid with the help of sales tax collections.
The Eastover dispute consumed more of the commission’s time.
The subdivision offers around-the-clock security and once offered residents a golf course, tennis courts and a country club. Singer Aaron Neville formerly lived there but sold his home after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans East.
Mark Moody, chairman of the Eastover Property Owners’ Association, said Thursday that two-thirds of the subdivision’s property owners currently pay the $1,652 in annual dues that keep security guards on the job, the streets in good repair and the lights working. The problem, he said, is with the one-third that do not voluntarily pay.
State Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, sponsored legislation authorizing the Eastover Neighborhood Improvement and Security District. Badon’s wife and Moody are distant cousins.
Successful passage of the legislation was just one step. A majority of the registered voters in Eastover must agree to make the neighborhood dues mandatory in November.
Playing into the squabble is some residents’ unhappiness with the subdivision’s developer, who they said created a borrow pit across a canal from some homes instead of getting the neighborhood’s amenities back into commerce.
“The golf course is in disarray, and the developer is focused on digging a hole,” resident Carl Coleman complained to the Bond Commission. Coleman said afterward that residents should not be forced to pay dues when the golf-course community they wanted no longer exists. He said he wants the “Teeth of the Gator” golf course back.
Moody said in a telephone interview that the developer owns the golf course, tennis courts and country club. He said he is working with the developer to get the subdivision’s recreational offerings back up and running, but he said that is a separate issue from the neighborhood district.
Badon said he is neutral on the issue. He said he sponsored the legislation because residents asked him to do so.
“I have to be fair to both sides since I represent both,” he said. “I’m impartial.”