New Orleans property tax hike sails through committee

Two pieces of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s legislative package zipped through a House committee Thursday during a low-key day at the State Capitol.

The measures pushed by the mayor take different approaches to beefing up police protection in the Crescent City.

One is a property tax hike. The other decreases police officers’ workload by freeing them from chasing litter bugs.

The House Committee on Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs quickly advanced both bills without objection.

The proposals go to the full House for debate.

State Rep. Walt Leger III spent more time waiting for the committee meeting to start than he did explaining House Bill 111 to legislators. HB111 is a proposed constitutional amendment to increase special ad valorem taxes in Orleans Parish. The rate for police protection would jump from 5 mills to 6 mills. The separate rate for fire protection also would increase from 5 mills to 6 mills.

A similar proposal died last year in the Legislature.

The increases — which, combined, amount to an extra $30 a year in taxes on a $200,000 house — are expected to generate $5.6 million for the city of New Orleans next year. By the 2018-2019 budget year, the hikes would generate $6.2 million annually for the city.

Leger, D-New Orleans, emphasized that the legislation is just the first step in a multistep process to put the proposal before the city’s voters. Necessary steps include two-thirds approval of the Legislature, a statewide vote on Nov. 4, the City Council’s OK and then a vote of the New Orleans public.

“It simply authorizes the City Council — should it choose to do so — to put that to a vote of the people,” Leger said.

The next bill in the mayor’s package was House Bill 940, which also aims to put an issue before the City Council. The bill would allow the City Council to consider an ordinance giving city workers and sanitation rangers the authority to issue citations for sanitation and public nuisance violations. Currently, quality of life officers within the city’s Police Department handle those tickets.

“What we’re trying to do is free up our police officers for our more serious offenses — murder, arson, robbery, things along those lines,” said state Rep. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans. Bishop handled the legislation in the absence of state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans.

Suchitra Satpathi, one of the mayor’s aides, said the citations take officers off the street because they have to attend criminal court proceedings. The legislation, she said, would allow the citations to be handled through a civil court hearing.

“The goal is to help reduce blight, trash, nuisance and quality of life violations in the city by just reallocating our resources,” she said.

State Rep. Terry Brown, No Party-Colfax, hit his button and said, “Mine is not a question. Mine is a motion to move favorably on the bill.” With that, the bill sailed through.

The Senate adjourned for the weekend on Wednesday, leaving the House — with a heavier load of bills — to work Thursday morning before calling it a week. State Capitol corridors were quiet and largely deserted.