New Orleans bureau
October 25, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to authorize the New Orleans Regional Business Park to levy a property tax of 20 mills for the next 20 years to provide for upkeep, road improvements and other needs at the 7,000-acre business park bounded by the CSX Railroad tracks, the Industrial Canal, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Maxent Canal.
The park was created in 1979 as the Almonaster-Michoud Industrial District, intended to promote industrial and commercial development. The park has an annual budget of about $350,000 in addition to the proposed millage, which was collected from 1982 to 2012 but was rejected by voters when it came up for renewal a year ago.
If approved, the millage is estimated to generate about $220,000 annually.
Although the tax would only be paid by properties within the district, it is subject to a citywide vote. Residential and personal property within the district would be exempt.
According to the Bureau of Governmental Research, most of the district’s tax income comes from its 80 businesses. Entergy and Folger’s Coffee Company are the park’s two largest taxpayers, together paying 28 percent of the taxes. The top 15 taxpayers in the district paid 60 percent of the taxes.
Most of the park’s approximate 2,000 properties are small vacant plot and not subject to the tax.
The park’s executive director Joseph Shorter III said that if passed, the millage will be used for cleanup, including grass-cutting and debris removal and the improvement of major thorough-ways. Funds also will go toward surveillance cameras used to identify people who illegally dump waste, a problem that has plagued the park for years.
Shorter said money also would be used to re-create the park’s business incubator on site, to provide revolving loans to small businesses and for improvements to the park’s central offices.
The BGR recommended against the proposal in an Oct. 1 news release. According to the research conducted by the BGR, none of the businesses contacted “could identify any benefits they derived from it.” They said that the business park’s operations in the district have been so limited over the years that they would not notice a difference if the entity were eliminated altogether.”
The BGR argued that the increase in taxes would actually create a disincentive for growth and cites the park’s “poor track record.”
But Shorter sees an increasing potential for growth at the park, citing the influx of movie production companies and the “next era of space programs” at the NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility. There simply isn’t room for major new development anywhere else in the parish, Shorter said. “This is where the economic engine for the future of New Orleans lies,” he said.
The millage would sustain the park’s ability to enhance the surrounding environment, assist tenants with solving issues like the opening the Almonaster bridge across the Industrial Canal to vehicular traffic and to entice more businesses into the park, Shorter said.