Government & Politics
 

Levee District joins mayor in considering a tax increase

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer

The folks at City Hall may not be the only ones inching up your tax bill in 2011.

The Orleans Levee District and the New Orleans Library Board are also considering raising their taxing rates, at the same time as the City Council considers a proposed budget from Mayor Mitch Landrieu that calls for raising the rate that determines how much property owners pay in taxes.

That will be news to the mayor’s office. Yesterday, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin told the council that he didn’t know if any of the other taxing authorities planned to raise their millages. Councilwoman Stacy Head asked Kopplin if the Sewerage & Water Board, of which Landrieu is chairman, planned to raise its rates.

“At this point in time we have not formed an opinion on that question,” Kopplin said.

A spokeswoman for the levee district said today that it would not decide to go through with a proposed increase until after two board meetings in November. The first meeting will happen on Nov. 4 at Lake Vista Community Center and the second on the University of New Orleans campus on Nov. 18. For more information about the meetings go to the website of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority East. At the meetings, members of the levee board will discuss the size of the proposed increase and hear arguments for and against. No further voter approval is needed for a raise, as long as the millage stays within a prescribed range.

Likewise, the library system’s chief operating officer, Rica Trigs, said she’d like her board to raise taxes to the maximum approved by voters, 4.32 mills.

“We are asking for this increase to offset the personnel and other operational costs involved in operating our new larger libraries that are currently under construction,” Trigs said in an email.

A single mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a home’s taxable assessed value, or $10,000 in presumed actual value.  The levee board currently taxes at a rate of 11.65 mills. The maximum rate approved by voters stands at 12.67.

The city council will still be considering the mayor’s proposal to raise the city’s property tax by 8.74 mills when the levee district meets to decide on its own rate increase. It is likely the authority’s decision will weigh on the council as they grapple with the mayor’s budget.

If the levee board decided to raise its millage to the maximum allowed by law and the council approved the mayor’s proposed tax increase, property owners would see their tax bill jump by a total of 9.76 mills, adding $75 to the tax bill of an owner of a $150,000 home, after the homestead exemption and about $175 more for the owner of a $250,000 home.

At city council hearings held today and Monday, council members asked administration officials how they could make a decision on the city’s proposed millage increase without knowing what other tax burdens city residents will face.

“We have to know the impact of raising that millage, but we can’t know unless we know if other millages will be raised as well,” said District B Councilwoman Stacy Head.

While the levee district hike may not significantly raise property taxes, there are seven other agencies outside city government that have the authority to tax Orleans Parish property owners. The Orleans Levee District is the only one currently considering raising its millage rates, but other increases may be coming down the line as public agencies exhaust post-Katrina grants from FEMA and other sources.

In interviews or public testimony given today, New Orleans Public Library and the Algiers Levee District said that millage increases may be coming in the not-too-distant future.

“Right now we are working well with the tax money we collect,” said Jerry Spohrer, assistant to the president of The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, which oversees the Algiers Levee District.  “Six and eight months down the road that may not be the case. Come back to me and ask about millage then.”

Sewerage and Water Board spokesman Robert Jackson said today that while he was not aware of a plan to raise the millage, the board was meeting on the issue in coming weeks.

Agencies with taxing authority  agencies are:

*  Orleans Parish School Board

*  Orleans Levee District

*  Algiers Levee District

*  Law Enforcement District/Criminal Sheriff

*  Board of Liquidation

*  Sewerage and Water Board

*  New Orleans Public Library

All tax money collected by OPSB is shared between all public schools in New Orleans including charter schools and those operated by the Recovery School District. Each entity receives money based on the number of students it educates.

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