Legislator to try again for increase in property tax to benefit fire, police spending

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Do you want to give the city of New Orleans the right to levy higher property taxes for the police and fire departments?

Voters could decide that if a bill filed in the Legislature passes during the session that will start next month.

State Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, is sponsoring the measure with the support of Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

The mayor is supporting it, Leger said, “to pay for additional police officers and other public safety needs.”

Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble did not respond to an email request for comment.

Leger noted that crime and the need for New Orleans to hire more police became major issues during the just-concluded mayor’s race.

The measure would authorize New Orleans to levy up to six mills apiece for fire and police. The millage is currently 5.26 for police and 5.21 for fire.

The increase would cost the owner of a $200,000 home about $31 a year.

Nick Felton, president of the New Orleans firefighters union, said his members will support it as they have in previous years.

“Historically, we have supported any revenue measure that would help first responders,” Felton said.

To take effect, the measure would require a series of approvals. First, the Legislature would have to approve Leger’s bill, which would put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. To move forward, voters both statewide and in Orleans Parish would have to approve it.

Then the New Orleans City Council would have to authorize a second election in the city of New Orleans. If that passed, then the City Council would decide whether to increase the fire and police millages up to the 6-mill cap.

Charging six mills would raise about $5.5 million for fire and police protection starting in 2015, according to an analysis of a similar measure filed by Leger last year. The amount raised would increase to about $6 million in 2016.

The House unanimously passed Leger’s bill last year, but it died when the Senate took no action on it.

State Sen. Edwin Murray, D-New Orleans, and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, D-New Orleans, will play a key role in determining whether the measure advances this year. Neither returned a call requesting an interview.

“Every session has its own political personality,” Leger said in expressing optimism that the measure will pass this year.

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