Wednesday morning, Mayor Mitch Landrieu outlined how he intends to pay for looming bills to shore up the city’s firefighters’ pension system and to reform the parish jail.
The administration has said those costs could hit $40 million a year. That money is not accounted for in the city’s 2014 budget.
At a Bureau of Governmental Research event, Landrieu detailed a three-point plan:
Continue to expand retail and sales taxes.
Finding “creative ways to fund operations at the jail.” He wants to reroute about $7.5 million in annual property taxes collected by the Orleans Parish Law Enforcement District. The money is currently limited to capital projects such as jail construction. Landrieu’s proposal, if approved by voters, would allow that money to be used for operating expenses related to the federal consent decree.
Double the special police and fire taxes from 10.47 mills to 20 mills. That’s a constitutional amendment that must pass statewide and in Orleans Parish, and again in a separate citywide vote.
The police and fire tax increase could cost the owner of a $150,000 home nearly $150 more per year. We created a calculator to show you how much it would cost you.
The Landrieu administration pushed the bill calling for the vote on raising that tax.
Nick Felton, who heads the New Orleans Firefighters union, asked Landrieu to clarify his support for the tax increase, noting that he has previously said he was reluctant to give the Fire Department more money until firefighters agreed to an overhaul of their pension system.
Landrieu said the decision will ultimately be left up to the City Council, which will call for the vote, and the public.
“One of the decisions voters have to make is whether to fund a system that has not been reformed yet,” he said. “Notwithstanding the fact that the firefighter pension bill might be imminent, the public might say, ‘Fine, but I want my streets fixed.’”
The mayor faces those challenges even though his administration has, in some ways, righted the city financially.
The city went from risking a deficit running into the tens of millions in 2010 to finishing last year with money in the bank, due in large part to a major increase in sales tax collections.
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This post was updated after publication to describe Landrieu’s plans.