The city’s cherished green space may not throw off revenue, but it is an irreplaceable asset. Credit: Audubon Nature Institute

On May 4 New Orleanians will vote on a millage that provides a new formula for financing City Park, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission, the Audubon Nature Institute and the Department of Parks and Parkways. If approved, the millage would take a portion of the revenues currently allocated to Audubon and share them with these other agencies.

Early voting ends this Saturday, April 27, with the final balloting set for the following Saturday.

With the approval of the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association board, we are not telling you how to vote. Rather we want to clarify the pros and cons, so Lens readers can make a more informed decision.

First, on the “pro” side, Mayor LaToya Cantrell has done a great job working with all parties to craft an excellent cooperative endeavor agreement. Devised with guidance from the Trust for Public Land, it provides for coordination and cooperation among the four parties, and looks at such issues as recycling, storm-water management, and free or discounted admissions for residents.

Another argument in support of the May 4 millage is that, if it fails, the city will have to go back to voters within two years — current millages expire in 2021 — to get needed funding for our parks and recreation.  There is no assurance that a follow-up millage will provide the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission or Parks and Parkways with the increased funding they badly need — or any funding at all.

Regardless of how you answer these questions, we hope you vote on May 4.

On the “con” side, we have three major concerns. First, the vote “yes” campaign leaves out the total cost. The pro-millage website Together for Parks and Recreation states: “You will not see any increase in your current tax rate as a result of this proposal.” While the rate Is not increased, the millage will generate at least $416 million in taxes, from 2021 to 2040. This should be clearly stated.

A second concern has to do with how the funds are distributed. Cantrell takes a “fair-share” stance, arguing that facilities for residents should get proportionately more than facilities for tourists.  Using that yardstick, we should allocate a greater percentage of this millage to those agencies that directly serve residents.  Over the next 20 years, the millage allocates $128M to the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC), $120M to Parks and Parkways, $128M to Audubon and $40M to City Park.

Wouldn’t it be fairer if NORDC received more as it exclusively serves residents and provides critical services for our youth? As one writer noted, its services can save lives.  We agree and feel NORDC should get even more money from this millage. Parks and Parkways also deserves more.

City Park is getting a third of what Audubon gets and yet it quite likely is more heavily used by residents and contains a much higher percentage of green space that is freely accessed and does not generate revenue.

Audubon, with much less green space, appears to draw more tourists into its IMAX theater, Aquarium, Insectarium and Zoo. As New Orleans Magazine wrote in their millage editorial: “We want all green space to be preserved but green space does not pay bills, millages do.” Using this guide, City Park should get more than Audubon.

A third concern is that the cooperative endeavor agreement lacks clear accountability and enforcement. It requires annual reports and more citizen input, but there are no dedicated funds for future planning, no defined oversight by the New Orleans City Council, and no mechanism for adjusting the agreement over its 20-year lifespan.

As Parks for All wrote about the millage’s shortcomings: “We still have no assurance that park managers will cease their insistence on monetizing our green spaces by increasing commercialization.”  We are disappointed that protection of green spaces and other guarantees are not included in the agreement.

In summary, the Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association board sees the millage as a move in the right direction. The question for voters is: does it move far enough in terms of accountability and fair distribution of our tax dollars?

We agree that our parks and recreation programs need more taxpayer money. If we don’t pass this imperfect measure, will currently underfunded entities ever get the money they need? Will the cooperative spirit of the agreement be lost forever? To get increased funding for parks and recreational groups, is it necessary to give Audubon an additional $128 million over the next 20 years? Regardless of how you answer these questions, we hope you vote on May 4.

A native New Orleanian, Julianna D. Padgett, Ph.D., LCSW, is president of Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association and on the boards of Community Mediation Services and Kinship Senior Center. She serves as a nonprofit consultant and an adjunct social work instructor at Southern University at New Orleans. 

Bill Ives, Ph.D., is vice president of Carrollton Riverbend Neighborhood Association and a member of the board of Community Commitment Education Center. After a career as a college professor and consultant in the field of education, in 2012 he returned to New Orleans, where he grew up. He remains involved in community affairs, including the City’s Welcome Table initiative.

The opinion section is a community forum. Views expressed are not necessarily those of The Lens or its staff. To propose an idea for a column, contact Lens founder Karen Gadbois.