In our own world here at the office, this editorial is historic. This is the first time that the magazine has made an endorsement on an issue that will be placed before the voters. We do so because we know that referendums do not get the same attention as ballots where candidates are elected to office, yet the referendums quite often have more long lasting impact than do office holders. They are among the most important decisions that voters are asked to make.
At issue in Orleans Parish is a proposal that is brilliant in its intent, universal in its support and gentle to tax payers. Oh, and it is also good for the city, aesthetically, socially and physically.
This issue is NOT a millage increase, rather it is something less threatening; a millage “reallocation” dedicated to more equitable funding of recreation. Four agencies are affected, Parks and Parkways; NORDC (the recreation department we used to know as NORD only now with that C attached), Audubon Park and City Park. Of the four, the first three have long received millage support from the city; amazingly the only one of the four that actually has “City” in its name receives nothing from local government. Under the proposal the allocation would be redrawn so that Audubon Park, which receives the largest percentage, will get a little less; Parks and Parkways will get a little more, and City Park, for the first time ever will get a slice for its operating revenue. (Ok, school time: A millage rate is the amount per $1,000 of property value that is used to calculate local property taxes. Assigned millage rates are multiplied by the total taxable value of the property in order to arrive at the property taxes – Investopedia.)
Without getting too bogged down in numbers, here is what the new distribution will be: Audubon Park, 1.95 mills; NORDC, 1.95; Parkways, 1.80; City Park, 0.61.
For Audubon Park that represents a 1.36 millage decrease; NORDC and Parkways are up by .45 and .30 respectively; City Park enters Fantasyland for the first time.
Why City Park has been left out traces back to politics of the 1890s that was actually well-intentioned, if not short-sighted. To protect the recreation area from the clutches of City Hall’s machine politics, the park was established by the state, as an independent entity controlled by its own board independent of city government. Unfortunately, no control generally means no cash. Now, in different times, the park, which has to generate 90 percent of its own operating revenues deserves help. (Through the state, the park does receive about $1 million annually from slot machine revenue at the Fair Grounds, but that is always subject to breath-holding each time lawmakers look for new sources of revenue.) Over the 20 year period of the renewal City Park will get approximately $2 million per year beginning in 2021.
This plan was developed with the help of the National Trust for Public Land and has the support of the mayor, the city council and all of the effected parties. It is a classic example of sound public thinking and good government.
Election Day is Saturday May 4, which is also the second Saturday of Jazz Fest, but the polls open early so there is plenty time to attend both. Trust us, the lines will not be long. Full disclosure, New Orleans Magazine Editor Errol Laborde is a former member of the City Park board.
If there is opposition, it is likely from apathy and from those who chronically vote “NO” to any proposition that involves money. But the facts prove the worthiness. We all want green space to be preserved but green space does not pay bills, millages do. On behalf of the future we offer thanks for your support, so do the squirrels, raccoons and swans.