PW HRC Amendment Prop. No. 1 of 2 -
“Shall Article VI, Sections 6-102 and 6-104 of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans be amended to move up the deadline by which the City Planning Commission must submit a capital program to the Mayor; and by which the operating budget, the proposed revenue and operating budget ordinances, the capital program as prepared by the City Planning Commission, the Mayor's capital budget message, and the proposed capital budget ordinance must be submitted to the Council by thirty days so that the Council may have additional time to conduct public hearings and to receive input on budget matters, as provided in Ordinance No. 29370 M.C.S.?”
Art. VI, Sec. 6-102 & 6-104 - CC
Recently, the New Orleans City Council has proposed a handful of amendments to the Home Rule Charter (HRC), which is essentially the constitution of New Orleans. The HRC dictates a number of laws for how the City of New Orleans and City Council govern, including budget hearings and approvals. The City budget is due to be proposed by the Mayor’s office on November 1st, and City Council is due to pass the budget by December 1st with modifications based on a variety of hearings and public input. This process is very truncated for a budget of over a billion dollars and has caused issues with City Council’s ability to effectively examine the mayor’s proposed budget and to get adequate buy-in from citizens and City departments. The proposed amendment to the HRC would make the process begin 30 days earlier than it currently does, meaning the City Planning Commission will submit a capital budget proposal to the mayor’s office no later than Sept. 15th each year, and that the mayor’s office will have no later than Oct. 1st each year to submit the budget to City Council.
A “yes” vote will give City Council and citizens an additional month to review & give input to where their tax dollars go. A “no” vote would continue the status quo of budget deliberations starting in November.
PW HRC Amendment Prop. No. 2 of 2 -
“Shall the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans be amended to establish the Department of Code Enforcement to inspect substandard property and authorize demolition or remediation of property hazardous to the public health, safety, and welfare, and to enforce laws and regulations for maintaining streets, vacant lots, and other places free from weeds, trash, and deleterious matter, thereby reassigning such functions from the Departments of Safety and Permits and Sanitation to the Department of Code Enforcement, as provided in Ordinance No. 29371 M.C.S.?”
Art. IV, Sec. 4-702 & 4-801 - CC
Currently, code enforcement of city law pertaining to issues such as blighted property, vacant lots, and trash dumps are handled by the Department of Safety and Permits and the Department of Sanitation respectively, with the Office of Code Enforcement operating under Safety and Permits. Mayor Cantrell created the Office of Business and External Services (and hired Peter Bowen, former short-term rental Sonder executive and fish-like flopper, to be responsible for Code Enforcement) as a one-stop shop for businesses and STR landlords to get permits, a substantial increase in the responsibilities of Code Enforcement.
Councilmember Joe Giarrusso introduced the charter amendment to establish a Department of Code Enforcement in order to remove these responsibilities from OBES and to better fortify and consolidate enforcement responsibilities into a standalone City department. It appears this amendment is meant to address issues brought up during the debate on the Healthy Homes Ordinance regarding enforcement and proper staffing. This change would not, however, address continued concerns from citizens and advocates for ensuring the Mayor’s office is adequately staffing and funding code enforcement, as well as having open transparency on fines collected.
A “yes” vote would establish a new City department solely dedicated to code enforcement, while a “no” vote would continue having OBES handle enforcement.
PW School Board Proposition -
“Shall the Orleans Parish School Board (the "School Board") renew the levy and collection of a tax of four and ninety-seven hundredths (4.97) mills on the dollar of the assessed valuation of property within the City of New Orleans assessed for City Taxation, (an estimated $20,450,000 reasonably expected at this time to be collected from the levy of the tax for an entire year), for a period of twenty (20) years, beginning in 2025, for the purpose of preservation, improvement and capital repairs of all existing public school facilities, to be levied and collected in the same manner as is set forth in Article VIlI, Section 13(C)(Second) of the Louisiana Constitution of 1974?”
4.97 Mills Renewal - SB - 20 Yrs
Much of the City’s recurring funding comes from millages, a rate multiplied by a property’s value for property tax assessments. These millages can be great, like the 20 year millage for funding the library, and they can also be bad, like the litany of security district millages to give cops more money to “secure”' rich and/or majority white neighborhoods. In 2014, the School Facilities Preservation Millage was introduced with the intent of funding repairs, preservation, and improvements to all existing public school facilities. That millage was billed as an early “renewal” of an existing millage that changed how much was collected and included building maintenance in the scope of the millage. At the time, the Recovery School District (overseen by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education) was still in place to oversee the majority of public schools in New Orleans, which were considered failing after the performance threshold was adjusted from below 60% to below the state average of 87.4%,. This millage was criticized for handing over millions of dollars to the unelected Recovery School District (RSD) to upkeep schools. The millage passed, with 59% of the vote on 41% turnout. Since then, the vast majority of New Orleans schools are out of the RSD and back to nominal local school board control, but all schools in New Orleans are now operated by private charter school companies rather than public administrators.
That ten year millage is set to expire at the end of next year, 2024; these proposed “renewal” changes double the duration, instead setting the millage expiration date to the end of 2044. The Orleans Parish School Board estimates that $420 million will be collected from the millage over the next 20 years. Along with an estimated $300 million in sales taxes collected over that same period, this would give the school board $720 million for the “remaining needs” of the board’s current 10-year capital plan, unplanned emergencies, and expected repairs for “new facilities,'' according to its website. It also mentions that “Since 2014, only 39% of millage funds were allocated to facilities due to prior bond debts,” and that in 2021, the bond debt was paid off, freeing the millage funds for “new avenues of investment.” What are those avenues of investment, you may ask? Closing schools and selling off the property.
In the OPSB’s Property Development Strategy, the district currently has 13 spaces they categorize as vacant or “swing spaces” which cost them $772k to maintain in 2022. 59% of costs come from 19 “Tier 4 schools” – that is, those with the highest per square foot repair costs. In their strategy, OPSB highlights four options for these properties: sell the property, lease it, “swap” the property with the City of New Orleans or some other public entity that would benefit the district, or keep the property. Some of the criteria for keeping one of these properties include (their emphasis included), “No regular flooding or other environmental issues” and “minimum capacity of 350 students; ideal capacity of 500 students or more.” If a property is kept, they first see if it can be used as a “swing” space for housing schools under renovation, “short-term leased for activities aligned with our mission”, or leased long-term for community benefit. If a school was closed because it does not fit within the criteria outlined, that would allow the school district to potentially sell a highly valuable property to offset the costs in their capital plan that are not entirely funded if the millage is renewed.
The OPSB has been considerably limited in its duties since the introduction of the all-charter school system in New Orleans, with its current list of duties limited to hiring a superintendent, setting the budget for the school district, voting on industrial tax exemptions, collecting sales taxes, rolling millage rates forwards or back, and overseeing real estate owned by the school board. Dr. Avis Williams was hired as superintendent in 2022 in part due to her experience closing public schools in Alabama. Since her hiring, there have been a number of school “consolidations” lined up, including the closing of the historic “red brick” school Homer Plessy in the French Quarter, which was reversed after facing pushback from parents and teachers. We’ve seen urgency from the Jefferson Parish Public School Board to sell off newly consolidated schools to private real estate developers, and many fear Dr. Williams and the real-estate industry friendly members of OPSB may do the same.
While charter networks reap all the rewards of public tax dollars, they do not pay rent nor cover major maintenance and repairs of the public facilities they are using. If the school board continues its “right sizing” of schools and its related facilities, this means more money available for improvements to the remaining schools within the school district that cost less to maintain.
A “yes” vote would renew the existing 4.97 mills property tax for twenty years for repairs, maintenance, and upgrades. A “no” vote would allow the current millage to expire on Dec 31, 2024 unless another millage is proposed next year.