(Photo: NOPD in the French Quarter. | Ed Schipul | CC Flickr)
Voting commenced on Saturday for to renew sales tax ballot measure that would pay for supplemental public safety services, including increased police patrols, in the French Quarter.
The “quarter for the Quarter,” or 0.2495%, sales tax, would extend the tax for an additional five years, or until 2025, and will pay for extra New Orleans Police patrols.
Voting closes in two hours. Visit here to find a nearby polling precinct.
If passed, it will generate an estimated $1.8 million in revenue in 2021, although it’s not certain how the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions will impact sales activity. [Corrected 4:02 a.m. CST, Dec. 17, 2020 to reflect million, not billion.]
Backed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the proposed tax would keep the general sales tax rate at 9.7% and the total sales tax rate for restaurants and bars in the French Quarter, amounting to about 25 cents for every $100 spent in the district, which is contained within the boundaries of North Rampart Street and the Mississippi River, Canal Street and Esplanade Avenue and includes Louis Armstrong Park.
The tax, which initially took effect 2016, has gone to fund Louisiana State Police patrols, although that agreement will expire at the end of December.
The French Quarter Management District, a body created by the Louisiana State Legislature in 2007, administers additional NOPD patrols through the New Orleans Task Force program.
While city officials, who levy the tax through the French Quarter Economic Development District, have proposed using most of the revenue to fund NOPD patrols, although the proposal wasn’t accepted by City Council.
Groups, including the FQMD and the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates, are calling on residents to vote against the measure.
The FQMD attempted to negotiate with city officials, seeking 70% of the revenue to fund the state body due to losses in tourism due to the pandemic.
Kristin Gisleson Palmer, New Orleans District C City Council member, took to social media to correct an error in an email sent by an EDD member, who said Palmer wanted 30% of the revenue to fund the Shades of Nola civilian patrol.
Calling it an “egregious misrepresentation,” Palmer corrected the error, stating that it was the Cantrell administration that wanted to split the tax to fund both the FQTF (also known as the Supplemental Police Patrol Program) and Shades of Nola.
“When negotiations reached a stalemate, the FQMD board asked me to step in and broker a deal,” Palmer wrote in a statement posted to social media on Dec. 4. “I tried to reach a compromise and felt that the administrations use of a limited Grounds Patrol under a centralized command could leverage the existing [task force].”
Negotiations, however, broke down in late November. A verbal agreement was reached that 70% and 30% of the tax would fund the FQMD’s supplemental patrols and Grounds Patrol programs, respectively, but the city backed out before a deal was inked, according to Palmer.
Read Palmer’s full statement here.
According to a report by the Bureau of Governmental Research, the FQMD board rejected the city proposal, arguing that it placed too much emphasis on security patrols as opposed to police patrols.
BGR is a New Orleans-based nonprofit that conducts research on local government policies.
“The city’s failure to finalize spending and accountability plans for the tax revenue renders the proposition premature,” according to the report, which calls for a “data-driven analysis” to determine allocation of resources. “the City’s incomplete spending and accountability plans cannot assure voters that it will effectively utilize the tax revenues to address those needs.
Read BGR’s full report here.
At a Thursday press conference, Cantrell said layoffs across city departments, including police, could be possible if voters rejected a series of tax proposals to fill a $25 million budget gap in 2021.
“That is not a threat, that’s a reality,” Cantrell said. “Layoffs are not built into 2021, but that is tied to this village proposal.”