If money is not the problem for the NOPD, why is Mayor Landrieu pushing for an increase in property taxes? The 5 mill increase for the police is supposedly necessary for the department to recruit, train and equip an additional 450 police officers. Yet, in this bombshell recording, the Chief admits that currently " I can hire all that we want to hire."
The property tax proposals will be on the ballot this Saturday. The Landrieu administration, along with the Business Council and other allies in the business community, is pushing hard for voters to approve the measure. If approved, the property tax increase will bring in an additional $26.6 million annually for the police and fire departments for the next 12 years.
This issue is coming before voters a few days after the enactment of an array of tax increases approved by the Louisiana Legislature. Sales cigarette, alcohol, rental car and Internet taxes were raised to plug the massive hole in the state budget.
Now, Mayor Landrieu claims that the property tax increase is necessary for police department staffing needs and for the pension fund of the fire department. Along with the millage increase for police, Landrieu is asking voters to approve an additional 2.5 mills to cover some of the costs of the $75 million settlement owed to firefighters to stabilize their pension fund. Overall, if the tax measure is passed, it will cost an additional $155 per year for the owner of a $200,000 home.
Mayor Landrieu claims that the property tax increase is vital for the long term health of both the police and fire departments. However, in this recording, NOPD Chief Harrison claims that "we're purchasing cars, a lot of equipment and a lot of things we didn't have we're getting now. So that is not really the issue."
According to Harrison, the issue is not money or equipment. He says that "the biggest challenge is moving fast and wanting to move fast but not being able to." It is possible that one reason that the Chief can't move fast enough is the lack of qualified recruits for the department, even with standards that were recently lowered. The problem is certainly not low pay, since the NOPD pays $78,000 per year in salary and benefits for a typical officer. This compares quite favorably to what police officers receive in surrounding parishes.
In a local economy reeling from higher state taxes and job losses in the oil and film industries, it is the wrong time to ask for more property taxes. Unfortunately, Mayor Landrieu is focused on additional revenue, not cost cutting. He just finished doubling meter parking rates and increasing parking ticket fees 50% in New Orleans. It sure gives people an incentive to do business in Jefferson Parish and not have to deal with parking meters and the obnoxious and ever present meter maids in New Orleans.
At some point, the people of New Orleans will say "enough is enough." Hopefully, that point will be reached this Saturday.