By C.C. Campbell-Rock

New Orleans voters go to the polls on December 5, 2020 to select a district attorney, school board members, and judges. They will also have the opportunity to vote on the City of New Orleans’ millage package. Funding for early childhood education and library services, dedicated revenues for infrastructure, affordable housing, and economic development are included.

 “It’s very important for people to continue to vote,” Mayor Cantrell said during a conference call with the black press.

“The package will come to the voters as a tax decrease. We know there will be a reduction in turnout. But our millage proposal is aligned to civic and social unrest we’ve seen and offers a tax decrease and budget renewal plan that supports the initiatives and priorities from the grassroots.”

Early voting will be held Nov. 20-28 (excluding Sunday, Nov. 22, Thursday, Nov. 26 and Friday, Nov. 27) from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The current millage ends in 2021. The mayor is seeking to renew it and redistribute some funds to include grassroots’ community’s needs. “This rededication gives us the flexibility to redirect funding to priorities that are important to residents,” Mayor Cantrell explains.

Three propositions are on the ballot:  1) Infrastructure & Maintenance; (2) Early Childhood Education & Libraries and (3) Housing & Economic Development.

“This proposal would reduce taxpayers’ property tax bill in 2021. The millage proposal is a redistribution of current tax revenue so it will not raise taxes. This is a historic opportunity to create long-term funding for early care and education and the New Orleans Public Library,” she adds.

The city has never had a dedicated fund for infrastructure and  maintenance. We invested $1.5 billion since Katrina. But there is no source of funds that will help the city maintain the investment we’ve already made.

The tax revenue will be used for maintenance and repair of roads, the drainage system, street repairs, and vehicle replacements and repairs. “Our capital budget can’t provide funds for operations and  routine maintenance,” Cantrell says of the necessity for a dedicated infrastructure fund.  

The city expects the infrastructure and maintenance millage to generate $10.5 million in its first year and $375 million over the 20 year life span of the millage.  

The Mayor’s proposal redistributes a portion of the Library’s existing millage to the other programs. Approximately $4.5 million will be generated annually for the library and early childhood education.  $1.5 million to early childhood and $3 million for the Library, for a total of over $30 million. “Our children and families need this right now.”

The funds generated from the early childhood education millage will fund 100 additional seats at childcare centers for young children. Currently, there are 7,000 at-risk, low income children who do not have access to early childhood education.

However, there is fierce opposition to the City’s millage package.

“We’re getting pushback from folk who don’t have any issues taking care of their children,” Cantrell comments.

“The biggest issue and challenge on this one (childhood education and library millage) is coming from the library itself, internal,  some of our employees and I think one of our board members,” Cantrell acknowledged.

 “We do anticipate some level of opposition. But at the same time understand that our library system is healthy, will remain healthy, will not see any reduction in library services or programs. It will actually see more effective programming. And increased programming that will be more aligned with the needs of the communities and the people the library system serves.  We’ve looked at the library’s expenses and we know they are running a surplus.”

Andrea Neighbours, a New Orleans Public Library board member, went on record opposing the childhood education and library millage. ‘I hope the voters kill it,’ “ Neighbours told a reporter with The Lens.

 “Our millage doesn’t expire until next year,” she said. “We have time to work on a better solution. So, I can’t support this proposal. I hope we come back in the coming year and come up with a better solution that works for the kids and the families of this city. So, I just want to be on record as a board member who loves this library deeply that I just can’t support it.”

Are Libraries in NOLA under attack

“The library typically has an annual 10-13% attrition rate, which will allow the library to right-size its budget while they supplement the budget with the fund balance. The fund balance has increased to $14.5 million,” Cantrell adds. 

“The library can withstand some cuts but if the entire millage goes away, which is what will happen without an extension, it will make it much harder for the library to develop a sustainable path forward. Our proposal lowers the millage, but it also buys some time for the library to come up with a sustainability plan while it can rely on its large reserve to make up the difference between existing expenses and new revenue.”

“New Orleans Public Library Executive Director Gabriel Morley has been supportive of Cantrell’s plan. He’s repeatedly said that if the ballot measure fails, the library would lose the entire value of the expiring property tax — roughly $11 million a year — instead of just part of it,” according to the non-profit news site.

The Affordable Housing and Economic Development millage will generate about 4.25 million for affordable housing. And another 4.6 million for economic development in its first year. Over 20 years, the millage will provide upwards of $317 million.

Housing Matters

“We have put in place a pipeline to affordable housing and we want to leverage additional resources that we get from HUD, and the state, with the millage.

  • The Affordable Housing millage will fund Affordable Housing Units, Rental Assistance. New Housing Construction. Down Payment Assistance, and Home Repairs for Seniors.

Regarding the Economic Development millage, Cantrell explains, “In this COVID environment, we have an obligation to pivot toward the more diverse economy and helping our people pivot to this growth sectors. We need to bring workforce readiness opportunities to residents in ways we have not done before. We have restructured our Economic Development Plan as a generational plan to build our people up.”

The Mayor’s office says 44,000 New Orleanians are unemployed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Another 4,000 have been denied unemployment benefits. Cantrell’s plan is to create an equitable and diversified economy that focuses on  green, blue, and gray infrastructure jobs.  

BGR Opposition

The Bureau of Governmental Research (BGR) opposes all three propositions. The BGR is a nonprofit governmental watchdog, wrote in a recent report.

In its report it cited a lack of spending plans for the tax dedications. And it seemed to think a 10-year millage period was better than the 20-year proposal. 

“The overall plan is to rededicate a group of property taxes that generate approximately $25 million a year. The new dedication would take roughly $6.5 million from the New Orleans Public Library system and distribute the funds to economic development, housing initiatives and infrastructure maintenance. The mayor’s plan would also carve $1.5 million from the Library budget to pay for an existing early childhood education program,”

“Voters are asked to approve a nearly 40% revenue cut for public libraries without a strategic plan or a clear roadmap for right-sizing their budget before their reserves run out. The proposal further asks voters to increase taxes for infrastructure, housing, and economic development without any spending plans. As a result, all propositions have significant flaws, despite the compelling needs they might address,” the BGR report concludes.

Mayor Responds

“While we have plenty of plans, what we don’t have are the resources to accomplish them. We are talking about maintaining city services in the face of a health and financial crisis. These funds will be crucial in helping us keep up with what the city does already. All while dealing with crippling cuts to our other revenue streams. If these dollars are not renewed, the effect will most certainly be felt by our citizens.” the mayor explains.

“This assertion that there isn’t a plan also disregards the work my administration is doing on a generational economic development plan,” says Cantrell.

Cantrell reiterated the fact that the millage package will reduce taxes not increase them. “The current millage in place generates about 41 million, so in the renewal package for 2021, if passed, we will garner 23 to 25 million a year, which is a reflection of the tax reduction.”

For more information on the millage package visit:


Check out the BGR Report here: https://www.bgr.org/report-index/bgr-examines-december-5-new-orleans-property-tax-propositions/


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