Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

Legislator to try to increase property tax to benefit fire, police spending

25th February 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

A City Council election, bookended by Carnival, by definition has Mardi Gras as a subtext—especially if there might not be enough money to pay police next year to cover the parades—thanks to the looming NOPD Consent Decree.

Jackie Clarkson and Nadine Ram­sey, the two candidates running in the West Bank-dominant District “C” Council contest, have faced the questions of how to pay for Mardi Gras next year. And, they have striven to prove answers in their closely fought election, knowing that Carnival parades have essentially abandoned Al­giers in recent decades, and radically diminished in nearby Gretna. Two major West Bank Krewes, Cleopatra and Alla, relocated to the St. Charles Ave. route this year. (Neither one has lost its “Best Bank” character as of yet. The latter boasts of West Bank — native and Jefferson Councilman Chris Ro­berts as King.)

The politics of Mardi Gras, though, confronting the two candidates, comes down to more than just the location of parades in the city. It boils down to money, and not just tourist dollars, but the massive funding needed to keep police protection functioning on St. Charles Ave, and the other East Bank routes.

The debate all started from a back channel suggestion, posed by several Jefferson Parish elected officials. Put simply, these suburban politicos offered Orleans a deal. It was suggested privately that Sheriff Newell Norman could be prevailed upon to provide JPSO police units in exchange for Orleans opting not running parades on St. Charles Ave. on the days of Jefferson’s Family Gras.

These parties asked not to be named, but in conversations with The Weekly, they harkened back at how successful Family Gras was in 2013. The Super Bowl precluded having parades in Orleans, but Jefferson went ahead with the floats on Veterans Blvd. Stages of music played bet­ween the Carnival parades, and thousands of people showed up.

This year, however, competing against parades on St. Charles Ave. understandably impacts visitation to Jefferson’s Family Gras. It would have helped, these Jefferson Parish governmental insiders pondered to this newspaper, if Orleans chose not to compete with Jefferson for parade-goers on the penultimate weekend before Mardi Gras weekend.

The proverbial carrot offered to city officials was to redirect Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office personnel to New Orleans during the main festivities of the final seven days of Carnival. (Sheriff Norman has made no such promises publicly or privately to re-task his officers, so these gentlemen’s offer remains in the speculation stage. However, they also pointed out to this reporter that Norman is a great enthusiast of Jefferson’s Mardi Gras, and, reportedly well aware of the fiscal problems facing NOPD.)

Regardless, augmenting NOPD with JPSO along the St. Charles Ave. route would solve a looming problem that several of the city’s fiscal hawks have noted. The appropriations to fund police officers on the parade routes may drop drastically in 2015. The Criminal Justice Federal Consent Decrees, for jail and NOPD, threaten to remove so much money from New Orleans’ Criminal Justice Budget that insiders fear that there will be little special event policing monies left. In other words, the Consent Decrees threaten to defund Mardi Gras parade safety, in particular.

So, The Louisiana Weekly took this offer to both candidates in the District “C” runoff. Our editors asked, “What can be done to lessen the cut’s impact, and in particular, should Orleans Parish seek criminal justice aid from the suburban parishes.” Ramsey basically said yes, but Clarkson disagreed with the premise of our question.

“As chairman of the City Coun­cil budget committee, I worked alongside our mayor to ensure that we fully funded both consent decrees without taking anything away from the NOPD’s general budget or special events policing budget. We increased NOPD’s budget and funded the consent decrees in 2014. We found funding for five NOPD recruitment classes so that we can build our force, get more cops on the streets, and remain the world class special event security that we have become.”

Specifically, when pushed, with the query if Orleans should be open to accepting police aid from Jefferson Parish in exchange for not having parades in Orleans the weekend of Jefferson Family Gras, the out-going Council­woman At-Large replied, “We have resolved all of the problems that were conflicting between parishes with out harming public safety and our Mardi Gras traditions.”

In other words, “No!”

Ramsey’s responses, by contrast, were a bit more open to the idea. When asked about accepting suburban help, she said, “Yes. New Orleans is the heart of a region from which other parishes benefit greatly. We may need to research creative options for generating additional revenue, and our thought process should be both realistic and wide open to all reasonable options.”

As for a quid pro quo of police aid from Jefferson Parish in exchange for not having parades in Orleans the weekend of Jefferson Family Gras, the former judge sidestepped any notion of a trade, while noting that the cities should be willing to take a helping hand. “We should be open to accepting police aid from all sources – including state police and the National Guard – that are willing to participate in a coordinated effort supervised by NOPD.”

Then, Ramsey offered another alternative. When asked for other ways Orleans can fund Carnival or lessen the costs of parades, without resulting to sponsorship—something the Krewe captains have ruled out absolutely, she said, “Again here, I think we have to be open to all possibilities, from a slight increase on the hotel/motel tax to a fee for the krewes. We have to fund the consent decree, and we have to keep Carnival parades rolling and safe.”

Clarkson returned to the theme that there is enough money, based on her reading of the budget. “My council office, in partnership with Councilmember Latoya Cantrell in District B, has been working for the last several months on some changes to the carnival ordinances that will make enforcement easier and in turn, less costly, on our police force and other departments that work overtime during this time. We know that Mardi Gras brings in tons of tourist dollars, not to mention dollars spent by locals and krewes, and we are working to ensure that those tax revenues are used as efficiently as possible to ensure that Carnival make economic sense. Small changes like inspecting tandem floats to ensure they won’t break down and cause delays, tiring out our police, are the kinds of things that add up and make a difference in the amount of funds needed to keep Mardi Gras a safe and happy event for all.”

For the record, Mitch Landrieu agreed with Jackie Clarkson. He also thinks the fiscal analysts are engaging in pointless alarmism.

As the Mayor told this newspaper, “Orleans Parish has a rich and long history of parading carnival traditions. The beauty of these traditions, many of which are well over 100 years old, is that they are events that parade goers and participants can plan on year after year. Residents of both parishes participate in these parades annually. There are plenty of festivities for everyone to enjoy without sacrificing one for the other. We have enjoyed regional cooperation whenever there are large events in Orleans and the surrounding parishes and we see no reason that would not continue.”

“We have worked hard to manage Mardi Gras overtime budgets and manpower.”

According to a Tulane University study, the estimated direct economic impact of Mardi Gras on New Orleans is nearly $150 million with a total direct and indirect impact of over $300 million. This same study says that the City of New Orleans gets $13 million in revenue from Mardi Gras and reaps $8.45 on every dollar invested.”

“Mardi Gras is part of our culture. We have found a way for generations to host Mardi Gras safely and we will continue to do so.”

Landrieu is backing Jackie Clarkson in the March 15th runoff for Council District “C.”

Early voting starts March 1.

This article originally published in the February 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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