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Quarter-cent sales tax for French Quarter on ballot again Saturday

Revenue would fund French Quarter Task Force supplemental police patrols
Published: Apr. 22, 2021 at 10:12 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - In order to fund the “Blue Light Patrols” in the Quarter, the reinstatement of the quarter-cent sales tax is back on the ballot after the initial renewal failed in December.

Because of pandemic losses, the hospitality industry couldn’t fund the majority of supplemental patrols, ending the partnership with State Police this year.

Now, residents say they are beginning to feel that absence.

“Someone was trying to get through my front door and first, I call 911 and then I call the app,” said Gail Cavett. “Our Blue Light Patrol officer was there like in two minutes, he was just around the corner from me.”

Vice President of the French Quarter Citizens Gail Cavett has been trying to rally voters.

“I feel like people are testing the waters with the French Quarter right now to see what they can get away with,” Cavett said about the crime she sees.

The quarter-cent sales tax expired after the renewal failed and in February the City had to step in to keep supplemental patrols running with around $300,000 left in the French Quarter Economic Development Trust.

Now, the tax has a second chance with voters in the corresponding district on Saturday’s ballot.

“That would give us three times more patrols than we have now,” Cavett said.

The language on the ballot is different this time around, specifying it will be patrols of POST-certified officers and that the state organization, the French Quarter Management District, is responsible to oversee and administer the funds.

“It was very vague. It is just the opposite now,” Christian Pendleton said. “You know who’s responsible to you, and you know exactly how those funds are going to be spent.”

French Quarter Management District Chair Christian Pendleton says the organization has been running the patrols for the past 6 years and taxpayers will be able to see everything that is being done with the money in monthly public meetings.

“The issue there was that role is not clearly defined,” Stephen Stuart, the Vice President and Research Director of the Bureau of Governmental Research.

The BGR advises against the measure.

City Spokesperson Beau Tidwell echoed that sentiment in this statement:

“As we have said previously: we have serious reservations about this tax, due to a lack of structure and accountability. Putting taxpayer funds in the hands of unelected outside groups, without oversight or accountability, is bad policy. Public safety is always going to be a priority, and we will continue to work with all relevant stakeholders to ensure security in the Quarter, but this measure is half-baked. We agree with BGR in this instance. The measure before voters on Saturday is too incomplete to support.”

“The disagreement is actually kind of prevented the two parties from coming to a binding agreement on how to actually structure the spending and accountability for the tax,” Stuart said.

Pendleton says the language is very clear.

The estimated revenue is around $2.5 million. If passed, $2 million will go towards the patrols. Anything above that will go to other public safety programs like Homeless Assistance.

BGR also points out hotel rooms could possibly be exempt from the tax, dropping the estimated revenue by 20-percent.

“If you lose $500,000 in revenue that, you know, at least initially, you know could reduce or eliminate funding for those other programs,” Stuart said. “There are also other concerns with exempting hotels such as you’re shifting the tax burden on to other businesses in the French Quarter.”

Pendleton says that’s how the tax worked in the past, adding that the hospitality industry already contributes a lot of money.

Pendleton also says if this doesn’t pass again, the money will eventually run out.

“It can go back on the ballot, I don’t know if it will because it will now have failed in two consecutive elections,” Pendleton said. “This could be the end of the supplemental police patrol as we know it.”

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