Next Meeting: Wednesday, March 22, 2017; 6:00pm Social, 6:30pm Meeting @ St. Dominic Gym

Lakeview Civic Improvement Association

Archive for July 2014

Op-ed: "Fix My Streets! I Pay My Taxes", But Does It Matter That You Pay Your Taxes?

Note: This op-ed piece was republished from ralphschindler.com.  Ralph Schindler is Technology & Data committee chair as well as a member of the LCIA Board Of Directors.

Surely you've seen the signs by now. “Fix My Streets! I Pay My Taxes,” they read. It's a shame it is an argument that has to be made, but it is one that is easily and often made. You see, 'round here, it's generally accepted as a "universal truth" that the Lake Area of New Orleans has the worst streets, perhaps even in the entire Gulf South. There's no dispute the streets need fixing. The part of the argument that needs exploring is the "I Pay My Taxes" part. Does that part of the argument hold as much water as the streets that need fixing? Let's explore that.

I wouldn't be so far off to claim that the average Lake Area citizen is unsatisfied with the return of his tax "investment". In casual conversation, you'll often hear "I pay enough taxes in New Orleans". In the least, you certainly have never heard "I just don't think we paid enough in taxes this year." To be fair, we have an about-average tax burden (27th on the list of biggest cities in each of the 50 states ordered by percentage burden). That being said, while we tax ourselves about as much as everyone else (statistically speaking), one has to wonder why we don't see more being done, especially when looking at the quality of our streets. Where is all the money going? It has to be corruption, right? Sure, we joke about New Orleans's predilection for public corruption and misappropriation and so on. But, is it that our tax dollars simply don't make their way to their intended purpose? Or, is it something else?

If you were to ask the average citizen to list what they thought the top expenditures of their property taxes were, the list would go something like (in no particular order): a) public schools, b) public safety (police and fire) and c) road/street maintenance. Even Google agrees. Google is not much of an authoritative source, though, so let's find another source of priorities. Perhaps if we ask the New Orleans Tax Assessor how your tax dollars are spent, we'd get a clearer picture of the priorities. Fortunately, that question is asked, and answered in their FAQ:

One might be inclined to think a vast majority of property tax revenue would be spent on streets, or at least a good portion of it, seeing as though it is the first in a list of examples of how property tax money is spent. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that just 1.9 out of 149 mills are allocated for Department of Public Works (DPW, the department primarily in charge of maintaining streets.) Just 1.5% of the property tax revenue is appropriated for streets.

Put another way, if you paid $2000 in property taxes, just about $30 of that will be spent on street maintenance, if that (one would have to assume that the Department Of Public Works spends all their budget on efficient street maintenance).

So, it's not that the property tax money is somehow funneled into a black hole, someone's pockets, or even that there isn't enough money to address this problem; it's that street maintenance are simply not a priority, and this is reflected in our current millage.

Property taxes, though, are only a single source of income for the City. One would think that if streets were a bigger priority, they'd have found other sources of revenue to direct to the street problem. Point in case, sales tax revenue is a bigger contributor to the general fund bottom line than property taxes, yet there is no substantial improvement in DPW's appropriation of general fund revenues. This proof of this can be found in the Adopted City Budget (page 60.):

Of the ~$850m dollars the city has to spend, only $16.9m are actually allocated to the Department of Public Works. This is less than 2% (1.999% to be exact-ish, almost to the point of adding insult to injury). Here are a list of big budget items that outrank the amount allocated to the department in charge of streets:

  1. ($143m) - (Mayoral Budget) Mitch Landrieu's Grants, Funds, Special Projects (Homeland Security, Community Development)
  2. ($135m) - Police
  3. ($100m) - Intergovernmental Affairs / Transfer of Non-General (Not For Streets)
  4. ($86m) - Fire
  5. ($53m) - Office Of Community Development
  6. ($45m) - Chief Administrative Office
  7. ($43m) - Finance
  8. ($39m) - Sanitation
  9. ($38m) - Miscellaneous
  10. ($31m) - Health
  11. ($24m) - Sheriff
  12. ($17m) - City Council
  13. ($16.9m) - Department of Public Works
  14. ...

When painting with broad brush strokes, this picture portrays Streets and being 13th on the City's list of priorities. A far cry from the typical citizens understanding of what our public money is intended for.

At the end of the day, yes, we pay our taxes. The issue is either our citizens or the City has got the wrong priorities. Street's can't be 13th on the list. Perhaps the sign should read "Fix My Streets! Prioritize This!".

On second thought, seeing the current momentum this campaign has had, perhaps "I Pay My Taxes" is a better battle cry.

A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for July 22 at St. Dominic's Gym to discuss what we as a community can do about our street problem with our elected officials.

RTA's New Plans For The Canal St. Terminal

On July 12, 2014, LCIA met with representatives from Veoila Transportation and the Regional Transit Authority to discuss their plans to redevelop the existing Bus & Streetcar Terminals located at the intersection of Canal Blvd., City Park Avenue and Canal Street.

The revised plan that was provided is the third rendition that has been presented to LCIA in as many years. The two preceding plans were very obtrusive, promoting the introduction of large shelters to be utilized for toilets, concessions, and waiting areas, the destruction of existing neutral grounds, widening of streets & expansion farther north into Lakeview.

I am pleased to report that the current plan is much less invasive. The operator comfort station and large concession & toilet room structures have been eliminated. Streetcars will no longer track through the neutral grounds, but rather utilize the two most southern bays and buses will be pushed north to the turnarounds in front of The Bulldog. They will not move pedestrians or buses any further north than what is in effect today, however there will be more bus/pedestrian traffic since they are consolidating two bus bays into three.

The RTA is proposing larger bus and streetcar shelters than what is there now and do have plans for a pedestrian canopy to run from the streetcar shelter to the bus shelter. No elevations or renderings were provided. The existing streetcar shelter at the corner of Canal Street will be removed and no one will be allowed to board or exit the streetcars until they cross City Park Avenue. Two additional sets of streetlights will be added to control streetcar and vehicular traffic.

There will be a public meeting in early August and all will be invited to attend. LCIA will post further information on their website once a time and place is established. Plans are currently going through internal design and environmental review. All plans will be reviewed by both DPW and Regional Planning Commission prior to going out to bid. The RTA plans to go out to bid the first quarter of next year and construction will take 12-15 months and will impact traffic at the intersection of City Park and Canal drastically.

It is my opinion that, upon completion, traffic at the corner of City Park and Canal will be made more complicated due to the streetcar crossing, which may lead to vehicular delays at peak travel times. One good thing is that the pedestrian’s crossing over City Park Avenue to catch the buses should be all but eliminated, which should make for a much safer environment for vehicles and pedestrians.