Oct 4: Vote NO on Orleans Jail Bond Proposition
by Matt Olson
Thursday, Oct. 02, 2008 at 12:21 PM
Even without the $63 million bond, the sheriff’s office will still receive $188 million of construction/renovation funds from FEMA. The money is raised through the Orleans Law Enforcement District, which was created in 1989 and has no accountability to local or state governments.
Vote NO to a tax-raising measure that the people have no control over how it is spent.
BOND ON THE OCTOBER 2008 BALLOT
Sheriff Marlin Gusman put a $63 million bond on the October 4 ballot in order to jump start the facilities construction of Orleans Parish Prison for the Criminal Justice Facilities Master Plan (which has still not been opened to the public). The $63 million includes:
$40.9 M for Criminal Sheriff
$7.5 M for Municipal & Traffic Courts
$5.0 M for Coroner
$3.7 M for Juvenile Court
$3.3 M for District Attorney
$2.8 M for Clerk of Criminal District Court
The bond is a 20-year 8 percent general obligation bond, which will be paid by the public if it approves the measure with a simple majority vote on October 4. The total of the bond once completely paid off will be at least double its original amount at the 8 percent rate for a total of over $125 million. Approximately $6.3 million per year.
The cost will come from taxpayers in the form of retaining 2.1 mills that the Orleans Law Enforcement District (LED) otherwise can operate without. If the bond is rejected, the Orleans LED will tax approximately .8 mills for the remaining debt on the $27 million 2000 bond initiative, almost half of which remains unspent by some of the same offices asking for taxpayer money in this bond.
Voting NO saves:
An owner-occupant of a $200,000 property (aka homeowner) $26.25 per year
An owner of a $200,000 residential rental property $42 per year
An owner of a $200,000 commercial property $63 per year
Over 20 years, that’s $525 for a homeowner, $840 for a rental property owner and $1260 for a commercial property owner (based on a $200,000 property assessment).
Even without the bond, the sheriff’s office will still receive $188 million of construction/renovation funds from FEMA. (source: “On the Ballot”)
HOW CAN THE SHERIFF ASK FOR TAXPAYER MONEY?
Under the Orleans Law Enforcement District, the Criminal Sheriff as executive officer of the LED has the right to call a special election (or add to any regularly scheduled election) for a bond initiative or sales tax increase.
Law Enforcement Districts were created in 1989 through the Louisiana Legislature. Every parish, except Orleans, must decrease other taxes to raise funds for the LED in order to balance the budget.
“In the parish of Orleans such a special district is hereby created for the purpose of providing financing to the office of criminal sheriff. The provisions of R.S. 33:9002, 9003(D), 9007, 9008, and 9010 shall apply to the district created in the parish of Orleans. No other provisions of this Chapter shall be applicable thereto. The boundaries of each district shall be coterminous with the boundaries of the parish and the duly elected sheriff of the parish or in the parish of Orleans, the criminal sheriff or his successor shall be ex officio the chief executive officer of the district.”
The special provisions for Orleans LED include:
1) the power to tax;
2) the power to put a bond initiative up to 10 mills on a ballot
3) the bond goes directly into Sheriff’s General Funds unless otherwise stated on ballot
4) the power of the sheriff is not diminished
5) bond cannot exceed a thirty-year term and must be used “in order to acquire, construct, reconstruct, renovate, improve, replace, maintain, repair, extend, enlarge, lease, as lessee or lessor, purchase or equip such immovable or movable property which may be of use or benefit to the district or to the applicable sheriff.”
In opposing the bond, Bureau of Governmental Research talked about how the Orleans LED has no accountability to other government agencies, including the mayor, city council or the state legislature that created it. This is something they echoed in their opposition to the only two previous LED bond initiatives in 1989 and 2000. “The law establishing the district gives him total operational and financial authority over the district…Basic checks and balances are not present in the district’s operation.”
The BGR also concluded there was a lack of transparency from every office, except the Criminal Sheriff, about where funds would go:
“There are, however, many unknowns regarding some of the other proposed projects, particularly the Juvenile Court building, the Forensic Center and the Clerk of Criminal Court’s evidence storage. The Juvenile Court building and Forensic Center lack sites and the Criminal Court’s evidence and record storage facility may or may not share the building with another agency. In some cases, there are gaps in the projects’ financing plans and the development plans seem to be little more than concepts. The Juvenile Court’s cost estimates diverge widely. Without accurate estimates, reasonably advanced plans and firm funding sources, voters cannot feel secure that all of the projects.”
Precedents: 1989/1990 & 2000 - Both bond initiatives passed.
Using the June 1989 enacted law creating LED’s, Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti puts the first such bond initiative on the October 4 ballot.
“Opponents of the measure, including the Bureau of Governmental Research and the Alliance for Good Government, say it is wrong to ask New Orleans taxpayers to build more jails to house prisoners who are a state responsibility. Orleans Parish already has 144 mills of property tax, the highest in the state, and the addition of almost 10 mills would make it harder to sell real estate or property here, opponents say.”
After the bond initiative was defeated in October 1989, Criminal Sheriff Charles Foti put a scaled-down version – from 9.8 mills, nearly the maximum under the law, down to 2.6 mills – on the February 1990 ballot.
“The sole proposition on the ballot, Sheriff Foti's 2.6-mill property tax to build four new jails, won handily. But it will produce problems down the line because there was no corresponding provision for the costs of operation and maintenance.”
The cost for the 2.6 mills was approximately $65 million (length of bond unknown, but this figure based on 20 years, which was the October 4 bond initiative’s length)
In 2000, “voters approved issuing up to $27 million in 15-year general obligation bonds for jail construction and improvements as well as repair and renovation of facilities for the district attorney and criminal, juvenile and municipal courts” by a 69-31 vote.
In the report “Bond Propositions in Orleans Parish on November 7, 2000 Ballot,” BGR stated improvements were needed, but opposed the bond because there is no accountability in Orleans LED funding. They stated an alternative:
“A more appropriate alternative for funding criminal justice facility needs would be for the City to serve as the bond issuing entity for the same improvements. The District’s debt service millage could be reduced to offset a corresponding increase in the City’s millage. The millage swap could finance the same improvements without increasing the total millage rate. This would also have the advantage of not perpetuating a structurally inappropriate entity for the 15-year life of the new bonds.”
For footnotes, see attachment.