The Downtown Development District board has recently turned down an agreement to hand over $2.5 million in tax money to the City of New Orleans, explaining they require oversight to be sure the money is actually going towards fixing street flooding, and not something else.
Last year, Gov John Bel Edwards, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and leaders of the city's hospitality industry put together a deal, in which City Hall would get $50 million immediately, with the promise of more money later on. The deal aimed to pay for much-needed repairs to the city's ailing infrastructure. The DDD board stated they would cough up $2.5 million annually towards repairs, a percentage of their total property tax paid by residents and businesses within the CBD and Warehouse District.
The manner in which money is actually spent is the big issue, notes Bill Hines, a DDD commissioner. Further, he explains that many people object to the city's deal, ranging from residents to large, rich corporations.
One man, Ross Mancuso, who owns commercial and residential property downtown, states the DDD was designed to assist with extra services for the downtown, like police, fire, and infrastructure, but that over the years, that money has been reallocated for other purposes. Mancuso wonders if the same will be done with this money.
Many opponents of the deal want verifiable information that the work has been completed and is free of defects before the money changes hands. And who really blames them? Following this year's heavy flooding in the streets, homes, and businesses of the CBD, property owners have been nudging the city for better infrastructure.
The proposal states DDD would pay the city in pieces after the work was completed, but only after their own engineering consultants had signed off on it. Josh Cox, senior advisor to Cantrell, explains this is unsatisfactory, claiming it would mean the city would have to put money up to finish the work and risk not getting paid back if the DDD saw any issue with the work. Cox explains the city simply does not have the cash for that.
In contrast, the city's contract proposal calls for $2.5 million to be paid in parts before any work is finished, along with no sign-off by DDD. Now that the DDD has declined the city's offer, we don't know what comes next, or how we go about defeating the stalemate.
Judy Barrasso, a DDD commissioner, and lawyer, explains she sees the board's votes to increase property taxes and to include oversight as legally tied together. The two are legally "joined at the hip," meaning the board cannot sign any contract without these conditions.
The basis of the disagreement rests "in control and leverage." Cox adds it is "important for the city - and not an unelected board - be in control of the process."