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Viewpoint: Nov. 8 ballot includes 8 constitutional amendments

Dozens of new homes are being constructed in Central City. A proposed constitutional amendment on the November 8 ballot would cap annual property tax increases.

By Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

In addition to the races for U.S. Senate, Congress, judges, clerks and the School Board on the ballot, New Orleans voters will choose among eight constitutional amendments in the November election. All amendments were passed by the Louisiana Legislature during the 2021 or 2022 regular session. Each proposed amendment had to receive a two-thirds favorable vote in the House and Senate to reach the ballot. The Public Affairs Research Council has created a well-researched guide to the amendments. which is available on their website, parlouisiana.org

Amendment No. 1 (Act 130), if approved, would increase to 65% the cap on the amount of monies in select state funds that can be invested in stocks. State Rep. Zee Zeringue, R-Houma, proposed the legislation because it would allow the state to invest in stocks for funds such as the Louisiana Education Quality Trust Fund and the Millennium Trust, both which currently have a 35% limit on equities investments. Some agencies, including the teacher’s retirement fund, already have a 65% cap. Others that would benefit from the higher cap include Artificial Reef Development Fund and the Medicaid Trust Fund for the Elderly. Those opposing the fund say the volatility of the stock market could create greater risks for the beneficiaries of these state funds.  

Amendment No. 2 (Act 172), if approved, would expand certain property tax exemptions for property on which the homestead exemption is claimed for certain veterans with disabilities. Disabled veterans and their spouses who have received a 100% service-connected disability rating or a 100% unemployability rating from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will be eligible for a larger homestead exemption. Disabled veterans in some parishes, including Orleans, already get a greater exemption. Proponents want to further relieve the financial stress for these groups of disabled veterans while opponents are concerned about the ongoing erosion of a parish’s tax base.       

Amendment No. 3 (Act 156), if approved, would allow classified civil service employees to support the election to public office of members of their own families. Currently, classified employees are forbidden from engaging in all aspects of political campaigns. This amendment would create an exemption when an immediate family member of the civil servant is the candidate. While, on the one hand, civil servants should be able to support their family members who run for office, opponents say the new law eliminates some of the safeguards that have traditionally protected public employees.  

Amendment No. 4 (Act 155), if approved, would allow local government to waive water charges that are the result of damage to the water system not caused by the customer. This amendment should be of particular interest to New Orleanians because of the ongoing service problems and billing issues at the Sewerage & Water Board. It would create more flexibility for service problems not caused by the customer but it would also reduce the income the S&WB receives at a time when infrastructure rebuilding is critical.  

Amendment No. 5 (Act 133), if approved, would allow the levying of a lower millage rate by a local taxing authority while maintaining the authority’s ability to adjust to the current authorized millage rate. The ability of taxing bodies to roll millage forward up to the maximum rate outside of the four-year cycle is at the heart of this legislation. Someone taxing bodies choose to roll forward whenever they can just to have access to the funds in case they are needed. The new law would provide more flexibility in the decision-making process. Opponents say that taxing districts already have enough time to make these decisions and too often just keep rolling millage forward, which leaves taxpayers wondering about the amount of these taxes.

Amendment No. 6 (Act 129), if approved, would limit the amount of an increase in the assessed value of residential property subject to the homestead exemption in Orleans Parish following reappraisal at 10% of the property’s assessed value in the previous year. The bill’s sponsor Rep. Matthew Willard, D-New Orleans, is passionate about this legislation. “While I was campaigning in 2019, I heard from so many homeowners who were hit with new property tax bills that had skyrocketed,” said Willard, whose district includes Gentilly, Bayou St. John and parts of the 7th Ward and Mid-City. “At the time, the latest quadrennial assessment had just occurred, and some homeowners lost their properties because they could not afford the tax increase. Many of these were homes that were not improved or renovated. Homes were being sold at record high prices, and the market was very hot.” The cap is intended to help prevent New Orleans homeowners from being priced out of gentrified neighborhoods. 

“Our family and friends should not lose their homes in this situation, and I am committed to the people of New Orleans to address this dilemma. This amendment would limit property tax assessment increased in New Orleans to a maximum of 10% a year for residential properties with a homestead exemption. The 10% figure still allows for revenue growth for the city and other tax collectors, but it also allows homeowners to prepare for an increased tax bill,” Willard said. “Residents of New Orleans are much more likely to prepare and budget if they know what volume of an increase is on the horizon. This is completely impossible with our current structure.” Those who oppose the amendment claim that wealthy homeowners who have lived in a property for just a few years could take unfair advantage of a bill that was meant to protect middle-class homeowners who can no longer afford high property tax bills.  

Amendment No. 7 (Act 246), if approved, would prohibit the use of involuntary servitude except as it applies to the otherwise lawful administration of criminal justice. The author of this legislation, state Rep.  Edmond Jordan, D-Baton Rouge, is asking the public to vote against the amendment. Jordan said that, in the process of passing the bill, language was added that had the opposite effect to what he Jordan originally intended.  Slavery is outlawed in Louisiana and involuntary servitude is only allowed for individuals who have been convicted of a crime.  The new language suggests a set of circumstances where involuntary servitude is allowed. Jordan told NOLA.com that if the constitutional amendment was approved, that he would write a new amendment with the proper language. 

Amendment No. 8 (Act 171), if approved, would remove the requirement that homeowners who are permanently totally disabled must annually re-certify their income to keep their special assessment level on their residences for property tax purposes.  “It is also important to note that next year starts a new quadrennial reassessment period. The average price of a sold home in New Orleans has increased since 2019-20. Amendment No. 8 would make the special assessment level for totally disabled homeowners in Louisiana permanent. It would eliminate the unnecessary burden on disabled homeowner who must physically visit the assessor’s office every year to re-certify their income to continue receiving a special assessment level,” Willard said.

If passed, the special assessment for disabled homeowners would function just like the senior tax freeze. Once the homeowner receives the special assessment level, the assessment is frozen as long as the individual owns the property. “This will be a tremendous boon for disabled homeowners living in Louisiana,” Willard said. Opponents of the amendment believe that special property tax breaks reduces the tax revenue available to local governments and passes the tax burden on to a smaller pool of property owners.    

Three additional amendments will appear on the Dec. 10 ballot. Early voting begins Oct. 25 and continues through Nov. 1. Online voter registration is available until Oct. 18.  

Workers load voting machines into trucks before the November 2020 election..

VOLUNTEERS NEEDS AT NOLA RESTORE

New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity is seeking volunteers to help at its two Restore locations – one at 2900 Elysian Fields and the other in Kenner at 2425 Williams Blvd. Habitat recently received a large shipment of new furniture and other household goods that needs to be unpacked and prepared for display. Volunteers get a first peak at new merchandise. Sign up online at www.noahhvolunteer.org  or email questions to volunteer@habitat-nola.org

NEW ORLEANS FOOD CO-OP PLANS HALLOWEEN FUNDRAISER 

The New Orleans Food Co-op is hosting its annual Halloween-themed fundraiser at the New Orleans Healing Center, 3400 St. Claude at St. Roch, on Oct. 23.  The event will take place from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. 

The New Orleans Food Co-op is a full-service, all-natural community-owned grocery store that is open to the public seven days a week. The co-op also features frequent events and workshops. 

Fundraiser attendees are invited to costume up for Halloween, in the safety of the Witches Coven at Café Istanbul. Songstress Charmaine Neville will perform. A costume contest will be held including a special prize for Best True Blood costume. Admission for adults is $20. Children are admitted free. For more information, contact Beth Butler at 504-710-2844.

CENTER FOR HOPE CHILD & FAMILY SERVICES TO HOLD FOOD & SUPPLY GIVE-AWAY THIS WEEKEND

The nonprofit Center For Hope Child & Family Services, along with Second-Harvest Food Bank, Sheriff Susan Hutson, M&J Restaurant, Hands On New Orleans and Orleans Parish School Board candidate Dr. Patrice Sentino, will hold a food and supply giveaway on Saturday (Oct. 15) from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on Sunday (Oct. 16) from 9 a.m. while supplies last.  The giveaway will feature water, non-perishable food items, diapers, dog and cat food, and cleaning supplies. 

The event will be held at the center’s campus at 5630 Crowder Blvd. Enter the parking lot from Lake Forest Boulevard. The center is licensed by the state of Louisiana to provide mental health services including daily life skills, medication management, mental health care, counseling, group therapy and substance abuse counseling. Dr. Sentino is the center’s chief executive officer.  Call 504-241-6006 for more information. 

Danae Columbus
Danae Columbus, opinion columnist

Danae Columbus, who has had a 30-year career in politics and public relations, offers her opinions on Thursdays. Her career includes stints at City Hall, the Dock Board and the Orleans Parish School Board and former clients such as former District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro, former City Councilman Jared Brossett, City Councilwoman at-large Helena Moreno, Foster Campbell, former Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, former Sheriff Charles Foti and former City Councilwomen Stacy Head and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. She is a member of the Democratic Parish Executive Committee. Columbus can be reached at swampednola@gmail.com.

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