The editorial board for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune makes the following recommendation for the Oct. 24 ballot.
FRENCH QUARTER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DISTRICT TAX PROPOSITION
To levy .2495 percent sales tax for five years for public safety in the French Quarter
The Bourbon Street shootout that left 21-year-old nursing student Brittany Thomas dead and nine others wounded in June 2014 is the crime that revealed the French Quarter's vulnerability. But it is not the only sign that the city's premier tourist district needs stronger police protection.
Crime in the French Quarter has spiked in the past few years. Between 2010 and 2014, the 78-block area had a 55 percent increase in overall crime, according to a report from the Bureau of Governmental Research endorsing the security tax proposal.
At the same time, the New Orleans Police Department is struggling to replace several hundred officers who have left the force in recent years. There was a 35 percent drop in the number of officers assigned to the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter, between December 2010 and December 2014, according to BGR.
The mass shootings on June 29 last year brought those problems into stark focus.
"We realized after the Bourbon shooting the lack of police presence was the biggest single issue we needed to tackle," said Bob Simms, who heads the French Quarter Management District's Security Task Force. "It was a wake up call, I think, that we really needed more police on the streets, a more visible presence."
This tax proposal is part of that effort.
At Mayor Mitch Landrieu's request, the City Council voted to create the French Quarter Economic Development District. The tax district — which runs from the Mississippi River to North Rampart and the center line of Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue — is proposing a five-year, quarter-cent sales tax beginning in 2016. Only voters within those boundaries can cast ballots.
Mayor Landrieu estimates that the tax on French Quarter businesses could generate $2 million per year, mainly from tourists. If the tax passes, the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center have agreed to provide $1 million each per year. The city would add $500,000 per year.
The $4.5 million total would be enough to pay for at least 30 state troopers.
"The State Police patrols made possible by the tax would provide significant longer-term support to the NOPD in the French Quarter ...," BGR said in its report. "According to the city, the State Police patrols would allow the NOPD to maintain at least the current levels of policing both inside and outside the Quarter. The city also says it would allow the NOPD to deploy new officers to other areas if the department is able to rebuild its ranks," BGR said.
The approval of the tax is essential to making the plan work, though.
"The people of New Orleans demanded we find a way to make the city secure," Mayor Landrieu said earlier this year. "It's up to voters to make sure we have the legal authorization to give them what they want."
The temporary sales tax is a smart approach. "Creating a sales tax to fund additional security in the Quarter will improve safety for residents and tourists alike, while appropriately allocating the cost burden," BGR said.
The 9 million visitors who flock to New Orleans every year put a strain on the French Quarter, and it is only fair for the visitors to help pay the added cost of keeping them safe.