The City of New Orleans and the New Orleans City Council have approved language for a millage (property tax) to present to voters in May 2019. The proposed millage is to replace the millages currently collected on behalf of the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORD), Parks & Parkways, and the Audubon Commission. If voters approve, these three entities will continue to receive funds generated by the combined millage; in addition, New Orleans City Park, which is a state agency, will become a first-time recipient of the City's public funds.
The proposal would adjust the millage rates for Audubon Commission, the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC) and Parks and Parkways in part to allow City Park to finally receive dedicated funding. Audubon’s proposed adjusted millage would be reduced to 1.95 mills ($6.59 million) from 3.31 mills ($10.92 million); NORDC adjusted millage would be increased to 1.95 mills ($6.59 million) from 1.5 mills ($4.95 million); and Parks and Parkways’ millage would be increased to 1.8 mills (or $6.08 million). This adjustment would allow City Park to have a millage of .61 mill (nearly $2.06 million).
Parks and recreation, a vital public service, must have public dollars to thrive. In the absence of public support, parks management has no choice but to require people to “pay to play.” New Orleans City Park depends on 90% of its $20+ million operating budget on earned income; that is, revenue from concessions, rentals and events. Audubon Park is 83.2% developed for commercial and pay-to-play recreational purposes (including the zoo and golf course). NORD and Parks & Parkways have few opportunities to earn income and charge very little for the use of their assets and programs by private groups and individuals.
PFA is committed to no loss of green space and limiting commercial development of our precious public parks. We must ensure that neighborhood parks are well cared for and that large regional parks are not lost to over-development. The proposed parks millage will provide a modest percentage of the total operating budgets of the receiving entities, but it provides critical minimum funding, particularly in the case of Parks & Parkways and NORD.
Before the millage is approved or collected, the City will enter into a Cooperative Endeavor Agreement (CEA) with these four entities. The CEA will set up an inter-agency parks and recreation coordinating council of their chief executives. Even though each organization will continue to maintain its separate administration, operating budgets and capital projects, this is a start towards some coordination between four agencies in the same sector, so that could be a benefit to the public. PFA is asking: To what ends will they coordinate? In return for our tax dollars, how will citizens have a say in the services that they provide, individually and collectively?
Furthermore, these four agencies represent less than half of the organizations managing parks and recreation properties in our City. Significant public acreage is also managed by the French Market Corporation, the Downtown Development District, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-West, the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority, and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.
A total of TEN organizations manage public green space in New Orleans.. How can we citizens let ten different organizations know what we need and want from the parks and recreation assets that are funded with our public dollars?
While Parks For All supports in principle the concept of a shared millage — it has been one of our key objectives since our founding in 2016 — we do not believe that a shared millage alone will guarantee the progress we envision for our park system.
In order to ensure an equitable distribution of our parks-and-recreation assets - including services such as programs for youth, teens, families and seniors - and the maintenance and quality of these assets throughout the City, we want to consider the City as a whole, rather than only through a balkanized delivery system. The key mechanism to accomplish this goal is a citywide master plan for parks and recreation, which in fact has already been mandated by the recently amended City Master Plan.
Moreover, in order to ensure that the parks-and-recreation master plan objectives are carried out over time, PFA seeks the creation of an objective bi-annual assessment process - "report cards" - that examines all of our parks and recreation services.
These initiatives are neither free nor even inexpensive. They should be guided expertly by a nationally recognized firm known for its parks-and-recreation planning work and broad citizen engagement in the process. As a critical component of this new planning-and-review process, PFA has proposed that the four millage recipients remit 2% of their millage streams into a designated City account, the use of which will be managed by a newly formed Parks and Recreation Steering Advisory Council. A master planning firm would be engaged through the City’s Request For Proposals (RFP) process.
PFA also proposes that this Council, formed by the Mayor, would have broad representation from the City's Chief Administrative Office, City Planning Commission, City Council, the millage recipients, along with all other agencies with oversight over public park lands, at least three local parks-and-recreation advocacy organizations, and LSU’s Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, as well as public participation through an open-meeting process. The Steering Advisory Council would also provide oversight and guidance to the newly formed parks Inter-Agency Working Group, composed of the four millage recipients.
We are at a critical juncture in New Orleans’s history to move towards meaningful citizen participation in decisions concerning our parks and recreation amenities and a better parks management process that includes every corner of our City.
Here is a list of groups that endorsed PFA's original amendments to the CEA (N.B. These groups do NOT all support PFA's current position in support of the millage):
We will welcome your support of Parks For All's efforts to make New Orleans a Great Parks City. Here is how you can help:
· Learn more about our proposal and share our position with family, friends and colleagues.
· Sign Up for Updates and Calls to Action.
· Please consider a donation to our all-volunteer organization to help us build a broad-based coalition.
· Ask for a presentation to your civic organization by a PFA Board member and consider endorsing our efforts.