NOLA property tax increase for libraries benefits community

Emily Carmichael, Associate Views Editor

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The following is an opinion article, and opinion articles do not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

New Orleanians will vote on a ballot measure approving an $8 million per year property tax increase to provide more funding for the New Orleans Public Library on May 2. In a city where not all the libraries have reopened since Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee failures, New Orleans’ struggling libraries need all the help they can get. Voters need to approve the tax increase to keep these essential centers of community building and development open.

The New Orleans Public Library is facing a financial crisis. It has been operating on a $2.7 million deficit since 2012, forcing it to dip into reserve funds for the last three years. If this measure does not pass, the library system will suffer severe repercussions, ranging anywhere from the reduction of already insufficient operating hours to actually ceasing the operations of up to half of New Orleans’ 14 library branches.

Critics, like government watchdog the Bureau of Departmental Research, say the city should use the money that would fund libraries to pay New Orleans’ other debts and fund necessary programs like firefighters’ pension, infrastructure repairs and an increase in the size of the police department. Further, they questions the timing of this measure, as it comes as the same time as other tax measures.

New Orleanians, however, will barely feel the tax increase of this reform. For a homeowner with a house valued at $300,000, claiming a homestead exemption, taxes will only increase an extra $56.25 more per year. Homeowners with the homestead exemption and homes valued at $600,000 will experience an increase of $210. In a state with some of the lowest property taxes, this increase will have a negligible effect on this income bracket. 

New Orleans needs these libraries to stay open. It is no coincidence that New Orleans has a high level of poverty and a low level of education. Education has shown itself time and time again to be the most effective way for people to lift themselves out of poverty. New Orleans has a historically inadequate public school system, with 39 percent of those 16 and older reading at below a fifth grade level. Libraries can fill in the gaps schools leave in children’s education by providing safe environments for people to supplement their own education and acquire skills needed to navigate the job market.

Councilman Jason Williams said in a Times-Picayune article published April 16 that every New Orleans library branch is currently being used during every hour of operation. New Orleanians obviously want their libraries. With the relatively small tax increase, the upcoming ballot measure offers a big reward for a small cost.

Emily Carmichael is a freshman in the Newcomb-Tulane College. She can be reached for comment at [email protected].