New Orleans property owners can expect a slight dip in rates

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Months after a citywide reassessment caused property values to shoot up across New Orleans, its likely impact on taxpayers' wallets is becoming clearer.

The bottom line: Total property tax rates are going down, though whether that means an individual owner's bill will be lower will depend largely on how their particular property's value has changed.

In fact, the two biggest taxing bodies in the city are taking opposite approaches to their tax rates.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the City Council, which has the final say on the lion's share of taxes in the parish, are close to finalizing an agreement that would cut the city's overall tax rate by about 5%, juggling about a dozen individual millages to come up with a deal that would, in effect, give up any revenue the city stood to gain from this year's reassessment.

But on Tuesday, the Orleans Parish School Board, the other major taxing body, voted to "roll forward" its millage, keeping its rate the same and reaping the benefits of the higher property values.

Board members said they based their decision largely on an anticipated steep cut to state funding sparked by the reassessment and on pleas from dozens of charter schools for more money for programs, services and teachers.

Other taxing authorities have opted to "roll back" their rates, a process required by state law that automatically drops rates to offset any increase in revenue that the reassessment would bring. Taxing authorities can then do as the School Board did, "rolling forward" the rates to recapture some or all of that money.

Assuming the deal between Cantrell and the council is finalized when the budget is adopted on Thursday, the overall tax rate in Orleans Parish will drop from around 151 mills to somewhere in the mid-140s. A mill is equivalent to a dollar of tax for every $10,000 of a property's value after subtracting the homestead exemption, if there is one.

Exactly what that means for a property's tax bill depends on the details of the city's deal and where the property is located, since some taxing bodies cover only portions of the city.

And how well a taxpayer makes out also depends on what happened during this year's reassessment.

Owners whose property values stayed the same will pay less. Those who saw only a slight increase will pay around the same amount as they did in 2019. But the tens of thousands of homeowners who saw substantial jumps in their property values will face significantly higher tax bills.

For example, a property owner with a $250,000 home that has a homestead exemption and didn't change in value should expect to see their taxes decrease around $85 to $100 next year.

If that property's value increased slightly to $260,000, the owner's tax bill would be about the same as last year.

But if the property's value doubled to $500,000, the homeowner's tax bill will more than double.

The School Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to roll its tax rate forward all the way to its current level, in part because the higher assessments will trigger a $9.1 million automatic cut in state funding for the city's schools.

The roll forward will fill the gap left by that cut and provide an additional $15.1 million for New Orleans schools on top of that.

"I know how incredibly hard your jobs are," an emotional OPSB member Sarah Usdin told a meeting packed with charter school teachers and board members ahead of the vote. "Every penny is needed and even this isn't enough," she said through tears.

Nearly 30 people spoke at the meeting, including parents and students as well as school employees and officials, with all pushing for a roll forward to help support an array of services including teacher pay raises, more in-school counselors and mental health professionals, a better curriculum, teacher development and more.

A roll-back, they argued, would result in staff cuts or fewer technological supplies for students.

The board's decision will increase per-pupil funding in New Orleans' collection of public charter schools. With the roll forward, the district's schools are expected to get $325 more per pupil, for an average of $10,645 total per student.

Because the district is made up of schools run by dozens of separate charter and other nonprofit organizations, schools have some autonomy in how to use the money.

"This was never a doubt in my mind. Recognizing even $325 a kid doesn't go far enough, I'm 100% with you," OPSB member Ben Kleban said about the roll forward vote. "However, there are often questions about where this money would go. I'm asking you to consider ... saying, 'This is where this investment went. This is why it mattered.' I think it's important to build that confidence."

A large element of the total tax rate is the various taxes under the city's control, which together add up to about 68.19 mills. Those taxes cover a wide range of agencies and purposes, from paying for general city government to funding the library and recreation systems and paying for the Sewerage & Water Board's drainage system.

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