Covering Louisiana

Mar 9, 2014 4:28 PM by KATC

Tax for Audubon Institute at issue in New Orleans

Voters in New Orleans will decide next Saturday whether to replace two property taxes that have been on the books for decades with one new, 4.2-mill tax that, at current assessment levels, would bring in nearly $12 million annually for the next 50 years.

The Audubon Nature Institute has launched a major campaign for the property tax to pay for its operations and new construction projects for its zoo, aquarium, nature center, parks and other attractions.

Audubon President Ron Forman describes the tax as vital for the growing, quasi-public agency as it competes with attractions in other cities.

Critics say the institute, which charges admission fees at some of its major operations, should not seek more in taxes when some in the city are struggling to get by.

"A lot of politicians think people have deep pockets and they won't find alternative ways to raise funds," Julius Green, 68, told Nola.com (http://bit.ly/1gbNeXO). Green, a former member of the Orleans Parish Democratic Executive Committee and retired track coach said he lives on a fixed income. "I love the zoo, but at this rate, the animals are going to be better off than the humans."

Audubon is asking for the same total millage rate that voters originally approved for the zoo and aquarium taxes, but the council trimmed that rate after a 2008 citywide re-assessment. So the applied millage would rise from 3.31 mills to 4.2 mills, bringing the annual tax bill for a home worth $200,000, with a homestead exemption, from $41.38 to $52.50.

Forman says the tax is needed if the institute and its attractions are to keep pace with the city's revitalization. In a story in The New Orleans Advocate, he pointed out the aquarium is almost a quarter-century old and needs upgrades to basic systems. A dozen different projects are planned at the zoo - including renovations to the tropical birdhouse and the African savannah.

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