- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to use voluntary hotel taxes to fund an unarmed, civilian patrol in the French Quarter has hit a snag.

A group of businesses in the historic neighborhood questioned why the city wasn’t spending the $2.3 million in annual revenue to hire actual police officers.

Chris Young, of the French Quarter Business League, told the city council Thursday that given the crisis in the neighborhood, the idea of spending money on unarmed civilians to patrol was ludicrous.

In light of the debate, NOLA.com/The Times Picayune reports (https://bit.ly/1wPnEOj ) Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who was sponsoring the measure on Landrieu’s behalf, moved to defer action on it until the body’s next meeting, scheduled for Nov. 6.

Citing violent crime in the French Quarter, the Business League voted unanimously in August to chip in $10,500 each week to pay 3-4 off-duty officers to patrol Bourbon Street at night. Why is the league paying for a few off-duty patrols when the city could fund several times as many full-time cops for the entire French Quarter, Young said.

Young’s point was underlined by Councilman Jason Williams, who posed a similar question to NOPD Superintendent Michael Harrison.

Harrison didn’t say specifically whether the money could have been used to hire more officers, saying only that the point of the civilian force, dubbed NOLA Patrol, was to supplement, not replace police officers.

Young questioned whether the 2013 law providing for the voluntary hotel tax even authorizes its proceeds to be spent on something like the NOLA Patrol.

The law gives hotels in New Orleans the right to assess a 1.75 percent tax on guests, but it appears to leave the decision on how to spend it up to their industry representatives at the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The bureau opted to direct .25 percentage points of the tax to the city for infrastructure, public safety and quality of life improvements in the French Quarter Management District.

The city’s portion, which it has been collecting since April, will yield about $1.5 million this year, with about one third of that going to fund NOLA Patrol.

City officials says that would fund 50 NOLA Patrol positions tasked with writing citations for minor “quality of life” violations, such as aggressive panhandling, illegal vending and other frequent complaints in the French Quarter.

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Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com


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