by Kevin Allman
The first sanitation-fee hike in 10 years, a doubling of the New Orleans Recreation Department (NORD) budget, and the complete elimination of crime-camera funding: those were among the major points at Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s 2011 budget address, which he delivered this morning at Gallier Hall, one day before the budget’s formal presentation to the City Council. Council members Arnie Fielkow, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Jon Johnson were in attendance, along with Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro and representatives from city agencies.
Landrieu presented his $483 million operating plan — which he says is fully funded and balanced — to a packed room, saying “We will stop the overspending and, for the first time in over 30 years, create a budget that all city government will live by.”
If the City Council approves, garbage fees will go up from $12 to $20 monthly, which Landrieu said would close an $11.6 million budget gap. The city millage rate would be returned “to 2007 levels,” though Landrieu offered no specific numbers other than homeowners could expect property taxes to rise 40 cents per day.
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On the spending front, the NORD budget would go from $5 million to $10 million (a statement that got Landrieu the first of several ovations from the crowd), and $14 million would go to roadway maintenance. Landrieu also promised to double the number of catch basins cleaned in the city. The sheriff’s office would have $22.7 million to spend, while the D.A.’s office budget would rise from $5.6 million to $6.2 million. A new program called “NOLAStat,” based on the Comstat crime-fighting program in other cities, will track crime patterns and measure performance by city departments.
Landrieu also vowed to resurrect the city’s now-discontinued and much-criticized 311 information line, renaming it “AskNOLA” and saying it would be staffed with operators who would take citizen calls and route them to the proper offices. (Not addressed: the fate of muncipal animal control services in 2011; the city’s contract with the Louisiana SPCA expired Oct. 1.)
At a post-address press conference, Serpas said he was in agreement with cutting the crime cameras, saying they had “virtually no impact” in apprehending and prosecuting criminals. Fielkow, the council’s budget chairman, praised Landrieu and his team for submitting the budget two weeks earlier than promised, and said “the level of partnership and communication [between the mayor’s office and City Council] was unprecedented. Hedge-Morrell, the council budget chair under former mayor Ray Nagin, was also full of praise, saying “This budget is right on target. If we had rolled the millage forward in 2007, Mayor Landrieu may not have the deficit he has.”
Asked how AskNOLA will differ from the previous 311 service — which was staffed by out-of-town operators who often didn’t seem to know the basic geography of the city — Landrieu said it would be staffed by New Orleanians who are trained in customer service. “They’re going to be here locally,” he said, adding, “And they’re going to be nice.”
The council is scheduled to work on the budget over the next two weeks.