New Orleans chief economist Jerome Lomba says the city is on track for exceeding its $488,370,665 revenue target for the 2011 fiscal year. Speaking Sept. 28 at a monthly revenue update before Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, District E Councilman Jon Johnson, Director of Finance Norman S.J. Foster, Tulane University director of research Peter Ricchiuti and newly appointed interim Councilman Eric Granderson, Lomba said the city is projected to take in $488,452,373 — $81,708 above the target — by the end of the year.
That good news comes despite Lomba's estimates that the city will not meet its goals on fines, property taxes and penalties and interest. The surplus derives primarily from $5.5 million in nonrecurring funds from a number of sources, including FEMA reimbursements, which, Lomba told the group, came as something of a pleasant surprise. "That was not anticipated money in this year's budget," Lomba said. "It's fortunate we have it."
The recurring revenues for this year are only projected to come to $482 million. But Lomba says he has figured new revenues into next year's projected revenues. He anticipates an increase of $1.8 million in sales taxes because the city will host the Bowl Championship Series and the NCAA men's basketball Final Four. Another $4 million-plus will come from Orleans Parish Sheriff sales of seized homes. Combined, Lomba said the city's 2012 revenue should be about $18 above this year's. As The Times-Picayune first reported last week, the gain could be even larger. According to Lomba's projections, higher property assessments would push next year's property tax revenues up $4.1 million but only if the City Council votes to maintain, or "roll forward," current tax rates.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu will deliver his 2012 budget to the public in mid-October, though mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni told Gambit the city has not yet scheduled a date or location for the budget address. City Council hearings on the budget should begin in early November, Berni said.
While expressing some concern that a zero percent increase could be problematic if the city loses state or federal money or if it's required to spend additional funds on litigation or employee wage increases, members of the revenue update committee pointed out that if you subtract the $5.5 million in nonrecurring funds from this year's projections, true revenue growth in 2012 should be between 1 percent and 2 percent. That's modest, but it bucks a national trend for cities, Ricchiuti said.
"I was talking to an economist, and he said that one of the great things about New Orleans, as opposed to many other cities, is here 'growth' isn't in parentheses," which in budget documents means negative growth, or a loss, Ricchiuti said. — Charles Maldonado