Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu's top priority is making New Orleans safe, he said as he unveiled his proposed $592.7 million budget this morning. NOPD is set to be funded at $140 million, an 8 percent ($10.5 million) budget increase from 2015, and $31 million more than it received just six years earlier. "Fighting crime and making the city safe is always our No. 1 priority," Landrieu said.
New Orleans isn't cash-strapped — the city's proposed 2016 budget is $50 million higher than the 2015 budget, and it's nearly $100 million stronger than its 2010 budget.
But the city also is on the hook for millions of dollars to pay New Orleans firefighters in an ongoing battle over pensions — and then there's funding the new jail, two consent decrees, and committing to a well-funded criminal justice system, including new infrastructure, pay raises and new hires within the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) to combat the city's ongoing crime issues.
Landrieu said "the big takeaway" from citywide public budget hearings this summer was "that people of New Orleans want solutions, real plans" to make this city safe and to create jobs, fix streets and offer more affordable housing. Those solutions in Landrieu's 2016 budget are among other "laser focus" priorities that the mayor has targeted, from fighting blight to ambitious capital projects and transportation infrastructure.
NOPD's budget increase accounts for 15 percent pay raises, compliance measures with the federal consent decree and ongoing recruitment efforts, including training 150 new officers. Landrieu also promoted Operation Relentless Pursuit
, his recently unveiled crime-fighting umbrella strategy that includes funding $11 million "unlimited" overtime for NOPD — the "equivalent of adding 100 officers to the force," he said. More than $100 million in the city's capital budget will fund new building construction and other NOPD infrastructure.
The New Orleans Fire Department will get a $4.3 million increase with plans to add 40 to 50 new firefighters, and there's another $5 million in capital funding for 20 new trucks. The pension dispute, however, isn't over — the 2016 budget pumps $43.2 million into the pension plan but funding the program over the next decade will cost millions more, in addition to court costs. "This is not sustainable," Landrieu said. "We need to find a way to pay it all."
Then there's the Orleans Parish Sheriff's office and its new jail construction — the proposed budget funds Orleans Parish Prison at $60.8 million, more than double the nearly $29 million the city budgeted in 2015. Sheriff Marlin Gusman butted heads with the Landrieu administration in seeking more money for jail construction costs as the city has juggled constructing a constitutional jail under the mandate of the consent decree. The upcoming round of budget talks is likely to include more back-and-forth between Gusman and city officials.
Landrieu hailed his administration's efforts in street and streetlight repairs — according to Landrieu, more than 50,000 lights have been repaired since 2010, with billions from FEMA and capital funding on road projects. But Landrieu wants a $100 million bond boost to fix the city's water and street repair issues in 2016, for which he won't raise taxes — voters will have to approve a new debt next year. It's part of an ongoing, multi-billion effort to bring the city's water systems and streets up to snuff — which FEMA will continue to support in part through a multi-year, multi-million dollar commitment. The city, however, will need to support that with other revenue, whether through bonds, taxes or other sources.
More than $17 million from a variety of grants and programs will boost the city's affordable housing efforts in 2016, including ongoing efforts to curb homelessness as the city continues to promote being the first in the country to eliminate veteran homelessness.
The city also will look to hire more than 200 full-time positions, even at the New Orleans Public Library (NOPL), which voters funded earlier this year by hiking a millage, bailing NOPL out of threatened closures and staffing cuts. Libraries also will see extended hours with the staff increases.
And though Landrieu hasn't announced any tax increases, one fee increase could put more than $4 million in the city's coffers. Proposed parking meter rates and hours will rise to $3 an hour in the French Quarter and CBD and to $2 an hour in other neighborhoods — current parking rates are $1.50 an hour from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. The new meter rates will extend to the hours between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The city's leaner "budgeting for outcomes" budget years have allowed the city to use its "carefully saved pennies," Landrieu said.
"All of our hard work now is having a big impact," he said, adding that the city has "less blight, more housing, more retail and new industries."
"This means even more jobs, more business, more revenue and more public investment," he said, calling the tricentennial-bound New Orleans "a city of peace and a stronger, more resilient New Orleans."
The New Orleans City Council will schedule budget hearings for city departments from Oct. 26-Nov. 12, when department heads and accountants will outline budget needs and, certainly, petition for some changes.
You can read through the city's proposed 2016 budget at nola.gov/mayor/budget