The New Orleans City Council passed Mayor Mitch Landrieu's $537 million operating budget for 2015 last month with few changes. After a series of community meetings, Landrieu said New Orleanians wanted to see more funding for public safety, jobs, recreation and blight reduction.
"We heard you loud and clear," Landrieu said in his address introducing the budget book to the council in October. Public safety dominates the budget, including funding increases for police and the local prison, but one group of New Orleanians staged its own budget process — and the results are far different.
In October, the Committee For a Better New Orleans' (CBNO) People's Budget New Orleans (PB NOLA) asked citizens what they would do if they were in charge of the budget process. More than 60 people participated in PB NOLA's "budget summit" at Tulane City Center. While Landrieu's 2015 budget gives Orleans Parish Prison $28.5 million, 50 percent of participants said the sheriff is one of the three most over-funded departments; 77 percent felt that way about NOPD.
"The difference in residents' funding for the Sheriff's Office from that of the administration shows the largest break in funding priorities in our activity," the PB NOLA report reads. "Second to improved medical care for inmates, respondents listed improved transparency of the Sheriff's Office as the second most common desire for spending in the Sheriff's Office, a potential explanation for the strong desire to spend less tax money on the Sheriff's Office."
While more than half of the PB NOLA respondents attended Landrieu's budget "town hall" meetings, all of them said they felt their input was not valued. All respondents agreed that their voices were not reflected in the budget's decision-making process. Respondents also ranked the budget's transparency process 3.2 out of 10, with 10 being the most transparent. Respondents wanted more funding increases for the Health Department and children's and family services.
CBNO recommends the mayor's office begin holding budget town hall meetings in the spring, rather than in the early fall (after the draft budget likely is finished).