New Orleans — The City Council on Friday passed a $491.4 million operating budget for 2013, keeping intact most of the Landrieu administration’s proposals but shuffling some money to pay for two police recruit classes next year.
The council also approved a number of amendments that will provide an increase in funding for pre-trial services in the city and grant funding to the Council on Aging, while restoring grant funding to the LSU AgCenter. But the council voted against rolling back the millage rate.
Most departments will face cuts between 8 and 10 percent next year as the city operates with about $5 million less than 2012 because of lower revenues. At the same time, officials face increasing costs for pensions, insurance and worker compensation and must spend $7 million to begin implementing a multiyear federal consent decree for the New Orleans Police Department.
The council and administration each vowed to protect public safety and raised funding for the police and fire departments.
In a prepared statement, Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he was pleased with the budget that passed but that he plans to continue to find savings.
“In 2013, we will continue our strategy of cutting smart, reorganizing and investing,” Landrieu said. “We’re going to keep our nose to the grindstone to create a more flexible, entrepreneurial and forward-leaning City Hall so we can get the biggest bang for the buck and deliver the best services we possibly can for our residents.”
The police department will get an additional $1.1 million for the two recruit classes, bumping up its general fund to $126.7 million. The classes will actually cost $2.8 million, but the city will pay the difference by diverting money from the consent decree funding, which will then be paid back with money from the non-general fund operating budget, which is made up largely of grants.
While the fire department recently got a last-minute increase of $1.8 million to its operating budget to prevent layoffs and furloughs, it will fund fewer firefighters than this year since the city expects to lose positions through attrition.
Fire union president Nick Felton told the council Friday that the cuts could results in more on-the-job accidents and, possibly, loss of life for both firefighters and residents. But, he said, the union is ready to work with the city to identify new funding sources.
Pre-trial services, which allow for low-risk offenders to avoid prison time while waiting for trial, will get an additional $300,000 to go with its proposed $184,000. The Council on Aging, which was set to retain its 2012 city funding of $562,952 and $414,964 in CDBG funding, will get an additional $100,000. The LSU AgCenter, which was slated to lose all its city funding, will get $119,000.
The city council cut $100,000 from its own budget, $119,000 from the chief administrative office, $1.1 million from miscellaneous funds and $300,000 from the sheriff’s office’s ankle-monitor program in order to make the increases happen.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry said that the pre-trial services program is “essential,” especially as the city looks to cut its costs and that she will work with Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to improve the ankle-monitor program, which has come under scrutiny recently following a series of incidents in which youths who wore the monitors were implicated in gun crimes.
While many city departments are facing smaller budgets, some residents are facing higher tax bills thanks to an ongoing reassessment of properties, leading the city to collect about $9 million more next year in property tax.
Council President Stacy Head’s efforts to roll back the millage failed 6-1, meaning that at last year’s rate of 13.91 mills, the city will collect about $115.6 million. Head proposed rolling back the millage to 11.67, which would have brought in about $109 million.
Head said that the increase was unfair since the city’s population is about 20 percent less than its pre-Hurricane Katrina levels, but property taxes have gone up about 35 percent, meaning a smaller group of people will have to shoulder a heavier tax burden.
While her counterparts agreed with Head in theory, they said the city couldn’t afford to lose $6 million in revenue. District C Councilwoman Kristin Palmer said, for example, that while the population is smaller, the city still has to provide services to the same footprint.
“At the eleventh hour, it seems very difficult to do something about this,” District E Councilman Ernest Charbonnet said.