Sheriff Marlin Gusman asked a federal judge this week to settle a perennial fight between his office and city leaders over how much money Gusman should get to operate New Orleans’ troubled jail.
In court papers filed Monday, the sheriff asked U.S. District Judge Lance Africk to hold a hearing that would allow the Sheriff’s Office to outline its latest financial challenges.
It is not clear whether the judge will grant the request.
Gusman’s attorneys have argued that “woefully inadequate” funding has prevented deputies from bettering conditions at the jail, the Orleans Justice Center, and hampered efforts to implement a federal consent decree mandating sweeping reforms at the facility.
The request comes less than three weeks after Gusman asked the New Orleans City Council for $3 million in emergency funding to plug a budget shortfall for the first quarter of 2016.
The sheriff has been increasingly criticized in recent weeks for the lack of progress at the jail, but he has put the blame on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, which under state law is required to pay for the care of local inmates.
“Unfortunately, the city has refused to agree on a global amount to fund all of the necessary reforms,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Tuesday. “The (Sheriff’s Office) believes that the city has used the absence of a ‘definitive judgment’ on funding to consistently underfund” the office and the jail.
Landrieu spokesman Hayne Rainey issued a statement late Tuesday saying the city “will respond appropriately” to Gusman’s motion.
The sheriff’s latest court filings echo his March 30 request to the City Council, claiming the city shortchanged his office by some $15 million in its 2016 budget allocations. He accused the city of making a “vague lump-sum allocation despite being provided with a detailed, itemized proposed budget” in November.
Gusman asked Africk, who is overseeing the class-action litigation that prompted the consent decree, to issue a “definitive judgment” on the amount of funding needed for the lockup.
“If the city’s allocated amount is not adjusted,” James Williams, a Gusman attorney wrote in court filings, the Sheriff’s Office “will indisputably run out of funding to operate (the jail) well before the year ends.”
Rainey’s statement for the city said: “Nearly a quarter of a billion dollars has been invested to build this brand-new, state-of-the-art jail and its administrative facilities. At the same time, the city has more than doubled the sheriff’s annual operating budget for the jail to more than $60 million, which includes an additional $8.5 million from (Law Enforcement District) millage to be used for operations.”
The Law Enforcement District levies a special millage for the Sheriff’s Office. Voters last year agreed to give Gusman wider latitude in how he spends the proceeds.
Rainey added: “As with all city-funded entities, we fully expect the sheriff to manage his budget in a responsible manner.”
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