In a time of “standstill budgets” and “doing more with less,” it’s not likely that any departments in Kenner’s city government wouldn’t rather do more with more.
But one department stood out during the city’s budget hearing Tuesday, as council members grappled with the fact that Kenner won’t have the money to tear down as many blighted properties next year as it could if it had more resources.
The council will vote on the proposed $59.3 million operating budget, along with another $3.6 million for capital projects, at its June 5 meeting, and members likely will make some amendments to Mayor Mike Yenni’s proposals.
Tuesday’s hearing was a chance for the city’s departments to present their budgets and field questions from council members.
The council sets aside a few days for the hearings every year, but it typically takes much less time.
This year, the process wrapped up in just over four hours, with council members making inquiries and noting problems or projects they’d like to see get attention.
The Inspections and Code Enforcement Department’s $1.5 million budget for the 12 months beginning July 1 drew considerable attention, particularly the $50,000 set aside for demolitions.
The city spent almost $85,000 for demolitions this fiscal year, tearing down 11 properties, but Yenni’s proposed budget for 2014-15 has only $50,000 for that purpose.
District 3 Councilman Keith Reynaud noted the next five properties on the city’s demolition list would likely eat up the entire $50,000.
“Absolutely,” agreed Aimee Vallot, director of inspections and code enforcement. She said one of her staff members has been compiling a list of potential demolition targets and already has more than 60 properties listed without even covering the entire city yet.
District 5 Councilman Kent Denapolis noted each district council member had been asked to submit a list of the five derelict properties most in need of demolition in their district. He said the amount in the proposed budget likely wouldn’t even pay for one from each district.
“We all tout getting rid of blight in Kenner, and that account number is going to have to increase,” he said.
Vallot agreed the amount budgeted is lower than needed, but said, “I’m trying to do whatever I can to keep our expenses down.”
She got a lot of sympathy from the council, which at one point noted $3.9 million in revenue from permit fees leaves the department and goes into the general fund each year.
Council members suggested options such as forming partnerships with private businesses to cut grass on adjacent vacant properties and working with local church groups to take down blighted properties.
Vallot said she’s looked into many of those ideas but all have their limitations.
“We’re trying to come up with creative ways, particularly with properties that aren’t (financially) encumbered,” she said.
Despite the budgetary constraints, Vallot said, her focus is on making sure residents who call with complaints get a response.
She said she has always been disappointed to hear people say that code enforcement inquiries, which range from animal control to blight to complaints about high grass, get a quick response in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish but that in Kenner, people have to wait.
“I don’t want the turnaround time to be as long as it is, so I’m trying to find where those kinks are,” she said.
Councilwoman Maria DeFrancesch said banks often seize control of a property and evict the residents but then drag their feet during the foreclosure process, leaving the property in limbo.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.