The New Orleans City Council on Tuesday approved a $601.7 million operating budget for 2016 despite continued objections to the mayor’s plan for raising a small share of the revenue with higher parking meter fees.
The vote was largely a formality after the council hashed out the details of the budget last month, adding about $8.9 million in new spending to Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s original proposal after revenue projections increased.
No substantive changes were made to the budget Tuesday before the council passed it by a 6-0 vote, with Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell absent.
Dec. 1 is the deadline set by the City Charter for the council to approve the budget each year.
The only discussion Tuesday focused on Landrieu’s plan to increase rates and extend hours for parking meters across the city. The hourly rates would rise from $1.50 to $3 in the French Quarter and Central Business District and to $2 everywhere else in the city. Meters also would be active until 10 p.m. instead of shutting off at 6 p.m.
Those changes are expected to raise about $4.3 million from the meters and in fines for violations. About $1 million of that money would go toward enforcing the regulations.
Chris Lane, organizer of a group called New Orleans Citizens for Fair Parking, acknowledged the council can do little to block the plan — the Mayor’s Office can make the proposed changes on its own — but he urged council members to push for a delay in the changes so businesses have more time to adjust and a parking study of the Quarter and CBD can be completed.
Representatives of businesses in those areas and service industry workers have been among the most vocal opponents of the parking meter rate hikes, arguing they would discourage people from patronizing their establishments and cut into their wages.
None of the council members directly addressed that request, though Councilwoman Susan Guidry, who has been skeptical of the administration’s proposed increases, floated the alternative of hiking fines for parking violations.
Lane said his group has discussed that idea, as well as adopting a smaller rate increase without extended hours or else increasing the amount charged to movie productions using city streets.
Despite that exchange, nothing concrete was hammered out at the meeting.
The discussion Tuesday was mostly perfunctory. Council members already had taken care of their proposed changes at the meeting last month — adding about $8.9 million to beef up the budgets of the Public Defenders Office and Coroner’s Office and to start the process of paying off $35 million in judgments against the city. However, a final vote had to be delayed because public notices had stated it would take place on Dec. 1.
Other than those changes, the final budget hews closely to Landrieu’s proposal, which included money for street repairs, hiring more police officers and firemen, and replacing some of the Fire Department’s aging fleet of trucks.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.