Over the objection of the Fraternal Order of Police, which called for using the money to increase officers’ salaries, the City Council voted Thursday to transfer more than $4 million in surplus cash from the New Orleans Police Department’s 2014 personnel budget to pay for other city obligations.
The council voted unanimously to transfer $2 million to Sheriff Marlin Gusman to help pay for court-ordered jail reforms and $2 million to the Fire Department for pension-related costs. Another $250,000 is being shifted to the Chief Administrative Office budget to help pay for vehicle maintenance.
The Landrieu administration proposed moving the $2.25 million to the sheriff and CAO, while council President Stacy Head proposed moving the $2 million to the firefighters’ pension fund.
The transfer comes as the Police Department is struggling to recruit officers to fill its rapidly depleting ranks, creating a surplus because of unfilled positions.
Head said Thursday the surplus in the department’s budget existed even after officers were allowed to use “as much overtime as they could possibly want to use or be able to use.”
The NOPD hopes eventually to hire several hundred new officers to replace those lost through attrition. Its 2014 budget, approved last fall, had money to hire 150 recruits in five academy classes. But with fewer than five months left in the year, the department has filled just one class of about 30.
Claude Schlesinger, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, said taking money away from the department won’t help its efforts to boost its ranks. The department has about 1,100 officers and expects the number to drop below 1,100 by the end of the month, Schlesinger said.
“We would like to see enough of a cushion in the NOPD budget to begin the implementation of a pay raise,” he said. “We think that’s ultimately the answer to stop the hemorrhaging of police officers in the city.”
The raid on the police budget is a response to the city’s need to pay two big bills that have come due at the same time and were not included in the 2014 budget.
It must pay an undetermined number of millions as part of a federal consent decree requiring the sheriff to increase the number of guards and improve the treatment of inmates at Orleans Parish Prison.
The city also may be on the hook for as much as $17.5 million in court-ordered back payments to the New Orleans Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund. The city has not made full monthly payments to the fund during Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s tenure. The Mayor’s Office and the council have said the fund has been mismanaged. The city is challenging firefighters’ estimate of what is due and hopes to knock its debt down to $7 million, said Head, who also was careful to say Thursday that the pension will be paid.
Whether the pension bill will be paid “is not the debate or the discussion today. It never actually has been,” Head said. “The question is whether or not we, frankly, in my opinion, artificially try to build up a defunct and unsustainable pension system.”