With a new mayor and an unusually assertive City Council, there’s often a who’s-in-charge vibe around New Orleans City Hall these days.
Exhibit A is the council’s newly aggressive oversight of the Sewerage & Water Board, which is basically under mayoral control. Exhibit B is the brewing battle over two millage proposals on next spring’s ballots. The council is seeking an increase to fund programs for the elderly despite Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s opposition, and the mayor is pushing a recreation proposal that would benefit the Audubon Nature Institute, City Park, and city recreation and parks and parkways programs by rejiggering existing taxes.
For a while it looked like Exhibit C might be the 2019 budget. One early sign of looming tension was the council’s request that Cantrell deliver her proposed spending plan well before the Nov. 1 deadline, as former Mayor Mitch Landrieu did. The council must hold hearings and adopt the budget by Dec. 1, which isn’t much time given the Thanksgiving holiday, and Cantrell wound up waiting until the last minute.
But that’s not the way things worked out. Once the hearings and negotiations got going, both sides reported a smooth process and completed work with a couple of days to spare.
There was give and take, of course, including over whether the city should try to replace lost revenue from the scaled-back traffic camera program by upping in-person enforcement. The council pushed back on that plan, and the administration agreed not to try to generate revenue via tickets written under state law, which carry high fines.
But there was plenty that the two branches agreed upon, including pay raises for many city employees, more funding for early childhood education, money for an evening reporting center to keep youthful offenders out of juvenile detention, more resources to clean catch basins, and $300,000 for perennially underfunded public defenders to replace lost revenue from those decommissioned traffic cameras.
The council-passed $702 million budget came in a few million above Cantrell’s request, but most of the administration’s proposals remained intact, and instead of more conflict, the city witnessed a Kumbaya moment. Not a bad way to bring the year’s main business to a close.