A more lenient policy toward parking scofflaws and a partial moratorium on short-term rental licenses are expected to mean millions of dollars less for New Orleans' city coffers this year, officials said Wednesday.
On the other hand, revenue from traffic cameras is on the rise. Taken together, those trends may complicate Mayor LaToya Cantrell's pledge to pare back or even eliminate the unpopular camera program.
Overall, the ups and downs of New Orleans’ financial picture for 2018 appear to more or less balance out, according to forecasts presented to the city’s Revenue Estimating Conference on Wednesday.
But uncertainty over the impact of new city policies and other factors, including the long-term ramifications of trade wars set off by President Donald Trump’s new tariffs, leave it somewhat uncertain where the city's finances will end up by Dec. 31, city economist Deborah Vivien said.
“There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of impacts that need to happen before we settle out on a bottom line. That’s why we made such a conservative forecast here,” Vivien said. “We need a little bit of time to figure out where things might head.”
The midyear report on city revenues projects the city will bring in a total of $623.7 million from recurring sources this year.
The city also will take in $68 million in one-time money, including $33 million in lease payments from the developers of the planned Four Seasons hotel and condos in the former World Trade Center building on the riverfront.
The recurring revenue figure represents less than a 1 percent increase from last year. The 2017 total was up 5.6 percent from the previous year, in part thanks to a new tax for firefighters' pensions.
The city is expecting to take a significant hit from fewer people paying parking tickets, the result of a decision by the previous City Council to raise the threshold for booting cars to three outstanding unpaid tickets.
Vivien said that change is expected to mean $2.75 million in unpaid tickets from those who don’t pay up without the threat of having their car immobilized and a loss of about $125,000 in booting fees.
“These are all just assumptions. We’ll know more when we get the data in,” Vivien said.
The city also will be getting less money from short-term rentals after the council halted the issuance of new and renewed licenses for most residential whole-home rentals in historic neighborhoods.
The city cut its projection of license revenue from the rentals by $300,000 and shaved $525,000 from what it expects in hotel taxes on those properties.
Projections for the traffic camera program are going in the other direction.
Officials had expected the cameras to bring in about $25.2 million this year, with about $6.3 million of that going to the company that operates them, American Traffic Solutions, as well as to overhead and fees that by law go to the Public Defenders Office.
Now the city expects to bring in about $28 million before the program’s expenses are taken into account, in part because more drivers are being ticketed than anticipated.
While she was running for mayor last year, Cantrell promised that, if elected, she would end the traffic camera program. But since taking office, she has, in part, walked those plans back.
Earlier this month, Cantrell said she’s now looking at keeping the shutters clicking in school zones while schools are in session. And the cameras outside of school zones could be phased out, rather than eliminated all at once, she said.