no.sacredheart.101918.01209 (copy)

The New Orleans City Council gave a mostly warm reception Monday to 2019 spending plans for major portions of Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s reorganization of city government.

Those included new City Hall offices focusing on families, transportation and utilities.

Also lauded was the first full-year budget for the city’s real-time camera center, a crime-monitoring initiative launched under Mayor Mitch Landrieu that has also begun to monitor illegal dumping at Cantrell’s request.

Council members’ few critical questions on those allocations Monday concerned whether Cantrell’s new offices could get more funding, better track their results or get their work started more quickly.

“Let me first say that I was really heartened and proud to see the creation of a department for youth and families,” Councilman Jason Williams said of one of Cantrell's offices.

"I believe the hard work of the folks that are tasked to do that will pay real dividends to the general fund, maybe not for this cycle, but in the next 10 or 15 years.”

The council’s receptive attitude Monday was in contrast to its sharp criticism Friday of the administration’s proposed spending on the city’s Public Works Department and its plans to increase traffic ticket revenue.

But the two sides have found common ground on other points.

The Youth and Families Office that Williams and others praised Monday, for example, was created to coordinate city agencies that deal with children and family programs and to reform the city’s Youth Study Center.

Councilman Joe Giarrusso questioned whether that office, which Cantrell proposes to give $628,000 in 2019, would track its performance and that of agencies it oversees over time.

“I think we all can agree that breaking down silos and making sure the left hand knows what the right hand is doing is important,” Giarrusso said.

Cantrell’s chief of staff, John Pourciau, responded, “I know that some of those metrics are being created right now. I can 100 percent commit to you that as those things get developed, we can come before you with that.”

Cantrell is also spending $200,000 to revive a utilities office within City Hall dormant since 2002. That office’s lone employee will have the primary responsibility of enforcing franchise agreements that generate city revenue, a task Cantrell said was left undone since the office was closed by Mayor Ray Nagin.

Councilwoman Helena Moreno said the administration should ensure the restored office finds a director quickly and that it “adds value” to the work the council is already doing to regulate Entergy New Orleans and Cox Cable.

The office is budgeted to collect about $4 million in untapped revenue in 2019, and Cantrell hopes to appoint someone to run it as soon as the first quarter of next year, Pourciau and Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montaño said.

A transportation office Cantrell wants to give $380,000 would focus on creating better local and regional transit connections. It would also rely on grants to accomplish its goals, such as $2.6 million the city recently was awarded to improve bicycling infrastructure, officials said.

Meanwhile, the city’s Department of Homeland Security is including in its 2019 budget an extra $3.5 million to cover salaries of employees for the real-time crime camera center, which opened in November 2017.

In most cases, police use the more than 300 cameras that feed into that center to help solve crimes that have already occurred, Homeland Security Director Collin Arnold said.

But the cameras — 121 more of which will be installed in 2019 — have helped save officers time as they solve crimes more efficiently, he added. And as city officials have newly focused on illegal dumping as part of Cantrell’s Clean Up NOLA initiative, the cameras have already been able to catch one offender in the act, he said.

Williams heaped praise on that work.

“We have a Police Department that is unable to handle everything,” he said. “And there is no home invasion victim that wants to wait an hour because a police officer had to go to an illegal dumping site.”

The budget hearings continue Tuesday, when the Police Department is among the agencies scheduled to present their budgets. 

The council must approve a final version of Cantrell's 2019 budget proposal by Dec. 1.

Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA​.