Mayor Mitch Landrieu will unveil his proposed 2017 budget Monday — a plan the administration says will increase funding for public safety, quality-of-life programs and infrastructure while making cuts in other departments.
The main question hanging over the budget is how the administration will respond to an April vote of the people rejecting two property taxes that would have funneled $26.6 million a year to the New Orleans Police Department and the firefighters' pension system.
While the city is hoping to bring in some new revenue from other sources, without the defeated police tax the budget will include cuts aimed at providing more money to pay for NOPD expansion as well as other key priorities, Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said.
"Our budget is going to focus on public safety as a top priority, infrastructure and quality-of-life investments and the housing plan," Berni said, referring to Landrieu's call earlier this year to add to the affordable housing supply in the city.
"Those are residents' priorities — basically, fix the basics," Berni said.
He declined to discuss the specifics of the budget but said the spending total will be "north of $600 million." That puts it in about the same range as this year's $602 million budget.
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Landrieu will first discuss the budget during a Monday morning news conference before making a formal presentation to the City Council at 11 a.m. The council will spend the next few weeks reviewing and tweaking the plan before it adopts a final budget next month.
"We feel like we've turned the city around in the last six years from where we were" when Landrieu succeeded Mayor Ray Nagin in 2010, Berni said. "We're in a place where we have decisions between good and better as opposed to between bad and worse."
The defeat of the police and fire taxes means the NOPD will have to grow more slowly than had been planned. However, officials still hope to add more than 400 officers to the force over the coming years.
Money for that expansion will largely come at the expense of other departments. As it was preparing the 2017 budget, the administration asked all departments to submit proposals that would cut their spending by 5 percent, though it's not yet clear how the cuts will be distributed.
In addition to the NOPD, other programs Berni described as "core services" will also likely be spared from cuts. Those include pothole repairs, fixing streetlights, sanitation and other basic services.
The budget is expected to continue funding housing initiatives at current levels as well.
The administration is also looking at ways to bring in more money, though it has not yet said what fees or other revenue sources could be added or increased. Berni said most of the plans could be implemented by the administration alone and would require only "minimal" action by the City Council.
Whether the council will go along with such ideas remains to be seen. Last year, council members were able to force some changes to an administration plan to increase parking meter rates, hours and fines even though the changes did not require their approval.
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There is also one new stream of money that's already been approved. Officials expect a change in state law this year allowing sales tax to be collected on purchases at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome could bring in about $1 million.
One measure on the horizon is a second attempt at passing the firefighters' portion of the property tax increases that failed in the spring. In December, voters will decide whether to increase taxes by 2.5 mills to provide money for a $75 million judgment over back pay the city owes to firefighters and to provide money for their pensions.
The money from that possible tax hike is not included in the budget to be presented Monday, Berni said.
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Another unknown is what budget Landrieu will propose for operating the parish jail. Past years have seen Sheriff Marlin Gusman and city officials fight bitterly over the amount the city appropriates for the facility. The jail is now under the eye of an independent compliance director.
The city is expected to provide more details on a $2.5 billion plan to repair or rebuild a substantial portion of the city's roadways over the next eight years. Much of that money will be contained in the capital budget, a separate document that outlines infrastructure spending.
"2017 is going to be the year that kicks off with a bang," Berni said.