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Mayor Landrieu warns the city’s 2013 budget will be tight

20th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Mayor Mitch Landrieu kicked off a series of 2013 budget meetings last Monday to a packed room at the Jewish Community Center in District B in Uptown. “I’m holding your checkbook,” he said, and asked constituents about their priorities. The mayor solicited opinions before he presents a proposed 2013 budget to the City Council on October 15.

By law, the city has to balance its budget, but since resources are limited citizens need to decide what they want most, Landrieu said. In July, the city filled a $13 million gap in the 2012 budget by cutting spending across most departments. The mayor requires monthly and quarterly reports from department heads to keep spending within an annual, operating budget of nearly $500 million.

At the August 13 meeting, Landrieu was joined by Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, his other Deputy Mayors, Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, Fire Super­intendent Charles Parent and his department and agency heads. The audience was mostly from District B, which spans parts of Central City, Uptown and Mid-City, Gert Town, the Garden District, the Irish Channel, the Warehouse District, the CBD and the new LSU/VA hospital complex.

The Landrieu administration is working with the U.S. Dept. of Justice on a proposed consent decree for police reform, and the mayor said the city will have to pay millions of dollars yearly for training, new personnel and computers in that effort.

He said the Fire Department is $1.1 million over budget, and likened the size of the firefighters’ pensions to the “fifth largest department in city government.” Before the meeting, firemen distributed leaflets outside of the JCC, asking the public to “say no to engine house closings and staffing cuts.” Worries are that hundreds of firefighting jobs will be cut but Landrieu said he has made no proposals for 2013 yet.

Residents complained about increases in their 2013 property tax assessments and about spending hours lined up at City Hall to ask about those adjustments. One audience member said she had waited 12 hours. Landrieu said “it’s important for people to pay fair assessments.” But he said “we now have a single assessor, and he doesn’t work for me. The public voted to go from seven assessors to one.” Erroll Williams was named Orleans Parish Assessor in a 2010 election.

Gert Town was well represented at the meeting, with Big Chief Larry Bannock of the Golden Star Hunters Mardi Gras Indians saying “it seems like Katrina keeps going around and around” his neighborhood. Gert Town speakers said they had received little attention since Katrina. But Landrieu pointed to the rebuilt Earhart corridor, Norwood Thompson playground, spending by Xavier University, the Blue Plate Artist Lofts and Costco moving in as changes for the better there.

Landrieu said “the cavalry is not coming in” with respect to the budget.” Congress is not sending dollars down because they’re stuck. In the current environment, it’s pretty much us. There is no fairy dust.”

A number of speakers complained about blight. Landrieu said “we had 45,000 blighted properties and we took down 4,600 of them. If we take down another 10,000 in the next three years, we’ve got 30,000 left.” He added “I can’t go faster than that if you don’t give me the money.”

Landrieu said the city is spending $200 million a year just to cut grass on vacant lots and keep them under control. He hopes to expand a program that hires youth to mow overgrown lots in the Lower Ninth Ward to other neighborhoods.

He said the streets have 50,000 to 60,000 potholes, and crews are filling them but the city can’t afford to do them all now. As for broken streetlights, which Landrieu takes very seriously, he promised “by the end of this year, every light in the city will be on.”

Residents complained about street flooding and poor drainage. Landrieu agreed, saying “the drainage system is terrible. We’ve been fighting with FEMA to get a pump fixed since Katrina.” And pipes moving tap water aren’t doing their job. “Forty percent of our water is being lost but we can’t afford to fix that now,” he said. The Sewerage and Water Board has proposed rate hikes over the next five years to address these problems, he noted.

Landrieu also said “we need to find the best use for Charity Hospital, maybe through a public-private partnership.” He said City Hall functions could be moved to Charity. “City Hall is fifty years old, the elevators don’t always run and we need to get out of there,” he said.

Landrieu gave members of the public two minutes each to talk. He offered Sandra Wheeler Hester, a local-government critic, more time than that. But after she sparred with the audience for awhile and wouldn’t yield the floor, she was taken away in handcuffs.

Landrieu responded to the public’s comments by category, and remained after the meeting to talk with constituents who wanted his ear. He will host meetings in each council district this month, and held one in New Orleans East last Wednesday at Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Church. A meeting is scheduled on Aug. 20 at the YMCA in Federal City, followed by one on Aug. 22 at the Lakeview Christian Center and another on Aug. 27 at Dillard University.

This article was originally published in the August 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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