Government & Politics
 

Landrieu depending on furlough-averse City Council to balance this year’s budget

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to balance this year’s budget relies on the cooperation of the City Council, which has already voiced serious opposition to one of his moves: furloughing city employees.

In seeking approval of this year’s budget, former Ray Nagin asked the council to approve a plan requiring city employees to take 12 unpaid days off this year. The council balked, forcing Nagin to make other cuts. Now Landrieu wants employees to take 11 days off in the next five months.

The council will not have a say in Landrieu’s furlough decision, though the Civil Service Commission needs to give its consent. Nor will the council be able to weigh in on the mayor’s cost cutting measures.

But it will have to approve Landrieu’s request to use $23.2 million from an insurance settlement for operating expenses this year. That’s a third of the projected $67 million budget gap.

The furlough is expected to save $6.7 million.

No council members could be reached for comment. Council President Arnie Fielkow, who is out of the country, released a statement saying the council is working with Landrieu to solve the budget gap “with minimum impact on our employees.”

In an e-mail releasing the statement, Fielkow’s communications director, Danielle A. Viguerie, wrote that Fielkow’s statement was vague because “we are not really endorsing the Mayor’s proposal.”

In fighting with Nagin last year, council members said they didn’t think it was proper to balance the city’s budget on the backs of municipal employees.

Some of the money from the insurance settlement was for  city buildings. The mayor did not elaborate on how diverting the cash to fill the budget hole would affect work on those properties.

Landrieu also announced other cost-cutting measures that include stricter management of overtime, adherence to the 2010 budget for pensions, renegotiations of contracts and renegotiations of the city’s pension and healthcare plans.

“This is not a proud moment for New Orleans,” Landrieu said. He characterized the unsavory situation as having to make a decision between two very bad choices.

All city employees will begin taking one furlough day per two-week pay period until the end of the year, saving the city $6.7 million. That amounts to a 10 percent cut to their remaining pay, Landrieu said. Landrieu and his top staff also will take a 10 percent cut the rest of the year.

Overtime will be significantly reduced through better management of schedules for all city departments. This measure, coupled with leaving open positions unfilled, is projected to save the city $8.8 million, according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

Contract renegotiations and cuts are projected to save the city $8.8 million. A spokesman for the mayor said Thursday that the legal work associated with rewriting contracts  has not yet been completed. Public Works will fund $1.2 million worth of projects from the capital budget, which is separate from the operating budget and designated for bricks-and-mortar projects.

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