Government & Politics
 

Inside the quirky world of special funds: Landrieu team vows closer scrutiny

By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

The New Orleans Police Department raised $70,975 and spent $107,778 registering sex offenders last year. During that same period, the parking garages at Harrah’s Casino took in $19.8 million while the New Orleans Building Corporation raised no money at all.

These are just a few of the factoids contained in an accounting of the city’s 55 “special revenue funds” presented to the City Council Budget Committee last week.  The funds hold proceeds from discrete revenue sources such as the sex offender registering fees that make up the NOPD’s Sex Offender Proprietary Fund or those associated with the city’s Adopt-A-Pothole program, which closed the year with $37 in its kitty and is run by City Hall. Others were created as part of development deals and reflect concessions to or by the city, sometime in lieu of taxes. Still others, such as the Wisner Land Trust Proceeds fund and the Place de France donation fund, reflect bequests made to the city.

With the funds so disparate in size and origin, the city has historically struggled to enforce oversight of them, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s Chief Administrative Officer, Andy Kopplin, told the council last week. He said that the administration wants to improve auditing of the funds, some of which are public-benefit corporations or nonprofit programs run by boards, while others are administered by city departments.

In addition to improved auditing, he said the mayor is interested in streamlining operation of the funds and pumping more of their revenue into the city’s general operating fund. That’s an idea the council began urging the mayor to consider last fall during the struggle to balance the budget.

In response to pleas for transparency from Council President Arnie Fielkow and Councilwoman Stacy Head, Kopplin said that the city expected all overseeing bodies, no matter their size, to adhere to laws that give the public notice of government meetings and access to them.

“In all cases, the boards and departments are spending public funds and must be spent in compliance with the law,” he said.

Of the 55 special revenue funds listed in the administration’s report, seven ended the year with a balance of zero and three ended the year with a deficit. Most had relatively meager coffers of less than a $1 million and a number collected less than $1,000. But while the amount of money contained in each fund may be insignificant, the combined total balance at the end of the year came to $27.7 million.

The three that ended the year in the red are:

  • The Indigent Defender Fund, which started and ended the year with a $26,453 deficit.
  • The Capital Improvements and Infrastructure Fund, which started the year with $511,193 in millage revenue, and ended the year with a deficit of $600,000.
  • The Municipal Court Judicial Expense Fund, began and ended the year  with a deficit of $2.1 million. The fund holds cash collected from bond forfeitures, and half of fund’s surplus, if any, is supposed to go to the city’s general fund, according to a city ordinance.

Click here for a list of special revenue funds, their revenues and assets.

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