Government & Politics
 

Full-time employees drop sharply even as Landrieu proposes first budget increase

Even though Mayor Mitch Landrieu has proposed his first year-over-year budget increase since taking office three years ago, his spending plan for next year includes the biggest drop in the number of full-time city employees since Hurricane Katrina.

Full-time positions, also called “full-time equivalents” or “FTEs,” will decrease by 170 next year, to 4,139 from 4,309 in the 2013 budget.

In all, 17 departments show personnel decreases in the mayor’s budget. However, none of the reductions will come through layoffs, Landrieu told reporters at his budget press conference on last week. Of course, that could change if state and federal courts order the city to shell out tens of millions of dollars in overdue firefighters’ pension payments or the Orleans Parish Prison consent decree — neither of which is accounted for in the budget proposal.

“We don’t expect that, unless we learn things that we don’t know of right now — unless we are saddled with huge judgments that we can’t deal with — we don’t expect to have layoffs and or furloughs,” he said in response to a question from Fox8 News.

At $504 million, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed budget for next year will be $13 million above his 2013 budget as originally passed, and $10 million more than what the city now is projected to collect in revenues this year. It increases funding for EMS, fire and police and projects putting $4.25 million in the bank.

The 2014 budget represents the biggest single year full-time personnel decrease since 2006, following Hurricane Katrina, when the city had 3,842 full-time positions, from 6,329 in 2005. The numbers rose every year thereafter through 2011, Landrieu’s first budget year, when the city funded more than 4,500 full-time position. Since then, the city has lost full-time positions every year.

Clerk of Criminal District Court Arthur Morrell’s office is losing seven budgeted positions.

“I still need those people. Some of my people are doing extra work,” Morrell said.

Morrell claimed in a 2012 lawsuit that the city illegally withheld budgeted money from the clerk’s office. He said it continued this year, and his office has been working seven people short this year, even though they appeared in his budget allocation.

He said state law mandates a certain staffing level in his office.

“I have to follow state law,” he said. “If the mayor treats me like any city department, then that’s a violation of state law.”

According to an emailed response to The Lens’ from Landrieu spokesman Tyler Gamble, there are two reasons for this year’s reductions. Some were eliminated because they were funded by expiring grants. Others are due to attrition. In most cases, that means employees retired this year and were not replaced. Those employees who remained then become the new baseline.

That appears to be the case for the New Orleans Fire Department. Even though its budget is set to increase by more than $1.3 million next year, the number of full-time positions will decrease, from 694 funded this year to 678 in 2014. The decrease approximately reflects the current number of fire employees after retirements this year.

Firefighters union president Nick Felton said the city should include money to replace those losses. He pointed out that then-Fire Chief Charles Parent told the City Council that the department “cannot go below 694” during budget hearings last year.

“They’re doing exactly what the federal government did to us with the levees. They just told us everything would be all right,” Felton said. “We’re running every company short-staffed … We’re putting citizens in danger.”

Felton said the personnel budget was “all about slapping the fire fighters back” in retaliation for an ongoing legal dispute over 2012 pension payments, which may end up costing the city $17.5 million next year.

“The 2014 proposed budget includes no layoffs and no fire station closings,” Gamble wrote in the statement. “This decrease in FTEs is in line with the NOFD re-deployment plan announced earlier this year.”

The redeployment plan, announced in January, resulted in the decommissioning of two fire companies.

Some apparent decreases appear to be minor errors in the budget. The budget, as it appears now in the book, shows a reduction in full-time Emergency Medical Services staff, to 108 from 117 in 2013.

“Whatever adjustments in the book that need to be changed, that should be 117,” Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said, adding that Landrieu is committed to maintaining EMS staffing, per constituent input. He said EMS employs “117 FTEs and about 30 part-timers.”

Other departments  will see increased staffing levels in Landrieu’s budget proposal. Among them is the Mayor’s Office itself, which adds nearly 21 full-time positions. If the City Council approves Landrieu’s budget, his office will be funded for 191 full-time staff, up from 170 this year. In the 2011 budget, as adopted by the council, the office had 143 full-time positions.

As Kopplin pointed out, most of those additions, including 18 in the 2014 budget, are for the mayor’s project delivery unit, which oversees federally funded recovery projects in the capital budget. He said the staff, including engineers and project managers, replace overpriced contractors hired by ex-Mayor Ray Nagin’s Recovery Director Ed Blakely.  Kopplin said the workers are typically making modest salaries and are only being brought on as needed. The city is ramping up its capital budget — which funds major infrastructure and recovery work — in 2014, to $247 million in projects from $104 million in 2013.

“They are not permanent positions in the government,” Kopplin said. “We’ve in-sourced the recovery.”

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