Government & Politics
 

Mayor’s budget restores staffing citywide, anticipates council will roll taxes forward

Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s 2016 budget proposal unveiled Thursday includes more than 200 additional full-time city jobs, the most significant proposed increase during his administration, which has largely been marked by reduced full-time slots. If the proposed full-time employment level — 4,493 in 2016— materializes, the city will be only 45 positions short of staffing in 2011, Landrieu’s first full year in office.

The full-time employment number in the 2016 proposed budget represents an increase of 237 full-time equivalent, or FTE, positions from the budget the City Council adopted for this year. That includes both full-time jobs, 1 FTE, and part-time jobs. A part-timer who works half of a city work week is counted as 0.5 FTE.

Landrieu’s 2014 budget proposal, on the other hand, trimmed 170 full-time positions, mostly due to retiring employees that the city did not plan to replace. Updated figures show that the actual employment level for that year was about 115 positions short of 2013. In 2014, 17 city departments faced lower staffing levels. In the 2016 proposal, by contrast, most departments would be funded at higher staff levels than this year. The proposal shows only a small number of departments with lower budgeted staff, including the Office of Community Development, at 106 from 117 this year.

Under the 2016 proposal, the New Orleans Public Library, which was facing staff cuts and branch closures prior to voter approval of a tax increase this year, will be funded for 220 positions, an increase of 45 from the 2015 budget. The proposal also shows a net increase of nearly 60 full-time equivalents for the New Orleans Police Department. Even the Fire Department, which has consistently seen its ranks shrink due to attrition, will be funded for a net increase of one full-time equivalent.

Landrieu’s proposed $593 million general fund budget, generated from local taxes, fees and fines, is nearly $60 million above the $536 million the City Council adopted for 2015. And it’s $30 million above more recent projections for total 2015 spending. The total budget, more than $1 billion including federal, state, and special revenue funds, is a $50 million increase from this year.

The budget includes $43 million to fully fund the firefighters pension system, the subject of one of two major legal disputes between the mayor and the firefighters. The city’s jail, another sore spot for Landrieu, is slated to get $44 million, an increase of $16 million from the adopted 2015 budget. The Sheriff’s Office will also receive about $8.5 million in revenues from a property tax, originally intended for construction, but partially rerouted to jail operations after a citywide vote this year, and $8 million in in-kind payments from the city for fuel, electricity and workers’ compensation. In total, Sheriff Marlin Gusman will receive $60.8 million under the proposal.

Though the city and the jail officially ended the controversial per-diem payment system last year, Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said Gusman’s 2016 budget works out to about $114 per inmate per day.

The city anticipates increased property tax revenues next year, a quadrennial property reassessment year, should the City Council vote to maintain current tax rates, called a “roll forward.” And as in the past few years, sales tax collections are expected to increase. The city was also the recent beneficiary of $36 million from the Deepwater Horizon settlement, which will go into its reserve fund. The budget also includes a $4.3 million increase in parking revenue, much of which would come from proposed meter rate increases.

The city’s Public Defenders Office would get an increase of $150,000 from the city, to about $1.3 million, still leaving it far short of covering a $1 million shortfall. At The Lens’ Thursday morning’s Breakfast with the Newsmakers event, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton said he would ask for more to help close the gap.

Responding to repeated calls to fix neighborhood streets, Landrieu said he is calling on the city’s voters to support a $100 million bond issue to fund road repairs. The budget proposal also includes  $500,000 to study racial disparities in city contracting, which came up at nearly every one of his budget meetings over the summer.

The City Council is required by city law to pass a budget by Dec. 1.Council budget hearings are scheduled to begin Oct. 26 and continue through Nov. 19.

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