By Karen Gadbois, The Lens staff writer
Fresh off a financing fight that still leaves the city without the full services to round up stray animals and address related problems, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s budget calls for further cuts to the contract that puts private dogcatchers on the street.
Landrieu’s budget sets aside $1.5 million for the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Orleans Parish is unique in the state as the only one that doesn’t do the work as part of government services, relying instead on the LA/SPCA.
For the current year, the LA/SPCA was paid $2.2 million , but officials there said that was only enough money to pay for their full services through September. After that, they sharply scaled back services, some of which are now being performed by the New Orleans Police Department.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Ann Duplessis made a forceful and simple casefor the reduction: “At a time when we are asked to cut, we ask them to do the same.”
However, the proposed city operating budget for next year is higher than the current year, up to $483 million from the 2010 budget of $466 million.
The LA/SPCA says that the city has never fully paid the cost of animal control. The organization produced a chart showing that it subsidizes a significant portion of the costs.
Duplessis pointed out that the LA/SPCA pays into employees’ retirement plans and offers benefits, saying the agency is not willing to cut that compensation. She said if the city were to pay what the agency is asking for, as opposed to what the city if proposing, it would provide “no increase in services provided to animals.”
She also offered comparisons to other cities of comparable size nationwide that showed New Orleans generally pays more. However, LA/SPCA Executive Director Ana Zorilla said that’s misleading because most cities provide the overhead and administrative services that her agency has to cover.
She said she operates a state-of-the-art operation that other parishes visit to learn best practices.
Duplessis complained that the group has a “world-class facility that the city had no say in.”
Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell jumped in and said she does not want the city to be in a “combative state” with the LA/SPCA.
“We are not anywhere near to a combative state,” Duplessis said.
Clarkson said the council cuts money, not services, adding that the LA/SPCA needs to determine what services it can offer for 12 months for the money the city is willing to pay.
Zorilla said her agency doesn’t simply offer a menu of services. She warned that decreasing services might result in an increase of strays, more bites and attacks and ultimately more euthanasia.
“When the Super Bowl comes, do we want roaming packs of stray dogs?” she asked rhetorically.
Councilman Arnie Fielkow implored Zorilla to talk to the administration. She agreed to continue talks but said, “This is the reality of being a fiscally responsible agency.”
Parks and Parkways
Ann McDonald, director of Parks and Parkways, emphasized efficiency in maintenance, saying her budget included a “pre-emergent and growth retardant program.”
The 2011 budget comes in at $6.7 million an increase of $748,096 over the 2010 budget.
Councilwoman Stacy Head offered to find the department more money, but McDonald demurred: “We are good. We can provide 2010 services. The green space is not what it should or could be, but will be palatable”
The department received universal praise from the council.
Safety and Permits
Department head Paul May was met with a barrage of criticism from various council members about improper permits as well as permits for what Hedge-Morrell called “double-wide trailers.”
While the council was adamant that proper safeguards be in place, they were also pushing the department to find ways to streamline.
Clarkson said if an improper permit is issued, “We should be put in jail” but she did not clarify who exactly would be serving time.
“Why can’t we revoke the (improperly) issued permit?” she asked. “What am I missing?”
May said the city must take legal action to revoke permits.
The session closed out with a comment from Lakeview resident and activist Rita Legrande who noted that permits for rebuilding were being issued for buildings with significant code enforcement liens and encouraged the collection of these fines.
Taking their cues from a regular constituent complaint, council members questioned Director Robert Mendoza about poor street lighting. Hedge-Morell cited Paris Ave as “having been dark since Katrina” and said the department had no plan for illuminating “the devastated areas.”
Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin, Landrieu’s top aide, said the city is committed to lighting the city.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry said she and her colleagues – as well as residents – don’t like being left in the dark in another way.
“If you can’t give us action, give us information” with regards to repairs, she said.
Mendoza said the new “Ask Nola” citizen service line will address the issue of information, and he assured the council they the new system would be better than the city’s previous 311 citizen information and complaint line.
Ask Nola will be discussed at Tuesday’s budget hearings.
Department head Cynthia Sylvain Lear introduced her budget by saying, “it is not where we want to be but it’s a start.”
The hotly contested sanitation contracts have been in the news again with the audit being performed by the Inspector General’s Office.
Both City Attorney Nannette Jolivette Brown and Andy Kopplin were quick to jump in and explain that the city is negotiating with its contractors.
“When we prepared the budget, we knew the numbers would be negotiated,” Kopplin said. “Before you are asked to vote [on Dec. 1] we will have a resolution.”
Councilman Jon Johnson repeatedly tried to make the point that Metro and Richards took a 10 percent cut in payments from the city with no change in services, while SDT took a 25 percent cut in exchange for a reduction in services.