By Ariella Cohen, The Lens staff writer |

The New Orleans City Council will begin three weeks of hearings on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed 2012 budget at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Orleans Parish Assessor Errol Williams will kick off the annual fall rite with a presentation of how much property-tax revenue the city can expect to put towards its 2012 general operating fund.

Following Williams, the council will hear reports from special tax districts and the Finance Department.  Over the next 20 days, the council will hear each entity that receives an annual budget from the city defend its use of taxpayer money and, in many cases, plead for more. In addition to all departments within City Hall, Civil Service and 15 separate board-run public entities that have independent streams of revenue outside of the general fund will present spending plans to the council.

The $494 million budget proposed by Landrieu last week cuts spending in nearly all departments, with only a few agencies related to public safety and recreation seeing increases. Though the police department will see some new hires in 2012, the increases for the NOPD and fire departments will largely go to pay for costs related to pensions. The departments that took the biggest hits this year are the New Orleans Public Library, which is funded primarily through a millage but has in previous years also gotten support from the general fund. This year, it will receive none, compared with $180,000 last year, if the mayor gets his wish. Other departments taking big hits are: City Planning, the Vieux Carre Commission and the Registrar of Voters.

Tomorrow’s hearing is expected to get feisty. The mayor has asked the council to approve a roll forward of the city’s millage.

When total assessments rise, state law requires the taxing authority to roll back, or reduce the tax rate, so that the tax revenue remains flat, or revenue neutral. The authority then has the option to vote to roll forward, or raise, the millage back to its prior level. In the case of the city, the council must approve the roll forward. Williams has estimated the roll would net the city $4 million.

At a press conference announcing his budget, the mayor contends that the roll forward is not a tax increase.

“Property rate millage will be rolled forward but the rates will stay the same,” he said.

Council members are eying the maneuver warily. This time a year ago, Landrieu proposed raising the city’s millage rate by 8.74 mills, which would have raised $23 million for the city but cost homeowners hundreds of dollars in increased taxes.

“The mayor keeps saying this is not a tax increase,” Council President Jackie Clarkson said last Monday, at the administration’s presentation of the budget. “But anyone who has been reassessed up will feel an increase and that is still an increase on what they pay out their pocket.

Other council members declined to speak to a reporter about the proposed millage roll forward until after the hearings begin.

Tomorrow’s hearing and all subsequent hearings will be held in City Council Chambers. A schedule can be found here. The Lens plans to attend each day’s hearings and keep readers up to date on Twitter. Check @thelensnola to find out which reporter to follow for a particular day.

The mayor and the council have until Dec. 1 to settle on a budget.