Orleans Parish Juvenile Court officials pleaded their case to City Council members Friday against the Landrieu administration’s more than $90,000 cut to their personnel funding, and a more than $300,000 cut to support services funding for at-risk youth.
The Juvenile Court is beseeching the council for $3.9 million total in funding for next year, nearly the same as this year’s amount. Mayor Mitch Landrieu requested $3.5 million. That proposal saved the city more than $100,000 in personnel costs, but cut the employees in Juvenile Court from 52 to 49. In addition to that, the clerk of court, a public safety officer, and two executive assistant positions will remain vacant, saving the city $125,000, but hampering officials’ abilities to work effectively, court judges say.
Though the Juvenile Court was not the only city department to address the council at Friday’s round of budget hearings, their presentation shed light on the city’s non-compliance with state law – one that mandates the city to provide a clerk of court for Juvenile Court. The court has been without a clerk since July 29, a court spokeswoman said in a Friday interview.
“Who has ever heard of a court functioning without a clerk of court?” Judge Lawrence LaGarde asked the council. “We can’t even advertise for the position because the administration is saying that the money is not there.”
Chief Judge Ernestine Gray said the lack of assistant positions could also be deemed a violation of law because she interprets these positions to be essential in providing effective and adequate service. The law says the city must fund personnel who meet such definition.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry recognized the need for a clerk of court, but hinted that Gray may not get the assistant spots she wants. Guidry also praised the court for being one of the few courts to hold a public hearing prior to voting to approve it budget, as is mandated of public bodies in state law. Guidry previously expressed disappointment with other courts’ secretive finances in a July Lens article that explored court missteps with this law.
“I think that’s an important point to make because it shows the transparency with which you are operating,” she said in commending Gray.
Presenters also outlined the costs and benefits in giving arrested youths support services and resource referrals, rather than simply shipping them to the Youth Study Center. The juvenile jail spends $250 a day on each young inmate, officials said. That compares to about $58 a day to send a kid to the Evening Reporting Center, where youths are provided a hot meal and free tutoring after being picked up from school. It costs $37 a day to send a young offender to the Orleans Detention Alternatives Program, another support program that aims to ensure kids don’t re-offend. The Juvenile Court is asking for $1.2 million to fund these support initiatives. Landrieu is recommending that they get only a little more than $900,000.
Court judges also argued in favor of $125,000 in staffing for the New Orleans Children and Youth Planning Board, to further crime prevention aims by getting more kids in youth programs. Landrieu recommended that this request go unfunded.
While council members expressed general support for the Juvenile Court presentation, the council was divided after a presentation from the Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board. Councilwoman Stacy Head argued in favor of using future department surpluses gained from working with industries to fund other programs, and Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge Morrell asked the
council to let the board use the cash, which officials determined would be in the range of $100,000 a year, for emergencies.
The council must approve the budget by Dec. 1.