On the second day of New Orleans City Council budget hearings Thursday, department heads described to council members the impact of widespread cuts in the mayor’s proposed $491 million general fund budget for 2013, down from $497.5 million this year.

Council members used the hearings to inquire about shortcomings in various departments and compliment a few city officials for good work.

Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson said that the city is dealing with increased health care and pension costs, plus about $7 million for a consent decree mandating changes at the Police Department.

“In order to do that without raising taxes, which we prefer not to do, we are cutting across the board,” she said. “No one’s been picked on. Unless you’re protected by [city] charter, you will have a cut. That’s the way it goes.”

Though Mayor Mitch Landreiu’s 2013 budget compares its departmental proposals to the 2012 budget, city offices had to cut their expenses from that number earlier this year.

Among the effects:

  • The Civil Service department said it may not be able to keep up with constitutionally mandated employee appeals.
  • Juvenile Court judges warned that they’ll have to lay off staff, and the city could end up spending more money on the juvenile jail if its detention alternative programs are curtailed.

Office of Inspector General

2012 budget: $3.7 million
2013 proposed: $3.7 million

Most of the discussion focused on the Independent Police Monitor, which consists of four employees in the Inspector General’s office. That budget, too, has been cut, said Inspector General Ed Quatraveaux.

“I’ve felt for years your budget was too low,” Council President Stacy Head said to Susan Hutson, the police monitor.

In response to council members’ questions, Hutson said she hasn’t been involved at all in the negotiations over the NOPD consent decree.

She said her department “absolutely” could do the court monitor work for less than the $2 million allocated in the mayor’s budget; she already had estimated that her office could do it for about $600,000 to $700,000. Head asked Hutson to send her that estimate.

A number of companies from around the country have submitted bids to the city to do that work. Hutson, meanwhile, has told The Times-Picayune that she was “perplexed because nobody will tell me why this office doesn’t have a prominent role in this consent decree.”

Though the City Attorney’s office solicited the bids, they are being reviewed by a team split equally between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.

In response to Head’s questions about whether the city could be part of the court monitoring, Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said it was up to the federal court. “The mayor is obviously committed to a strong role for the Independent Police Monitor,” he said.

Juvenile Court

2012 budget: $3.7 million
2013 proposed: $2.6 million

Most of the six judges in juvenile court came to lobby against a 29 percent cut. They said case processing time will increase and that the court may have to lay off staff.

They warned that cuts could affect some of juvenile court’s programs to keep kids out of the Youth Study Center, the city’s juvenile jail. Those alternative programs cost much less, per child, than holding them in the detention center.

Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin said the administration believes juvenile court is overstaffed. That opinion is informed, he said, by a state Supreme Court study that found Orleans Parish has more courts and judgeships than any other parish.

The workload at juvenile court could be done by one judge, he said, but there are six. Clarkson pointed out that the number of judges is set by state law, and Kopplin agreed. That’s why the city decided to cut other personnel; judges can simply share staff.

He emphasized that the city did not cut any of the personnel directly involved with the detention alternatives.

Civil Service

2012 budget: $1.6 million
2013 proposed: $1.5 million

The mayor’s plan to cut about $150,000 means the department will have to cut two positions, which means the department may not be able to complete employee appeals in the required time.

Lisa Hudson, head of the department, asked the council to approve two funding requests that were denied, including $147,000 to conduct an exam for sergeants. The last time an exam was held was 2007, she said, and the list of candidates has expired.

Raymond Burkart, an attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, told the council members that if they don’t pay for the exam, the NOPD would be free to pick anyone they want, regardless of qualifications.

Referring to the federal inquiry into the department, he said, “One of the ways you keep cops honest, ethical and hard-working is to give frequent … promotional testing.”

An interesting discussion emerged over the department’s denied request for $22,000 to process public records requests. Hudson explained that it takes a lot of time to respond to requests from the media and attorneys because staff must redact sensitive information such as addresses and Social Security numbers.

“Why can’t we charge for that?” asked Councilwoman Hedge-Morrell. Told that the department charges what the city allows –  money that goes to the general fund – she responded, “That makes no sense.”

Budget Director Cary Grant agreed. “We are not charging enough for public records,” he said, adding that the law needs to be changed.

State law allows public bodies to collect “reasonable fees” for copies. However, it says “no fee shall be charged for examination or review to determine if a record is subject to disclosure.”

Law Department

2012 budget: $11.5 million
2013 proposed: $6.4 million

The department’s budget is expected to be much lower, but much of that is because its risk management division is being moved to the Chief Administrative Office.

The department expects some of its expenses to be lower next year because it won’t be negotiating the consent decree for the Police Department. It also expects that the consent decree will lower its costs for police litigation. However, that savings mostly would be canceled out by the cost of negotiating a consent decree for the Orleans Parish Prison.

A lingering problem: City attorney Richard Cortizas told the council that the city has $32 million in unpaid state court judgments.

Human Services/Youth Study Center

2012 budget: $2.9 million
2013 proposed: $2.4 million

The mayor’s office has decided to move some of the functions of this department elsewhere, Grant said.

Glen Holt, superintendent of the Youth Study Center, told the council that the juvenile detention facility recently has maintained 100 percent compliance with a federal consent decree.

He said the facility is generally not at capacity and that there hasn’t been a significant increase in juvenile crime. Clarkson took issue with that, and Holt agreed that there has been an increase in violent crime by juveniles.

Registrar of Voters

2012 budget: $407,890
2013 proposed: $383,416

Council members raised no issues about this department. Instead, they praised Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson for overseeing what the council described as a trouble-free early voting process.

French Market Corp. & Upper Pontalba

French Market

2012 budget: $7.4 million
2013 proposed: $8.1 million

Upper Pontalba

2012 budget: $1.9 million
2013 proposed: $1.9 million

Palmer questioned why the corporation, which is self-funded, is spending almost all of the money it generates.

“I’m just kind of taken aback that we don’t see anything going back to the city at this point, other than $100,000.”

Frank Pizzolato said “nothing would make me happier” than to give the city $2 million or $3 million.

Coroner’s Office

2012 budget: $1.7 million
2013 proposed: $1.7 million

The Coroner’s Office is responsible for committing people for mental health reasons, and Dr. Jeffrey Rouse, chief psychiatrist, described the struggles of keeping up with the demand. Rouse said the office is on track to do 4,000 psychiatric evaluations this year, and it handles about 700 orders of protective custody a year.

Considering how limited mental health services are, Rouse said, “I often feel we’re funneling people into a completely broken system because what happens after that is beyond our control.”

But he was one of the few not complaining because he was able to get funding for another part-time psychiatrist in addition to the two current part-timers.

Steve Myers

Steve Myers was editor of The Lens. Before joining the staff in 2012, Myers was managing editor of Poynter Online, the preeminent source of news and training about the journalism industry. At Poynter,...