Among all the numbers presented by New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu as he presented his proposed 2014 budget Tuesday, one was missing: Funding to comply with a federal consent decree for Orleans Parish Prison.
The $504 million general-fund budget does not include any money to pay for the consent decree, leaving the City Council to decide how much to devote to it next year and whether to cut other departments to offset the cost.
The federal consent decree for the jail has been estimated to cost anywhere from $7 million and $22.5 million annually.
When The Lens asked Landrieu how much he had budgeted for the jail consent decree, Landrieu did not name a figure. He noted that U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk, who approved the agreement in June, has yet to set a dollar amount.
“The conversation is ongoing,” Landrieu said.
The only readily available funding source for the decree, Landrieu said, is a $4.25 million projected surplus, now budgeted in the city’s emergency reserve fund.
“For the first time since 2009, this budget results in a positive account balance” for the reserve fund, Landrieu said. “But to give more money to the sheriff, this proposed $4.25 million savings account would go back down to zero.”
The city has also budgeted $4.5 million to eliminate a longstanding shortage in the reserve fund, which is supposed to be used for emergencies and bolsters the city’s credit rating.
With the consent decree potentially going into the tens of millions annually, it could easily eat into departmental budgets.
Later, at the administration’s budget presentation to the City Council, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said that instead of the administration setting a suggested budget, the council would be asked to set its own funding level for the consent decree and identify potential cuts.
The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the Landrieu administration will each give reports on the jail’s funding needs during upcoming budget hearings. The Sheriff’s Office is scheduled for hearings on three separate days.
“I appreciate that the administration is going to do that because we absolutely will need that information in order to determine what is needed to make the prison constitutionally compliant,” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said in response to Kopplin.