The city’s 911 call center operators must wade through dozens of calls every day from police officers looking to clock their private details and other calls not related to emergencies – and it’s hampering operators’ ability to route emergency calls to a police officer, council members argue.

What’s worse, many of those calls don’t get answered before the caller hangs up.

The volume and type of residents who call the city’s 911 call center, which is run by the Orleans Parish Communications District, were among the more fiery topics of discussion at the city’s budget hearings today. In addition to listening to the district’s presentation and discussing that issue, they also heard from the French Market Corp., the Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board and several other departments.

These presentations on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed budget will continue for the next two weeks; the council is slated to make any changes and approve a budget on Nov. 21.

Orleans Parish Communications District

$5 million2013 adopted budget$4.8 million2014 proposed budget

The topic of 911 operators having to field calls that are not emergencies has come up before. Three monthly reports from earlier this year showed that up to 12 percent of all calls emergency operators take are from officers starting their privately paid detail work.

More callers in the time period the report examined – November 2012 to January 2013 – also waited longer than 20 seconds for their calls to be answered, a time that city officials say is the national standard. And 10 percent of all callers simply hung up – significantly higher than the national standard of 2 percent.

Council members said Monday that those rates aren’t acceptable, and they argued that the office was too underfunded and understaffed. Another problem they discussed: When the city’s police emergency operators are swamped, callers are routed to operators in the New Orleans Fire Department and Emergency Medical Dispatch.

“Imagine you’ve got an emergency happening with your child. You call 911 and they say, ‘Hold on, I have to pass it along to someone else,’” Councilwoman Susan Guidry said.

An increase of a supporting fee on phone bills would have given the 911 center the cash to consolidate the police, fire and EMS personnel into one office and upgrade the 911 system, but voters struck it down in December. The increase would have caused landline users an extra dollar and cell phone users an extra 41 cents.

Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell said she blamed city officials for not doing a better job of informing the public of the importance of the rate increase, but Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and Homeland Security Lt. Col Jerry Sneed disagreed: “Word got out. I believe citizens just did not want to put another tax on themselves.”

He also said that while operators do hear from police checking in their paid detail times, they are told to either put that officer on hold if someone with an actual emergency calls in, or hang up entirely.

French Market Corporation and Upper Pontalba Building Restoration Corp.

$8.1 million2013 adopted budget (French Market)$9 million2014 proposed budget

$1.8 million2013 adopted budget (Upper Pontalba)$2 million2014 proposed budget

By mid-November, construction on the city’s new $30 million riverfront park spanning the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods will be complete, Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said during the French Market’s presentation.

The French Market Corp. will be Crescent Park’s new manager, city officials confirmed. But Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, who serves as vice-chairwoman of the French Market Corp., said that she’s wary about French Market taking on that responsibility.

The corporation already manages the French Market, the Upper Pontalba apartments, Jackson Square Pedestrian Mall, and a host of other parks and parking lots. Adding Crescent Park to its portfolio of areas to maintain is going to cost the public benefit corporation about $1.7 million, French Market Corp. Executive Director Jon Smith told council members.

The French Market’s board voted to do so on Oct. 29, at the New Orleans Building Corp.’s request. Council members Palmer, Cantrell and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell are all French Market board members.

Still, Palmer argued that its not in French Market’s “core competency” to be managing parks. She said that’s more of the job of the Department of Parks and Parkways.

“This is a very large park. It’s not a small square,” she told Smith and the presenters. It spans about 3.1 miles, she noted. And the French Market Corp. has only about 40 employees.

Smith said the board could discuss it further during a November meeting.

Other departments discussed

Mosquito Termite and Rodent Control

2013 adopted budget: $2.7 million

2014 proposed budget: $2.8 million

Largest expenses are: The Termite Control Proprietary Fund, which includes a near-$67,000 increase to the Mosquito Control Unit, $90,000 in school integrated pest management, and $15,000 for wood testing.

City Planning Commission

2013 adopted budget: $1.5 million
2014 proposed budget: $1.4 million

City Planning expects to be appropriated another $114,000 in federal disaster money later in 2014.

New Orleans Building Corp.

2013 adopted budget: $19 million

2014 proposed budget: $4.9 million

Other operating costs decreased by $14 million. Those operating costs are primarily funded by New Orleans Building Corp.’s enterprise endeavors.

Canal Street Development Corp.

2013 adopted budget: $18.1 million

2014 proposed budget: $19.9 million

Largest expenses are: Debt service and operating expenses. Operating expenses are budgeted to increase over 2013 by more than $300,000. The added costs are due to additional legal and professional services, auditing costs, rent and leases to land and buildings, and grounds maintenance and repairs.

Algiers Development District

Last year’s adopted budget: $2.8 million

This year’s proposed budget: $3.1 million

Largest expenses are: capital outlay and professional services, mostly for legal services, public relations, program management and auditing.

Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams stays on top of the city's loosely organized collection of public schools, with a special emphasis on charter schools. In 2011 she was recognized by the Press Club of New Orleans for her...