Government & Politics

Live blog Thursday: Mayor Landrieu talks city finances in eastern New Orleans

Mayor Mitch Landrieu will hold the third town-hall meeting on the 2015 city budget Thursday night at 6 p.m. in City Council District E, represented by Councilman James Gray. It will be held at Greater St. Stephen Full Gospel Baptist Church, 5600 Read Blvd.

The Lens will live blog the meeting here.

As expected, much of the District A meeting, held in Lakeview Wednesday night, focused on the city’s crumbling interior roads. A number of attendees came out in support of the Fix My Streets movement, holding signs demanding city action on neighborhood streets.

Landrieu estimates that fixing all the city’s broken streets as well as the sewer and drainage systems beneath them is a $9 billion, 20-year project. He has previously said that the city doesn’t have a long-term plan to make all those repairs.

Sewerage and Water Board Director Cedric Grant, who also heads up infrastructure management for the city, is negotiating with the federal government for interior street repair funds, according to Landrieu.

Robert Lupo, the Lakeview resident behind Fix My Streets, had a diplomatic tone at the meeting. Lupo acknowledged that many of the city’s infrastructure problems, including broken streets, have existed for decades and would be prohibitively expensive to fix all at once. He asked only that the city be receptive to people who propose a plan to fix them.

Landrieu said he welcomed citizen engagement.

“Unless we have a long discussion and get a sustainable source of revenue over time, we’re not going to get there. But we have to,” he said.

Residents continued to demand that the city come up with new revenue sources to help pay its rising bills — including $17.5 million to shore up the fire pension system and mandated improvements to Orleans Parish Prison — before seeking higher property taxes. Landrieu has come out in favor of a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would allow the city to double tax rates for police and fire services.

Several speakers asked the city to take a closer look at its tax rolls — starting with properties owned by nonprofit groups, many of which are exempt from property taxes. They said they’d like to see those exemptions ended for properties used for commercial enterprises unrelated to the groups’ central missions.

At first, Landrieu evaded the question, characterizing it as a request to tax all nonprofit properties, including churches and colleges.

Later, however, he said the responsibility to identify and tax businesses on nonprofit land lies with Assessor Erroll Williams. Landrieu also said he doubted that this change would bring in more than a few million dollars annually. However, he added, the city should collect that money and he said his administration urges Williams to aggressively pursue the taxes.

The bottom line, Landrieu said, is that the city does not have enough money to meet every demand with its $500 million general fund budget. If residents want to increase police officers’ pay, fund firefighters’ pensions, fix interior roads and make the mandated changes at the jail and Police Department, “we need about $200 million more than we have.”

As for the requested tax increases, Landrieu said he prefers to grow the city’s budget through new jobs and population growth.

“Even on our best day of growth, which is eventually how you want to solve problems so you don’t have to tax, we still have a gap,” he said.

Live blog, 6 p.m. Thursday

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