In a city confronting an ever-rising homicide count and profound infrastructural and economic challenges, one place remains relatively calm: City Hall. With a noticeable absence of strife or dissent, the City Council voted today to unanimously approve a $497 million general operating budget for 2012 that looks remarkably similar in substance and detail to the budget proposed by Mayor Mitch Landrieu in October.
As part of its annual budget review, the City Council heard presentations today from the dozen semi-autonomous agencies that manage New Orleans assets such as Piazza D’Italia in the Central Business District and, less glamorously, the city’s thousands of blighted lots. Though none of the entities depends on the tax dollars that go into the city’s general operating fund, their budgets must be approved by the council.
Spending on road and infrastructure maintenance likely will decrease in 2012 despite its importance to voters. The move by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to decrease spending for the Department of Public Works is a bold one.
New Orleans taxpayers are likely to be asked to pay more money to run city libraries, officials with that system told the City Council today. The need for more operating funds is due in large part to a post-Katrina rebuilding of the system that one-time disaster grants paid for, which the city will be responsible for maintaining, New Orleans Public Library officials said.
Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas faced tough questioning this afternoon from a skeptical City Council about how his well-publicized reforms are addressing the city’s homicide rate. The chief came armed with a sheaf of statistics to support his efforts, but council members were not receptive just two days after a bloody Halloween night in which gun violence killed two men and injured 14 people across the city, including a fatality in the French Quarter.
Councilwoman Susan Guidry criticized Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration Tuesday for failing to change the way it pays for inmates housed at the city’s jail. Guidry’s displeasure came out as the council continued its review of Landrieu’s proposed 2012 budget.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s top lieutenant faced pressure from the City Council Monday after stepping in to defend one of his department heads for only collecting 80 percent of the city’s trash fees. Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin stepped in to protect Chief Financial Officer Norman Foster after Councilwoman Stacy Head and Council President Jackie Clarkson barraged Foster with questions about the poor rate of collection, which has fallen by about 5 percent this year after the City Council doubled the fees in January, at Landrieu’s urging.
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.
Since Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s inauguration nearly a year and a half ago – he’d know how many days it has been – he’s enjoyed an amicable relationship with the City Council that serves as his legislative check and balance. Members laugh at his jokes.
This summer, Mayor Mitch Landrieu invited residents to come out and tell him how they wanted their tax dollars spent in 2012. Community meetings held in every section of the city attracted hundreds of residents who spoke passionately about needs in their community – needs for jobs, access to health care and, overwhelmingly, a need for a reduction in blight and improvements in the city’s aging infrastructure.