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Council Must Approve Budget by Dec. 1

by Anitra D. Brown

With just days to go before the New Orleans City Council will vote on the 2019 budget, Mayor LaToya Cantrell told The New Orleans Tribune she’s confident that the  first-ever city budget proposal under her administration is “practical, conservative and prudent while lifting up the priorities of the people of our city.”

Mayor Cantrell officially presented the budget on Nov. 1.

“What we have heard, doing a lot of listening, is that people want the quality of life that they deserve,” Cantrell said in a printed statement releasing the budget. “They want basic City services. They want enforcement, and they want to ensure that New Orleans is a city that they want to live in, raise their children in, and have opportunities for growth, advancement, and accessibility in…a government that they can trust and one that is always transparent.”

The more than $1.1 billion budget includes $698.1 million from the general fund and $419.6 million from grants, intergovernmental transfers, and special funds. It is about $6.1 million more than the total adopted budget for 2018 and includes few surprises or shake-ups. Ten departmental budgets remained steady with 2019 proposed budgets that were the same as their 2018 adopted budgets. And many of the ones that changed—either increasing or decreasing from their 2018 adopted figure–did so by less than 10 percent, including NOPD, which is projected to get a roughly 6.5 percent increase from what it was budgeted in 2018, from $179.7 million to a proposed $191.4 million for 2019.

There were a handful of departments that increased or decreased more significantly, including the Mayor’s Office, which took a 23 percent decrease from $136.4 million in 2018 to $104 million in the 2019 budget proposal.

The Department of Human Services will see a more than 20 percent increase in 2019 from the 2018 adopted budget going from about $5 million to almost $6.2 million.

Criminal District Court will see its budget more than double in 2019 from 2018’s roughly $3 million to more than $6.3 million. The court’s ability to generate some of its own operating funds has been deeply hampered by federal court rulings that make have made it harder for criminal court to collect fees and fines from poor defendants.

If the Mayor’s budget passes as is, the Coroner’s office can also expect to see its budget increase by about 30 percent from $2.64 million in 2018 to $3.46 million in 2019.

Eight days of budget hearings began on the Nov. 9 and will continue through the end of the month. Most city departments, other city agencies and entities that rely on city funding took part in budget hearings scheduled before Thanksgiving. However, hearing days on Nov. 27 and Nov. 28 have been scheduled to review information as needed. The City Council is slated to begin the adoption process on Thursday, Nov. 29. The budget must be approved the 2019 budget by Dec. 1.

A highpoint of the Mayor’s budget is the 10 percent pay raise for more than 2700 employees, including city firefighters.

“We want to demonstrate to our employees that they matter and that we depend on them,” said mayor Cantrell. “It’s been over a decade since our folk have seen a pay raise. We’re not there yet, but we have to start somewhere.”

Public safety is also a top priority of the budget, said Cantrell, who says her administration has approached public safety as a public health issue. Examining the challenges and needs of the city and its residents from a holistic view greatly informed the budget process, Cantrell said.

About $236 million in general funds have been allocated to this area, including money for additional resources for first responders; money for police recruiting; funding and a “re-imagining” of the Ceasefire program as the new “Cure Violence” initiative; as well as support for the new Office of Youth and Families. The office, which is expected to receive $628,000 based on the proposed budget, will work to assist families and communities with addressing the trauma and inequity that is often at the root of violent crime.

“It’s been about realigning resources, breaking down silos and getting out of the habit of saying this is my department budget,” the Mayor said.

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