Fighting for the Future: A look inside the new city budget

City Council

November 29th saw the adoption of the New Orleans 2019 Operating and Capital Budgets by the City Council. While Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s proposed budget was 698.1 million, the City Council increased the budget to 701.9 million, a difference of $3.8 million.

According to a note from Mayor Cantrell, in the 2019 adopted Capital Budget, the budget does more than simply fund services we already had, explaining that, “A number of unforeseen costs and unfunded obligations make it clear that we have our work cut out for us.”

These commitments notwithstanding, the budget sees the funding of a great many projects that will benefit the city’s residents. By executive order, the Mayor’s office is forming the first ever Office of Transportation and Mayor’s Office of Utilities “to help prepare for and accommodate our continued growth while providing the maintenance of our capital assets.”

Another new program is the Office of Youth and Family Services. District B councilman Jay Banks says, “We’ve got to stop creating criminals. Every dollar that we invest in our children will come back in a multiplier that we can’t even calculate. Think about how many kids will now be able to get jobs, will now be able to be contributing citizens.” Currently, Louisiana ranks 49th in the well-being of children. This program hopes to reform the juvenile justice system in New Orleans by investing in rehabilitation and recovery. Funding for the program is $628,000.

Many of the initiatives and the focus of funding seem to be on New Orleans’ future: our children. Mayor Cantrell and the City Council are proud to include funds for Early Childhood Education and STEM programs.

Adult Education and funding for mental health issues also have their place in increased funding.  Another new initiative, CleanUpNOLA, will work to improve everything from the streets to the neutral grounds, trees, and catch basins. This will aid in the control of the mosquito population, as well.

Then there’s Cure Violence, which focuses on treating violence as a public health issue. This is in addition to programs which already focus on treating violence as a criminal issue. It is especially going to focus on youth as young as ten from engaging in violence and criminal activity.

Of particular importance to residents in the city is infrastructure. “We are greatly accelerating the pace of our combined Department of Public Works and Sewerage and Water Board Joint Infrastructure program. Since arriving on May 7, we have moved forward more than $250 million in projects that will improve the quality of life for all residents into design and/or construction.”

Along with that, the city will be spending $80 million in other infrastructure improvements. “We are budgeted to move on $385 million in critical road repairs, drainage, sewerage, water line and stormwater management projects in each council district and continue construction of the new world-class terminal facility at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.”

The funds themselves are going to come from various revenue sources, which as expected, will include FEMA Reimbursements. There will be $814,291.00 in General Obligation Bonds, which is a common type of municipal bond secured by a local government’s pledge to use legally available resources, including tax revenues, to repay bondholders.

While the city expected to be taking down many of the traffic cameras, revenue from the Orleans Public Defenders is expected to decrease, so the budget for that department has been increased accordingly to maintain the level of funding.

While new departments were created, including programs to treat violence as a health problem, the largest increase was for the NOPD, which received an increase of 7.5%, coming to 191.4 million dollars. Some of this increase is, once again, in response to removing traffic cameras.

For the first time in over a decade, the New Orleans Fire Department will finally be receiving a ten percent raise, creating a base pay for firefighters of $31,000.

A relatively small amount, $503,363.00 will go to the New Orleans Public Library Board in order to improve handicap accessibility to the library.

Democratic Councilman Jared Christopher Brossett of District D, on the City Council’s news site, had glowing terms for the budget. According to Brossett, some of the highlights for new funding include NOLA’s STEM program receiving $50,000.00, the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights receiving $250,000, and the Assisted Outpatient Treatment program receiving $100,000.

District A Councilmember Joe Giarusso said, “I am proud of the way this Council and Administration have worked together to develop a budget that recognizes not only our priorities as a government but more importantly, the priorities of the residents of New Orleans. Government’s first job is to provide for public safety. This budget funds infrastructure improvements, the criminal justice system as a whole, and places a premium on children and their education.”

“This is a budget that prioritizes – not just by word but by deed – the children of New Orleans,” according to Council Vice-President Helena Moreno, “I want to commend my colleagues and the Administration for lifting up our kids. We must continue to focus on breaking poverty cycles and ending community disinvestment in order to promote equity, safety, and prosperity for all New Orleans.

Other highlights:

Equitable pay raises for City employees.

Funding for the Sobering Center. In the past people arrested for intoxication, some 4,000 plus, would be put in hospitals or jails depending on circumstances. But the Sobering Center would be a separate entity, newly put in place, for non-violent intoxicated offenders. It’s something the city has been discussing since at least 2011.

Taken as a whole, the budget seems to reflect the genuine needs of New Orleanians in the present with a forward-looking set of goals for the future and well-being of the city.

Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.

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