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A look at New Orleans' $2.1B budget for 2022: late night office, additional crime cameras, more

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New Orleans City Council signed off on a $2.1 billion budget for 2022 on Wednesday, altering just some of what Mayor LaToya Cantrell proposed to the council last month.

Gilbert Montano, the city's chief administrative officer, said the City Council moved less than 1% of Cantrell's original budget. The budget was described by Montano as fiscally conservative.

On Friday, during an episode of Louisiana Considered, City Council member Joe Giarusso said that the city could also see a surge in revenues as the budget is conservatively estimating how much the city could pull in during the upcoming Mardi Gras season.

The city is expecting nearly $400 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to fill the gaps created by COVID-19. The city has already received the first tranche of ARPA funding, with $155 million for the city and $39 million for Orleans Parish.

The budget was not set up with the promise of more money, as the city waits for a midyear budget assessment to enter any more federal dollars they receive.

Hurricane Ida passed by the city three months ago, but the storm left projects and bills for the city to pay. The city is estimating the storm will cost $94 million in repairs and that it caused an $8 million revenue loss for the city.

The upcoming year will also be the first city budget with a $15 minimum wage for all city employees and contractor workers. The city has around 4,000 employees, and many departments will need more funding to increase salaries

Here are just some of the items that were approved for the upcoming year’s budget:

Office of Night Time Engagement

One of the most significant changes the city will see in 2022 is the beginning of a late-night city government. Council members said they have yielded complaints from various businesses and residents about access to government past 5 p.m. when City Hall closes.

Montano described the city as a “24-hour city,” and the late night office would allow businesses and residents to have access to government outside the normal hours of city hall. The office could also respond to complaints like illegal short-term rentals that the city has had trouble regulating.

Council members Cyndi Nguyen and Kristin Gisleson Palmer have also suggested cracking down on unpermitted pop-ups and illegal businesses in their districts. While other Council members have said that the permitting process needs to be smoother, the late night office can help with both matters

Gordon Plaza

Residents of the Gordon Plaza neighborhood have made themselves heard at nearly every budget meeting leading up to Wednesday and erupted when the city declined to fully fund their relocation away from their neighborhood that is built on a toxic landfill.

Instead of fully funding their $35 million move, the city put $2 million into a fund that will assess the site for solar power capabilities. If the site is usable to the city, it will request funds from the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, potentially to pay for relocation.

You can find the full story on this budget item here.

Right to Counsel

As the federal moratorium on evictions ended, the city saw hundreds of residents line up at city-sponsored events meant to disburse funds to renters who fell behind on rental payments.

Next year, the city will fund a program to bring legal aid to those residents facing evictions. Cantrell originally put $500,000 in the fund, but the City Council bumped up the amount to $2 million.

The Council also added $300,000 to the District Attorney’s Office to fund their efforts to prosecute domestic violence cases and $250,000 to the Orleans Public Defenders office to help fund children's rights cases.

The Orleans Public Defender's office will also receive $85,000 from a City Council amendment to achieve greater funding parity with the DA's office.

Trees

An amendment from City Council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer diverted $250,000 from the Parks and Parkway budget to fund non-profits to replace trees in the city.

Palmer brought up that New Orleans was considered the most deforested city in the country in 2012 by the U.S. Forest Service, after Hurricane Katrina wiped out around 100,000 trees, and trees can help lower neighborhood temperatures by 9 to 12 degrees. Part of New Orleans' tree problem is due to strong winds from hurricanes destroying tree coverage.

Nola Tree Project and Sustaining Our Urban Landscape, or SOUL, were mentioned by Palmer to receive the funds. Both organizations focus on planting native trees in public green spaces across the city.

The city said it is investing $4 million into green space improvements and will spend $1 million on large specimen trees in the first quarter of next year.

Crime Cameras

Another last-minute amendment from Palmer included diverting $500,000 from the Miscellaneous Program budget and spending it on crime cameras for the Department of Homeland Security.

Montano asked the City Council to oppose the amendment, as the city is set to spend $550,000 on cameras for the project already. Montano wanted to assess the purpose and implementation of those cameras before taking away funds from anything else.

Palmer pushed forward, saying the city is behind the ball on crime, and NOPD is losing staff at a "record clip” and is "bound to be losing more very shortly." Palmer also said that the current crime cameras for Homeland Security are being used for watching New Orleans Recreation Departments, so more funding could be useful. The measure passed 6-1, with Moreno voting against it.

Departments receiving the most funding

  1. Police Department - proposed: $177,786,466; final: $174,613,490
  2. Fire Department - proposed: $127,137,488; final: $121,311,488
  3. Sheriff’s Office - proposed: $56,049,864; final: $55,449,864
  4. Chief Administration Officer - $41,099,650
  5. Sanitation - $41,628,903
  6. Public Works - $30,774,837
  7. Mayor’s Office - 28,371,114
  8. Finance - proposed: $25,908,216: final: $26,240,671
  9. Emergency Medical Services - $19,813,015
  10. Recreational Department - $15,7775,135
  11. City Council - $12,225,645

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