Saturday, September 20, 2014

Found money

The mayor's budget proposal should be coming out some time in the next few weeks.  If you listen very closely you can hear the sounds of City Hall couches being inverted in search of loose change. 

Quite often, they find some.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration is adding $7.8 million to the city’s budget for the current year, with half of the money going to the New Orleans Police Department and the rest to be used to help satisfy court orders directing the city to improve conditions at Orleans Parish Prison and to meet the city’s obligations to the Fire Department’s sagging pension fund.

The $4 million that will be dedicated to the NOPD had been in the original budget the City Council adopted last fall, but it was stripped out last month because it was viewed as “surplus.” The city has been trying to recruit new cops, but the NOPD’s ranks have been shrinking faster than new officers can be hired and trained, meaning the department’s budget had extra money in it.

The restored money will allow the department to buy a range of supplies, according to the Landrieu administration: 100 new vehicles, 50 in-car cameras, 100 body cameras, 150 desktop computers, plus software, servers and other technological equipment.

Of the remaining $3.8 million, $2.6 million will go to the Fire Department to help pay the city’s pension obligations and $1.2 million will go to Sheriff Marlin Gusman to cover the costs of housing mentally ill Orleans Parish Prison inmates at the state’s Elayn Hunt Correctional Center.

The administration attributed the cash infusion to new retail stores and the city’s “more aggressive collection efforts.”
That last bit is interesting.  During his community budget hearings this year, the mayor frequently touted the city's "97% collection rate" on property taxes.  But sales taxes are a different story.  At least, according to the Inspector General, they are. Still, there's a bright side to that story.
The Landrieu administration's lax tax-collecting procedures have caused delays in getting money to the cash-strapped city, according to a report released Wednesday (Sept. 10).

Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux looked at 35 sales tax audits performed by the city's Bureau of Revenue between Jan. 1 2011 and Dec. 31 2012. In many of the cases, the files lacked required documentation, were not completed in a timely manner and didn't comply with state law, according to the report.

The 35 audits had a total of $2.8 million in tax liabilities but as of this week, the city had collected only $1.6 million.

In a written response to the report, First Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin disagreed with many of the Inspector General's findings and pointed to an increase in city sales tax as proof that the city's policies and procedures are working.

The city collected $151.6 million in sales tax in 2013, which represents a 9.6 percent increase over the previous year.
So, even if we still do a crappy job of collecting, sales tax revenue is going up.  And, keep in mind, this is happening even before Toby Keith's I Love This Bar And Grill at The Riverwalk is fully operational.   Things are definitely looking up.

Meanwhile, there are more couches to turn over.
Amid mounting controversy over the size of New Orleans’ new jail, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has appealed to Gov. Bobby Jindal to remove several hundred state prisoners from Orleans Parish Prison, a move the mayor contends will save tens of millions of dollars and avert the need for the city to build additional jail space.

Landrieu, in a letter dated Thursday, complained that OPP has been “warehousing hundreds of extra state inmates and prisoners from other parishes” who aren’t required to be jailed in New Orleans. In underlined type, he asked that the Department of Corrections “take immediate steps” to remove the approximately 380 state prisoners currently housed at OPP, saying it’s clear the Sheriff’s Office “needs to dedicate all its energy and resources” to local inmates.
 Oh dear. And here we thought Mitch and Gusman had come to an understanding. 
The one-page letter, which was copied to the local legislative delegation but not to the Sheriff’s Office, underscored the growing frustration Landrieu has expressed over his lack of control over the jail despite the city’s legal obligation to pay for the care of inmates. The city’s attorneys have explored possible legal actions they could take to try to force Gusman’s hand at reducing the number of state prisoners, whose housing costs are paid for by the state, but the mayor’s written plea to Jindal seemed to carry more than a whiff of desperation as the city has reached a critical crossroads in the long-running jail debate.
Should make for some interesting hearings when the Sheriff's budget comes up before the City Council.

Meanwhile there's a decision in the ongoing Wisner Trust litigation which could be very good for the city or very bad depending on how you interpret it.  Go help Dambala figure it out.

No comments: