Friday, June 15, 2018

Budget season is coming

Latoya at the podium
Then Councilmember LaToya Cantrell addresses the District B Community Budget Hearing July 2016

Sorry, I know the legislature still has another special session to do this year so I need to be more specific.  City budget season is coming and we're all very interested to learn about the new mayor's approach to the process. Already she's got a few things to say about how her predecessor went about it.
To provide New Orleans police officers with a pay raise starting in 2018, former Mayor Mitch Landrieu tapped into an initial lease payment to the city from the team redeveloping the former World Trade Center. Over the next two years, the Four Seasons project will remit $20 million to City Hall.

Even with that money, the NOPD faces what current Mayor LaToya Cantrell calls a "structural deficit" of around $3.6 million for the current fiscal year. While the Four Seasons lease payments have gone toward NOPD raises, they aren't enough to cover the overtime officers earn at the higher pay rate.
There isn't enough space here to go through the whole WTC backstory. But for now, just recall that Mitch strong-armed and restarted the bidding process a few times. This resulted in years of delays, litigation, and legislation, before we finally arrived at the current deal with Four Seasons. That  may not, in fact, have been the best deal as its scoring appeared to be inflated by estimates of future property tax revenue based on speculative assumptions about the real estate market.  But, it's the deal Mitch wanted.  And now LaToya isn't happy with the way he's used part of the one-time lease payment* to cover recurring costs in the police department.

This probably won't be the last time we hear her complain about the way Mitch appropriated funds, by the way.  The Landrieu administration has also been criticized for improperly redirecting property tax revenue dedicated to various purposes in order to fill obligations to a state pension fund.  There will be more like this as the Cantrell people dig further into the nuts and bolts of how things work. Wait til they get a look at the Wisner trust, for example. Also, here is a recent FOX 8 interview where LaToya says some things about replacing contractors and architects Mitch had working on S&WB projects she isn't happy with. Also there is a "FEMA bottleneck" to deal with. (There is always a FEMA bottleneck to deal with.)

Anyway, the point is even mayors who have six month transition periods still have a pretty steep learning curve to deal with once they get their hands on the city budget. Right now they're still figuring things out. As the years go on, we'll learn more and more about how the Cantrell people decide bend the rules in exactly the same way Mitch did except in service of slightly different priorities. Sunrise, sunset, etc. etc.

Meanwhile, summer is here and as budget season... um.. heats up, we're curious as to whether or not Cantrell wants to continue Mitch's program of community input meetings such as the one pictured at the top of this post.  If so, we should expect to see a schedule soon.  It isn't a given, though.  These meetings have been criticized in the past as pointless dog and pony shows. There was never any evidence that the public input collected there ever had much effect on the actual budget.  But they were fabulous venues for people to show up and yell at the mayor about whatever was bugging them and I always think we need more of that whatever the circumstances. 

LaToya likes to talk about how important is for her to "listen to my people" so you'd think this sort of thing would be right up her alley. On the other hand, they're also the sort of place one is likely to encounter a "community uptick" from time to time. It's not clear whether she thinks those are good or bad, exactly.  Maybe the answer to that will help determine the fate of the meetings.

*The city was also due a one million dollar payment from Four Seasons recently that it declined to collect for some reason. Maybe that needs to be revisited too.

No comments: