Monday, October 17, 2011

Transcript: Mayor Mitch Landrieu's budget presentation to City Council

Posted By on Mon, Oct 17, 2011 at 4:40 PM

From the Oct. 17 special Council Meeting (with added section markers):

PART 1: GREETINGS

"Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to come present our second budget to you. And [unintelligible], thank you so much for being such great partners — not only governing the city last year — but attending, some of you on more than one occasion, seven community hearings that we had to listen to and hear from our constituents about how they want to their government to perform.

As you've heard me say many, many times, we all need to be about not rebuilding the city that we were, but to think about the city that we want to become and to govern to that vision. We all share a common purpose, which is to have a city that has safe streets; to have a government and a private sector, a faith-based community, a not-for-profit sector that produces good jobs; to have great schools that have great opportunities for our kids; and to have an honest, efficient, effective, open and transparent government.

(Continues after the jump)

PART 2: WHAT A GOOD JOB WE HAVE DONE

"We all collectively are making great progress towards that goal, but we have to continue to work very, very hard because we face many challenges. Right now every government across the country is waking up to the fact that 90 percent of the cities have slashed spending and services. There are many examples of cities across America right now that are laying off teachers and police and government employees. There is no question that, in our short period of time that we serve, that government is going to get smaller. It's going to have to get more efficient. It's going to have to become more productive. But it will always exist with definite financial pressure.

We together worked very, very hard in the last year and a half to stave off what I considered to be catastrophic consequences. When our administration came into office, when we all started our term, you know that we inherited a $100 million budget gap. And the savings accounts were empty. That ladies and gentleman is a 25 percent reduction in what the government had done before.

But together, collectively, we didn't panic. We worked very closely together. With a steady hand we balanced our approach. The approach is fairly simple. We began to cut aggressively, but we cut smart. We cut wisely. We cut with a scalpel; we did not cut with a hatchet.

We reorganized government so that it conducts itself more efficiently and effectively.

And we redirected funds to invest in things we thought were really important.

Cut, reorganize, invest. It is a way of getting to the city we want to become. And so together, we structurally fixed the dramatic financial problems of the city, and we budgeted toward certain outcomes.

All of us last year went out to the community. We asked the community what they wanted. The community told us, and collectively we created a budget that actually funded the things the community said they wanted.

So, I'm happy to report to the people of the City of New Orleans, and again to remind them of something they already know: that in the last year, because we doubled the funding of NORD, we were able to have 4,000 kids in summer camp. We were able to produce 17 camps. We now have Movies in the Park. We were able to invest in Job One, and we were able to employ 3,000 teenagers.

In economic development and job creation, we've facilitated and continued on the path of creating NOLA Business Alliance, the Office of Supplier Diversity. With our private sector partners, together we have generated over 2,000 jobs, either through Blade Dynamics, Folgers, Hyatt, TCI, the new pedicab industry.

On the streets, everybody said we need some work and some help there. We have filled 46,000 potholes this year. We have fixed 10,000 streetlights. We have cleaned 1,000 catch basins. We went out in the community, and I particularly remember the meeting in New Orleans east, when we said, "When's the day — for blight — when's the day to really start moving forward?" And I think everybody said, resoundingly and delightedly, "now."

We put $68 million into our blight fight. To date we have demolished over 1,700 units. We have 1,000 properties that are moving to sheriff sales.

Some of the members of Council have said we need to do a better job of enforcement. We have initiated over 280 new cases. We have increased car boots. We've told people that if you're not paying, we're going to find a way.

Everybody said we needed to be greener community. We renegotiated the trash contracts, but we need to move toward recycling. I'm happy to report to you that 30,000 households in New Orleans are recycling today.

Tax collections? People said we can't ask for more unless we get more. Our tax collections are up in sales tax, hotel-motel and occupational licenses.

In quality of life, in terms of cleanliness of the city, we have removed 15,623 bandit signs, cleared 745 illegal dump sites in the city of New Orleans.

The people came. They told us what they wanted. You the Council and our administration put forth a budget, and in this last year we began moving out, toward closing this budget hole, righting the ship, and we began to execute in a way that was very strategic and produced great results.

PART 3: STAY THE COURSE

The message for this year is that we have to stay the course. We have a tremendous amount of work to do, but we think that we have passed the worst of what had been coming our way. A catastrophic situation that we all collectively moved through in a very thoughtful, peaceful way.

So this year, we continued the process that we began last year. We wanted to ask the people of New Orleans what they wanted. And so, once again all of you participated with me. And I can't tell you how much I appreciate the amount of time that you spent at the seven community meetings that we had.

We will use the same principles this year that we used last year. We will continue to cut, but cut smartly and cut wisely. We will continue to reorganize to get rid of duplication, waste, fraud, abuse, and to create more efficiency. And we will invest in the things that are absolutely necessary in order for us to stay strong as a community and produce the city that we want to become.

PART 4: CHALLENGES

But you know and I know that we have some tremendous challenges that are going to be very difficult for us to face. I want to speak about one or two of them right now.

Ballooning cost pressures. Every one dollar in the city budget that we have, we have to dedicate 25 cents to pension, health care and debt payment. Increasing health costs, pension costs continue to rise, all of these things structurally make it very, very difficult to continue to become the city we want to become, and continue to put more pounds of pressure on the budget.

Again, the issue with the budget is how to remain on course, how to remain steady, how to do everything the public wants us to do without doing harm to the structural budget that we created last year.

PART 5: THE BURIED LEDE

So, this year the budget we want to propose to you for your consideration, basically it protects public safety. We're not cutting the police department. As a matter of fact, we're going to add the first recruit class for this administration. We're going to have 1,353 officers that are budgeted and a new recruit class as well.

The DA's funding remains stable. We're going to increase the coroner's budget by a small percent.

We're going to double down on NORD again. You recall that last year you doubled NORD's budget? We're going to maintain that budget level of $10 million so that NORD can continue to do the great things that it has started to do in the last year.

We're going to invest, again, in blight, because we're making significant headway to the goal of reducing blight by 10,000 properties in 2014.

Every other department in city government will see a reduction in expenditures starting with the Mayor's Office. So will City Council and every other department. There will be a slight reduction in every department, somewhere, on average, between five to 10 percent.

It is going to produce a leaner, a more effective government. I'll give you some examples. Last year, as you may recall, we transitioned in the Health Department, from being a deliverer of primary care services to having the private sector, not the public sector, do that. They do it very, very well. That has allowed us to downsize a number of employees in that department.

We will do that again in the Health Department with dental services. And we believe that we can make sure that that particular health care service is accessible and affordable and provided in a way that is less costly to the City of New Orleans.

We will also not only do these with these particular examples I'm about to give you but others. We are going to collate and [unintelligible] the HDLC and the Vieux Carre Commission of the City Planning Commission to streamline their operations. We believe their are some efficiencies of scale there.

And we're going to institute one-stop shopping for permitting processes. Those are some examples of our reorganization.

PART 6: GOOD JOB, 2

And finally, we're going to continue to work very, very hard to generate new funding opportunities with the cities. All of our initiatives, along with our philanthropic arm, has generated $67 million from philanthropic organizations. Just two examples. One would be the $4.2 million from the Bloomberg Foundation that we all are focusing on for homicide response. The other is the $2.7 million for the COPS programs that we got. If we had all of those up this last year, it increases $67 million we're using strategically in the city.

And, as you know, in order to make the city stronger, and create jobs, infrastructure investment is critically important. And therefore Cedric Grant will provide for you today a capital budget that totals $286 million. It's going to be for public facilities as well.

PART 7: NOT EASY

Since taking office, we have brought in an extra $200 million in our negotiations with FEMA. Now, let me just say a couple of things and then I'll step aside for Deputy Mayor Kopplin and Deputy Mayor Grant.

This has not been an easy budget, by any stretch of the imagination. It is absolutely true though, that because of the tough decisions we made last year, specifically on getting the budget structurally correct, that we are not nearly in as bad a shape as most other cities in America. And we are not doing mass layoffs or mass furloughs. And that is a good place to be.

PART 8: VALUE/OUR FRIENDS IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR

However, we have to be very disciplined. We have to be very focused. We have to be very thoughtful. And we have to break out of every dollar every value we can have.

We talk a lot about value-added government. But as an example, when we started BlightStat last year, which as you all know meets every two weeks. The public comes. All the department heads, they all meet there. One of the issues was whether we would do inspections fast enough. In the past, they were doing 200 inspections per week. Now we're doing 1,000 inspections. Same number of people, same inspectors, but much more effective delivery and a much better outcome.

We will do that this next year in terms of execution in every department of city government to make sure that we can tell the taxpayers that we are working as hard as we possibly can given the limited resources that we have and continue to produce a better result.

The one thing that works, post-recovery in everything that's been successful, has been great partnerships between the private sector, the public sector, nonprofits, faith-based, all focused towards a common ground. When we had the ability to produced that kind of mousetrap, we have produced a better result.

We did not create the world we live in. We are susceptible to what's happening on the international front financially and certainly the political front nationally. We have to respond to that. But again, if we're focused, if we're disciplined and if we stay the course, we should do a very good job for the people of the City of New Orleans.

PART 9: THANK YOU

So I thank you very much on the work that you've done up to this point. I fully expect to have a full and robust debate in the next couple of weeks about the budget. And I look forward to producing a document that the citizens can be proud of and that they can hold us accountable to. Thank you all very much."

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