Friday, November 9, 2012

City budget hearings day 3: Libraries on the block again

Posted By Google on Fri, Nov 9, 2012 at 6:15 PM

Day Three's agenda: libraries, parks, trash, drugs, bugs, buses, sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll.

First up this afternoon was city librarian Charles Brown, the new director of the New Orleans Public Library who has helmed a stellar year for the city's library system: several branches reopened, and visitors are up more than 30 percent than last year (and 2012 isn't over yet). It kicked off literacy and school readiness programs, including a teen outreach summer reading program with more than 650 teens.

In 2013, it aims for more youth outreach, more technology use (computers are in demand), and more programs for new American citizens or soon-to-be-citizens.

The city's general fund once again does not set aside funds for NOPL, so it'll have to rely on its millage (from which it receives $8 million annually) and its reserve. This year, the reserve has $8 million — it's expected to dwindle to $4.5 million in 2013, and $604.209 by 2014, according to Brown.

Its Main Library also needs help: the near-capacity city archives are not climate controlled and have no advanced security and are "constantly in danger of being literally destroyed," Brown said. The library itself has had "no overall renovation" since its opening in 1958. The Loyola Avenue renovations could make the Main Library a star, Brown said, but instead it's "an island of blight."

Brown pointed to Baton Rouge, which has 12 facilities with a $38 million budget. New Orleans has 14 branches, with an $8 million budget. Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said a more fair comparison would be to include where other cities receive their funding.

"Expenses are going to go up. Our new libraries are the talk of the town," said Helen Kohlman. "We want you to be aware that sometime in the next year and a half to two years, we might have to come and say, folks, we have our millage and we’re shy $4 million.”

Parks & Parkways:

Up next, Ann MacDonald with Parks & Parkways, which reviewed more than 150 construction and design plans this year, including landscaping for the 2013 Super Bowl. The department will see a 5.7 percent budget cut of about $500,000. "I hope we can reward service better," said council president Stacy Head. "You're one of the fundamentals and foundations. ... You're one of the first departments that should be funded."

Sanitation:

The Department of Sanitation highlighted the success of its recycling program and the closing of 710 illegal dumping sites in 2012 thus far. The department reduced landfill disposal costs from $130,000 in 2011 to only $5,900 in 2012 — 5,000 tons of garbage typically headed to the dump was recycled from 40,000 households in Orleans Parish.

Recycling contracts in the CBD and French Quarter are set to expire in 2013, while other citywide contracts expire in 2014. Council members suggested reviewing those contracts to include glass recycling pickup in the future.

Mosquito, Termite & Rodent Control:

Mosquito, Termite & Rodent Control director Claudia Riegel was the most optimistic member of the chopping block/firing squad — her department will see a hefty budget slash, as it has for past few years. It lost $300,000 in the last two years.

The pest control airplane (I did not know this existed) was built in the 1970s and is falling apart. Increased cases of the West Nile virus has made department staff work overtime (and typically at night, between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m.). It receives no state aid, and this year's cuts could force layoffs and the end of its wild animal control program.

"I think we’re about to kill the goose that laid the golden egg," said Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, who asked that the city take a second look at the department's budget, which has been slashed each year for the past several.

Regional Transit Authority:

Council received RTA's budget... today. There was confusion about whether the agency actually receives city money (it does — from sales tax — but not the city's general operating budget), so there was discussion over what it was doing before a city budget hearing in the first place. There's the RTA, serving New Orleans, and Veolia, which owns the RTA, then there's the City of New Orleans. Each handle and receive funds differently.

RTA director Justin Augustine said the agency isn't cutting its budget. Its 2013 goals: reduce overcrowding, improve pickup times, expand to new service areas, create adequate services to replace St Charles streetcar, and add the new services on Loyola Avenue. (Read about "The State of the Transit System" in Gambit.)

Speaking of, the Loyola street car line will be ready in 2013. The North Rampart Street streetcar extension will start construction in 2014, and there are plans to extend Canal Street and add a terminal transfer at Claiborne and Carrollton avenues.

"I know y’all frustrated," Augustine said about the Loyola line. "But it will open in January. I’m very confident it will."

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