The New Orleans City Council unanimously approved a $497 million city operating budget for 2012 last Thursday, Dec. 1 — the legal deadline for adopting a budget. Next year's municipal spending plan is nearly $2 million higher than the one Mayor Mitch Landrieu proposed in October.
The additional money reflects hopes for an anticipated $1.8 million in state reimbursements to the city for casino support services — even though Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed a state appropriation for that very purpose last summer. Otherwise, the council made only a few changes to the mayor's budget proposal, which called for five to 10 percent across-the-board cuts for all departments except police, fire and the New Orleans Recreation Department.
Most changes increased spending for non-police public safety programs. The NOPD's proposed $119 million budget (up $10 million from this year) was cut by $500,000. That money was transferred to the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office to be used for witness protection — still less than the $1.2 million increase DA Leon Cannizzaro said his office needs to maintain its current operations.
The council also voted to increase the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office's budget by $200,000 to pay for its electronic monitoring program. The Public Defender's office, meanwhile, saw a boost of $475,000.
Noticeably absent from the council's list of upward public safety adjustments was the budget for New Orleans Municipal Court. The court will be forced to take on thousands of additional cases next year as all state misdemeanors will be transferred there from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court — on top of the 30,000-plus cases it heard this year. Included in those additional cases are municipal domestic violence cases. Despite taking on a much larger workload, Municipal Court's budget will be cut by nearly $300,000 next year, from $2.8 million to just over $2.5 million.
Landrieu's proposed 25 percent cut to the City Planning Commission, a major point of contention during budget hearings, was rolled back. Council members voted to pay for six new planners for the City Planning Commission, representing a $440,000 increase. Likewise, the Department of Public Works got $18.1 million, $300,000 above the mayor's proposal, for additional pothole removal crews (though the city will not make up the $4 million the department will lose in federal grants next year).
The largest single departmental adjustment, however, went to City Council itself. The Council rejected Landrieu's proposed $750,000 cut and instead allocated itself a $100,000 net increase above the 2011 budget, for a total council budget of $9.95 million. — Charles Maldonado