NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — Mayor Latoya Cantrell appeared before City Council Tuesday, Oct. 25, to present his proposed 2023 operating budget and Cantrell, who has been publicly criticized by some council members, asked council to back his spending plan.
“You stood as a council, I saw it. You’ve made sure you’re not only strong but also independent, I respect that, but together it’s my greatest hope that we move forward with this budget proposal,” Cantrell said.
As the city grapples with a violent crime problem, Cantrell said his proposed budget makes public safety and other quality-of-life issues priorities.
“This budget, it reinvests in our public safety, our neighborhoods, meeting people again where they are, our workforce and, of course, our economic development while making city government more nimble as well as more effective and efficient, no doubt about it. Cantrell said.
Cantrell’s chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montano, provided more details to the board, but stressed that helping the NOPD increase its membership is a firm commitment from the administration.
“From my perspective, that’s the highest priority right now is meeting our public safety and our public safety needs, which means making sure we have new officers, that existing officers are well maintained and that an organization as a whole evolves to meet most of these needs that have been identified, whether it is violent crime, property crime or whatever in between,” Montano said, speaking to members of the media.
The proposed operating budget is $1.5 billion. But that cuts the NOPD’s budget from $176 million to around $155 million for next year, as the department has consistently spent less than it received as it continues to struggle to hire more staff. officers. The administration maintains that the budget will be fluid and quarterly adjustments will be made to city agency budgets.
“The days of us blocking funds are over and what I mean by that is blocking funds against positions that go unfilled year after year after year. But we don’t limit our leadership, our hiring departments, in any way,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell and senior administration officials say the budget involves a three-year plan tied to one-time funds the city receives from the federal government, namely the U.S. bailout. And from that money, the administration wants to spend $37 million on police recruitment and retention.
“This is a budget, again, not just for today, but more importantly, this is a budget for tomorrow,” Cantrell said.
Councilman Joe Giarrusso chairs the council’s budget committee and reacted to the administration’s proposed spending plan.
“I think it’s a good first step. I think one of the things you heard repeated from the podium was that so many of the things you’ve included in this budget are council-led initiatives, including NOPD civilization, speaking infrastructure,” said Giarrusso. “It’s something we’ve been talking about for a long time, the remediation of the burn, so making sure that those things are quality of life issues, in particular, for our residents are addressed.”
During the meeting, Giarrusso asked Montano to clarify that the NOPD’s proposed budget is not about defunding the police.
Montano said, “It in no way removes the font.”
FOX 8 asked Giarrusso why he wanted to ask Montano to clarify this for the public.
“Because if you look at the numbers they’re going to go down a bit and the reason I did that is because this year we’re going to have a $70 million surplus,” Giarrusso said. “It’s too much money in a budget, so we want to say very clearly that we are committed to recruiting, to retaining, to making sure that we give the NOPD and other departments what they need to succeed, but we don’t want them to have such a big piggy bank in the end.
The proposed budget provides wage increases for municipal government employees.
“Built into this budget on a recurring basis of a 5% increase, we’re hoping and projecting 2.5% on and on, that will help solve a lot of the hiring issues that we face as organization and vacancies thereafter,” Montano said.
And money to pay more felony sheriff’s deputies. At the prison, labor is a big problem.
“I think this is one of the lowest vacancy rates we’ve seen at the jail and to make the starting salary for sheriff’s deputies competitive but still realistic within our budget framework, we recommend parity in terms of is for a raise of $18 an hour. these sheriff’s deputies to make it comparable or at least comparable to Jefferson Parish and surrounding areas,” Montano said.
The council’s budget hearings will begin next week during which department heads will address the council and answer questions.
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