Nov 062012
 

By Nick Kindel

With Election Day finally here, most of our attention will be on the Presidential race, but two local races will also have a significant impact on our lives in New Orleans. Districts B and E will each elect new Councilmembers who may soon be thrown into one of City Council’s most important duties, passing the City’s 2013 budget. City Council’s budget hearings kick off tomorrow (Wednesday, Nov. 7) and culminate with passing the budget on Nov. 30.

The budget is not the most exciting issue, but it is important. It determines how much personnel and resources the City can allocate to address issues across the City. The City projects that it will have $491 million in its general fund for next year, about $8 million more than the revised 2012 budget. How the City allocates this $491 million will help determine how many pot holes are filled, how many blighted properties are torn down or fixed up, how many police officers are on the street, and how many NORD programs are available to children.

In August and September, Mayor Mitch Landrieu held meetings in each City Council District to get input on the budget, and on Oct. 29, he proposed the Administration’s budget to the City Council. At the Mayor’s District B budget meeting, Uptown Messenger reported on some of the common themes that people were concerned about, two of which were road conditions and crime. How does the mayor’s budget address these issues? In 2011, the City budgeted $3.91 million for roadway maintenance. This was reduced to $3.16 million in 2012. In 2013, the Mayor proposes to only spend $1.64 million on roadway maintenance (there is also $2.72 million proposed for “Recovery Roads Program Support” but there is not a description of what these funds will be used for).

Crime is another major issue in New Orleans. The Police Department budget has increased from $115.9 million in 2011 to $119.0 million in 2012. The Mayor proposes to allocate $125.7 million in general fund dollars to NOPD in 2013 (plus another $7 million for the consent decree). For people interested in crime prevention through economic opportunities and youth development, spending on economic development was 2% of the budget and children and families was 3% of the budget in 2011 and 2012. Next year, the Mayor proposes to spend the same percentage of the budget in those areas.

One issue that I wrote about a few months back also has a connection to the budget. The City Planning Commission’s Neighborhood Participation Program would improve resident and neighborhood notification of developments in their community. This plan is working its way through City Council for final approval. Even if this plan is approved by City Council, it cannot be fully implemented because City Planning’s budget request for this program is not being recommended for funding. City Council can change this, but will only do so if the public lets them know that it is important.

Now it is the Council’s turn to review the budget, hold hearings with each department, and get resident input before passing the final budget on November 30 (here is the complete hearing schedule for Nov. 7 through 15). City Council takes public comments at these hearings, but it is challenging for people to engage in this process because the meetings are during the day and half a dozen departments will be scheduled for the same four-hour block of time. Since it is so difficult for people to get involved, very few individuals provide their input.

The New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance (NOCOG)’s Budgeting for Democracy campaign has asked City Council to hold their meeting in the evening and make other changes that would make it easier to engage in this process. City Council responded saying that evening meetings do not work, are too expensive, and do not serve a purpose. The Budgeting for Democracy campaign wants to show that the community supports an easier way to engage in process, and is asking people to sign this petition to Council to change its process.

So how can people provide their input to City Council? NOCOG’s Budgeting for Democracy campaign realizes that not everyone can show up for meetings. NPN, one of the campaign partners, put together a guide on the City’s budget process to help people to understand the budget. The Budgeting for Democracy campaign has created a comment card that you can fill out and that we will read at the Council meetings. If you want to email your input to City Council, you can just click this link for all of the Councilmember’s emails.

No matter which issue is important to you, you should let City Council know your budget priorities. After you vote today, please go to the NOCOG website for all of these resources available to help get your input to City Council. This is our city and our money, so we should decide how it is spent.

Nick Kindel is the Citizen Participation Project Coordinator for Committee for a Better New Orleans and a former Uptown resident. You can reach him at nolacpp@gmail.com.

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  • owencourrges

    Nick,

    You raise a lot of good points about the budget. I didn’t realize that even our current meager road repair budget was being cut. My questionnaire asked about developing a dedicated road repair budget, but nobody seemed to have a clear, workable solution (although I feel that all who responded were earnestly trying to address the issue). Horton and Kaplan proposed funding sources that are are unlikely to work — traffic ticket revenues, which fund local courts, and tolls from the Crescent City Connection, which may not continue after today’s election.

    Likewise, I think the point is well made about the ever-increasing police budget, but of course politically nobody is going to propose cuts (not with our murder rate) and the city has to fund the consent decree. Landrieu has attempted to push the idea that the department is already overstaffed if anything, but it hasn’t really resonated.

    Of course, I really disagree with you on the Citizen’s Participation Program. We already have far, far too much public input in land use decisions, which continues to crush economic activity and keep properties out of commerce or even blighted. If somebody is willing to redevelop, they shouldn’t have to jump through endless hoops and justify themselves to neighborhood groups.

    We have far too much residential property in this city because our population has dropped 40-50% since the 1960′s. Good commercial property is hard to find and usually saddled with ridiculous zoning restrictions. Hundreds of commercial properties have lapsed nonconforming uses even though they are on or near commercial corridors, because our zoning laws have an irrational fear of commerce and were drawn very narrowly. Residential property owners already have disproportionate control in the process; this proposal seems to make it worse by encouraging them to meddle with commercial development even more than they already are.

    I’d frankly rather that instead of spending scarce money on something that makes it more difficult to develop land in New Orleans, we instead go to work slashing the planning budget. How about eliminating the planning commission and sending these issues straight to the City Council? Frankly, there is very little about “planning” in this city I would be unwilling to cut.

    • Nick Kindel

      Owen,

      City Planning’s proposed Neighborhood Participation Program would give more and better notification to area residents and neighborhoods. It would not give neighborhoods any veto power over developments, but it would give them an opportunity to provide input. How much public input is too much? Is there any level of public input that is not enough?

      Ultimately, the decision is up to City Council. There will be times when neighborhoods have legitimate concerns (trash, lighting, landscaping, etc) that can be easily address in the development. Other times, neighborhoods do not have legitimate concerns and it is just NIMBYism. Either way, the final decision is left to City Council, who will have to decide if the concerns are legitimate or not.

      I agree with you on neighborhood business. I used to live around the corner from Charlie Stakehouse, and I now live half a block away from Katie’s in Mid-City. These businesses are great assets to those neighborhoods. Other corner stores are nuisances to neighborhoods because they are a haven for criminal actives. So why not have more of an opportunity for neighbors to provide their input?

      In the current system, you either have to live on the same block of the development, or read numerous agendas and public notices to find out about developments in your community. Who are the ones most likely to do this? I would say the NIMBYists (is that a word). So by informing more people, earlier in the process, you are more likely to have a rational discuss about legitimate concerns instead of just hearing from the few people who oppose everything.

      nick

      • owencourrges

        Nick,

        In practice, if people have a say over businesses in their neighborhood, they’ll generally tend to try to keep them out as much as possible because of perceived potential (however unlikely) impacts on property values. So while the investor has a huge stake in the property, the neighbors have a relatively minimal one that is likely driven by selfish interests often completely unconnected to the actual impacts of the development.

        You say that the participation process would actually be more likely to draw in non-NIMBYs, but the fact is that it mainly just imposes more requirements on the applicant to contact and meet with neighbors prior to going to the CPC and the City Council. If it were really to the benefit of applicants to follow this kind of procedure, they would presumably be doing it already on their own initiative. Instead, it’s presently more common for applicants to try notify the minimum number of people to minimize the chances of opposition.

        Thus, I would argue that giving people with a minimal interest more notice and greater opportunity to comment on the dime of an already burdened developer or entrepreneur will make a community veto of projects more likely, not less. And in a city where the zoning code already treats any kind of commercial use as a red-headed stepchild, that’s a recipe for making an already bad problem worse.