Mayor Landrieu warns of tax hikes, layoffs over consent decrees - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Mayor Landrieu warns of tax hikes, layoffs over consent decrees

Mayor Mitch Landrieu address the City Council during emergency meeting Thursday. Mayor Mitch Landrieu address the City Council during emergency meeting Thursday.

New Orleans, La. — During an emergency City Council meeting, Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued warnings of possible tax hikes, layoffs, and employee furloughs if city government is forced to pay for both the NOPD and Orleans Parish Prison federal consent decrees this year.

"The bottom line is that both the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office and the NOPD consent decrees cannot be paid for at that same time in this fiscal year without raising taxes, or substantially gutting all aspects of city services especially public safety," Landrieu said.

For months, Landrieu has been in a public fight with Sheriff Marlin Gusman.  In July 2012, Landrieu signed a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department to reform the scandal-plagued police department.  Later in the year, Gusman reached a separate agreement with the Department of Justice on reforms for the prison, which has long been accused by human rights activists of having unacceptable conditions.

Landrieu said the NOPD reforms will cost $55 million and reforms at the prison about $22 million a year for up to five years. Gusman has taken issue with those figures.

"I'm insulted by the mayor's lack of leadership, his distortion of the facts, scare tactics instead of attempting to resolve this issue that he's ignored all this time," Gusman said at a news conference shortly after the mayor's remarks.

"We will not voluntarily write an ambiguous, unjustified sum of money to the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office. This demand will not only hurt the average New Orleans resident, but will also likely fail to improve the conditions at the jail.  After all, the problems at the Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office are deeply rooted," Landrieu stated.

So he has asked a federal court judge to cut the city slack and not force it to fund both consent decrees this year.  "Much of our fate is in the hands of a few federal judges who can, if the thought crosses their mind, order our banks seized and City Hall mortgaged," Landrieu further stated.

Some of the people who got up to address the City Council Thursday accused the mayor of unnecessarily frightening the public.

"What I heard was fear, what I heard was frustration, and I can understand the frustration and I can even understand the fear to some extent, but I don't understand it in a way that does not provide us with solutions to solve the problems and to come here on this Thursday before this hearing on Monday and to try to scare us I think is a terrible idea," said civil rights attorney Mary Howell, who has monitored police and prison issues for decades.

"Some have questioned if we're just blowing smoke or exaggerating, some have suggested that this is just political theatre. This is about math," said Landrieu.

Others told the council that before any layoffs, furloughs, or tax hikes are considered, Landrieu should trim his executive staff.

"I did not vote for any so-called deputy mayors, the first top-heavy [which] should be cut are the deputy mayors," said Lloyd Lazard.

But Landrieu said Gusman should take more responsibility for finding the funds for the prison reforms.  "He could choose to call an election tomorrow to get approval to raise nearly $20 million dollars in revenue through his law enforcement taxing district," he said.

Landrieu said police and firefighters will suffer if City Hall has to foot the full tab of the consent decrees.  "It does not make any sense to lay off or furlough police officers and firefighters, so we can hire more prison guards and pay them higher salaries," said Landrieu.

Next week a federal judge is to begin hearings on the consent decree for the prison.

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