Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Wednesday unveiled his $536.9 million 2015 budget proposal for operating city government.
“This is not just funny money, it's real money,” said Landrieu.
The city is experiencing substantial growth in sales tax revenues. Though not flush with cash, Landrieu said there is enough money to boost the New Orleans Police Department's budget by $2.6 million, fund the hiring of 150 additional officers, and provide an across-the-board pay raise for police. Landrieu said the average cop's annual salary would increase by about $2,200.
"The issue then came up about how you're going to retain the officers we have, and the best way to do that is to increase their pay and increase their working conditions. We do both of those things in this budget,” he said.
If the City Council approves Landrieu's spending plan, it would be the first pay increase for cops in eight years.
"I think they're going to be excited about it, it moves us forward, it's going to help us to recruit, it's going to help us to retain officers, and right now we have officers who are asking to come back,” said NOPD Chief Michael Harrison.
But the police union feels the proposed raise is too small.
"We appreciate any raise, but the fact of the matter is this is giving aspirin to a heart patient who needs a transplant,” said Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans.
He believes a raise of 20 percent would be more appropriate for a department plagued by low morale and exiting officers.
"We can't hire people and we can't retain people, and between the loss of detail income this has become a critical issue, and 5 percent just isn't going to do it,” said Glasser.
City Council members gave initial reaction to the mayor's pay raise proposal Wednesday.
"I was hoping for more, but this is a good start. We'll have to take each budget year one step at a time,” said District D Councilman Jared Brossett.
"I think that we need to take a conservative approach to any of our increases in the budget. We are looking good for the quality of life issues to be protected and responded to in 2015, but we certainly need to take slow steps,” said Councilwoman Stacy Head.
And while the head of the Fire Fighters' Association of New Orleans does not begrudge the raise the mayor wants to give New Orleans police officers, he said fire fighters deserve more money, too.
"It seems quite disingenuous that the fire department has been completely left out of the picture,” said Nick Felton.
The budget Landrieu laid out also contains funds for the NOPD consent decree and provides an additional $4.4 million for Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman's office, as well as $11.7 million for the fire fighters' pension fund. Fire fighters have been fighting in court against the city, saying City Hall has shortchanged the retirement fund for years.
"We're getting close, the devil's in the details,” Felton said of Landrieu's desire to allocate close to $12 million for the pension fund.
Landrieu insists his budget is solid.
"This budget is balanced,” said the mayor.
The proposed budget also contains money to increase the minimum wage for city government workers to $10.10 an hour.