NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Mayor Mitch Landrieu unveiled his budget proposal Monday for operating city government in 2017. It is a $614 million spending plan.
The New Orleans Police Department would get a bigger slice of city revenues next year, and drivers would have to watch out for even more traffic cameras if Landrieu gets his way.
"The public said double down on public safety," said Landrieu in discussing budget priorities.
Landrieu's spending plan increases the NOPD's budget by $8 million, and the department is funded to hire another 150 police officers next year.
"We want the police department to have a laser-like focus on violent crime," said the mayor.
The city's Emergency Medical Services would get $700,000 more next year to improve wait times.
Also the mayor's budget sets aside $53 million for Orleans Parish Prison.
"The 2017 budget is still balanced on a knife's edge," said the mayor.
After first addressing and taking questions about his budget proposal from reporters, the mayor presented highlights of this budget to the City Council. Administrative staffers stayed behind to talk specifics.
City Council members will scrutinize the numbers during weeks of budget hearings open to the general public.
"I have a number of questions for how money was spent last year for certain departments, whether or not they used it all, how wisely it was used," said Councilman-at-Large Jason Williams.
"We need to do everything we can to support the police department but also find creative ways through the use of technology to try to reduce crime throughout the city," said District D Councilman Jared Brossett.
Also getting a lot of attention is a proposal for 56 more traffic cameras around the city, estimated to net City Hall $5 million.
In answering questions about the proposal, the mayor said his administration has received a lot of complaints about drivers who speed.
"Parents who are constantly complaining about individuals in the city who are running red lights. It's almost a joke nationally that people in New Orleans think yellow means go faster," said Landrieu.
His CAO said the additional cameras would mainly go in school zones and areas where there are dangerous intersections.
"If you don't run a red light, you're not going to get a ticket. If you don't speed in a school zone, you're not going to get a ticket and lives are going to be saved," said Landrieu.
Council members weighed in.
"That's sort of something that is answering the call of citizens, so I generally support it," stated Councilwoman-at-Large Stacy Head.
"We're going to look at it closely to make sure it's done correctly and that we get increased revenue as a result of it," said District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey.
"Everybody wants everything and they want it yesterday, and frankly they've got a right to it, but what we've got to find is a way to pay for it. That is one way to pay for it," said Williams.
"Cameras that I'm in favor of are aimed at crime reduction, but generally as traffic cameras to give tickets to citizens - I'm flat-out against that," said Councilman James Gray, who represents District E.
"There's always the possibility of alternatives. We have a lot that's outside on the streets already," stated Brossett.
The proposed budget also includes dollars for pothole and streetlight repairs. Landrieu is also calling for a handful of city departments to be cut by up to five percent.
"From the mayor's office to the CAO's office to finance to IT, the DA, the judges, public defenders will all be stabilized at last year's budget," said the mayor.
In December, voters will be asked again to pass a new property tax to fund the fire fighters' pension system. In April, voters rejected a public safety millage that would have benefited fire fighters and police.
Landrieu said this time he is only going for a tax to benefit fire fighters.
"Because the public continues to say to me we really want to help the fire fighters. The police piece is going to have to get done sometime in the future," said Landrieu.
"We want to support any initiative that is going to bring more dollars to the fire service that we so desperately need," said Nick Felton, president of the Fire Fighters Association of New Orleans.
Landrieu said that in the latter part of next year the city would borrow $10 million to address some of the city's long-term legal liabilities.
The council must pass a balanced budget by December 1.