Mayor Cantrell unveils 2023 budget proposal, says public safety is a top priority

Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 8:08 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Mayor Latoya Cantrell appeared before the city council on Tuesday (Oct. 25) to present her proposed 2023 operating budget and Cantrell who has been publicly criticized by some members of the council asked the council to support her spending plan.

“You have stood tall as a council, I’ve seen that. You have made sure that you are, one not only strong but also, you’re independent, I respect that but together it is my greatest hope that we move forward with this proposed budget,” said Cantrell.

As the city grapples with a violent crime problem, Cantrell said her proposed budget makes public safety and other quality of life issues priorities.

“This budget it reinvests in our public safety, our neighborhoods, again meeting people where they are, our workforce and, of course, our economic development while making city government more agile as well as more efficient and effective, no doubt about it,” said Cantrell.

Cantrell’s chief administrative officer Gilbert Montano provided more details to the council but stressed that helping the NOPD increase its manpower is a firm commitment of the administration.

“From my perspective, that’s the highest priority right now, is to address our public safety and our public safety needs which means making sure we have new officers, existing officers are well kept and an organization as a whole is evolving to address most of those needs that have been identified, whether it’s violent crime, property crime or anything in between,” said Montano, in speaking to members of the media.

The proposed operating budget amounts to $1.5 billion. But it cuts the NOPD’s budget from $176 million to around $155 million for next year because the department has routinely spent less than it received as it continues to struggle to hire more officers. The administration maintains that the budget will be fluid and quarterly adjustments will be made to city agency budgets.

“Gone are the days where we lock up funds and what I mean by that is locking up funds on positions that go unfilled year after year after year. But we’re not, in any way, limiting our leadership, our departments from hiring, at all,” said Cantrell.

Cantrell and top administration executives say the budget involves a three-year plan related to one-time funds the city is receiving from the federal government, namely the American Rescue Plan. And from that pot of 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 it is a budget for tomorrow,” Cantrell stated.

Councilman Joe Giarrusso is chairman of 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 dais was that there’s so many things you’ve included in this budget are council-led initiatives including civilianization of NOPD, talking about infrastructure,” said Giarrusso. “That’s been something we’ve talked about for a long time, blight remediation, so making sure that these things are quality of life issues, particularly, for our residents are being addressed.”

During the meeting, Giarrusso asked Montano to make it clear that the proposed NOPD budget is not about defunding the police.

Montano said, “In no way is this defunding the police.”

FOX 8 asked Giarrusso about why he made a point of asking Montano to clarify that for the public.

“Because if you look at the numbers, they’re going to go down a little bit and the reason I made it is this year we’re going to have a $70 million surplus,” said Giarrusso. “That’s too much money in any one budget, so we want to make very clear that we are committed to recruiting, retention, to making sure we’re giving NOPD and other departments what they need to be successful but we don’t want them to have such a large piggybank at the end.”

The proposed budget has money for pay raises for city government workers.

“Built into this budget on a recurring basis a 5% raise, we hope and anticipate 2.5% thereafter and thereafter that is helping to address many of the hiring concerns that we’re facing as an organization and the vacancies thereafter,” said Montano.

And money to pay criminal sheriff’s deputies more. At the jail, manpower is a big problem.

“I think that is one of the lowest vacancy rates that we have seen at the jail and making the sheriff’s deputies’ starting wage competitive but still realistic within our budget framework we are recommending a parity as it relates to an $18 dollar an hour wage increase to those sheriff deputies to make it in comparison or at least comparable to Jefferson Parish and the surrounding areas,” said Montano.

Council budget hearings kick off next week during which department heads will address the council and answer questions.

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