Dear Residents and Friends of District A,
Following three long weeks of intense hearings, the Council recently adopted the City’s operating budget for 2014. As the Chair of the Council’s Criminal Justice Committee, I feel that it is critical for the City to continue using the budget as a means for reforming our criminal justice system into one that is more effective, efficient and equitable.
Some of the top public safety priorities that we successfully addressed are the declining number of officers on our police force, reducing violence on our streets, and the projected costs of compliance for both the NOPD and OPP consent decrees. The Council provided funding for five NOPD recruit classes, which will allow us to add up to 150 new police officers next year. We also ensured that every NOPD officer’s salary has full funding, meaning that the department will be able to replace any officer who leaves the force during the year. The adopted budget for NOPD consent decree compliance costs includes funding for 100 new police cars, body cameras for all officers and a court monitor. Additionally, we provided funding for a new 2nd District Police Station.
The Council also supported Mayor Landrieu’s violence reduction strategy, NOLA for Life, that targets those youths in our community who are at the greatest risk of killing or being killed. In the first full year of NOLA for Life’s implementation, the City has seen a 25-percent drop in the number of homicides. While there are still far too many murders, this is nonetheless a promising start, and we felt that it was important to continue investing in these programs.
The Council held three separate budget hearings on the expected costs of the OPP consent decree. While everyone agrees that the consent decree will result in significant additional costs to the Sheriff’s Office and City, we also heard from experts on ways to reduce spending within the jail system so that the overall financial impact of the consent decree will be minimized. This includes reducing our pretrial jail population by investing in the City’s pretrial services program for another year. We expect that the Sheriff and Administration will work together to implement the experts’ other cost cutting recommendations as quickly as possible.
The 2014 budget also includes funding to help address a number of quality-of-life issues facing our residents. At my urging, the Council provided money for Traffic Engineering to hire additional staff to help improve traffic patterns and flow. We’ve also allocated funds to establish a City-wide sign replacement program and continued funding to repair and replace streetlights, including converting many to energy-efficient LED and induction lighting. The Council recently passed two major ordinances to improve the City’s ability to combat blight across the City, and in the budget provided Code Enforcement with funds to hire additional researchers, inspectors and hearing officers that will help return blighted properties back to commerce as quickly as possible.
We provided funding for park and playground improvements, including Conrad Park, Fleur de Lis Park and Willie Hall Playground in District A.
While we certainly face some significant financial challenges in the coming year, this budget continues moving us in the right direction through its focus on improving public safety and our citizens’ quality of life.