Additions to council budget could include relocation of Gordon Plaza, night mayor, crime cameras and eviction defense

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The New Orleans City Council is currently considering several changes to Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s 2022 municipal budget proposal before approving a final version next week.

According to interviews and statements from several council offices, council members are preparing to consider millions in additional spending in certain areas of the budget. This includes new spending to relocate residents of Gordon Plaza, create a ‘night economy office’, add crime cameras, fund domestic violence programs in the district attorney’s office, and increase funding for the district attorney’s office. provide legal representation to residents facing evictions.

Each year, before December 1, city council must approve a budget for the following year. The process begins with the mayor’s submission of a first draft to council in October or November. The council then holds department-by-department hearings to give them the opportunity to justify their funding or to argue that they need more than the mayor has allocated.

The board completed those hearings last week and is currently scheduled to meet on Wednesday, December 1 to consider amendments to Cantrell’s draft and approve a final version.

Gordon Square

The biggest change the council will consider is allocating $ 35 million in capital funds to relocate residents of Gordon Plaza – a subdivision in the Desire neighborhood that was built on the site of a toxic landfill. Gordon Plaza residents have said in the past that it would take $ 35 million to fully redeem and relocate everyone.

In 1994, years after the construction and occupation of Gordon Plaza, the EPA designated the land as a Superfund site, as part of a federal program to clean up toxic waste pollution. Although the EPA went ahead with a mitigation plan in the 1990s, a 2019 study found that the census tract that includes Gordon Plaza had the second highest cancer rate in Louisiana.

Many residents want to leave and have constantly lobbied the city to help them relocate. This year, residents and activists of Gordon Plaza brought the problem to the fore attending most, if not all budget hearings, handing out flyers and submitting public comments to make sure the city does not forget their demands. And it seems their constant presence made an impression on the board.

Night Economy, Deportation Defense Lawyers, and Criminal Justice Priorities

The council will also consider adding funds to the budget to create an “Office of Night Time Economy”. Similar to “Mayor of nightlife” in New York or “bar tsar” in Orlando, the new office would help develop and manage the city’s nightlife and associated quality of life issues.

“I am proud that we are investing and creating the Office of Night Time Economy, an effort I started at the start of my first term,” City Councilor Kristin Palmer said in a statement. “Our musicians, artists, bars, restaurants and neighborhoods have long needed a government spokesperson who can work to balance the quality of life issues of our residents while supporting our city’s unique cultural identity.

Several council members are also keen to increase funding for a new “right to counsel” program that Cantrell will launch next year, which will provide legal representation to residents facing evictions. Administration officials called it a “pilot program” funded with $ 500,000 – admittedly too small to meet all needs. Advocates and some council members want increase the program from $ 500,000 to $ 2 million.

Council will also consider an amendment to allocate $ 500,000 towards the purchase of surveillance cameras to add to the city’s rapidly growing surveillance apparatus.

“I asked the administration to fund additional cameras across town,” Palmer said. “Investments in technology have been a critical part of the City’s efforts to prevent and resolve violent crime. “

Palmer also said she also plans to apply for funding to “restore our public green spaces damaged by hurricanes over the past two years.”

City Councilor Helena Moreno will propose amendments to increase funding for the District Attorney’s Office and District Criminal Court to support domestic violence prosecutions and victim services.

During budget hearings, district criminal court officials requested additional domestic violence case managers. District Attorney Jason Williams, meanwhile, has requested an additional $ 300,000 for several positions related to domestic violence and human trafficking, including additional investigators, counselors, reintegration programs and housing for children. the survivors.

If the council increases the DA’s budget, it could undermine a long-standing priority of the council – parity between the DA and the Orleans Public Defenders Office. The Orleans Office of Public Defenders has long argued that since it defends 85% of defendants in criminal court, the city should give it at least 85% of the funding it provides to the prosecutor’s office.

Cantrell’s 2022 budget proposal achieves this goal for the first time. But an increase in the DA budget, without a proportional increase in Orleans public defenders, would leave Orleans public defenders without the 85% parity they fought for.

City Councilor Joe Giarrusso told The Lens he plans to seek additional funding for a program that helps city employees navigate New Orleans’ complex public school system through the local non-profit EdNavigator. . He also wants more funding for Youth Force NOLA, another local nonprofit that helps connect New Orleans students with employment opportunities.

“We know that improving public safety can start with better educational opportunities,” he said.

In an interview, City Councilor Jay Banks said his staff are still studying and crafting specific budget amendments, but their overall goal is to shift funding from Crime Consequence Management to a Crime Shutdown. before it happens.

“I think if we invest in our children’s education, we won’t need to waste money on incarceration,” Banks said. “When you look at the kind of money we spend on the police force, we wouldn’t have to spend that much if we didn’t have the problem we had. “

Banks said he wanted the city to invest more in education (including early childhood education) and public recreation to keep children on track and stay out of trouble.

“We have to invest early so that we don’t have to waste money,” Banks said.

Any specific budget amendments mentioned by council members would increase city spending rather than cut it. It is therefore not entirely clear whether they will propose additional amendments to make cuts to other parts of the budget. Those details will become clearer on Wednesday, December 1, when the council considers the amendments and adopts a final 2022 budget.


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