Capital Budget Preview! Insights from Last Year’s Budget Requests

Capital Budget

Rainy day at Joseph Bartholomew Golf Course

Last week, the City Planning Commission announced the public hearing schedule for the Capital Budget, which kicks off in less than three weeks. It will be at least one more week until we know the projects each department is requesting (check out CPC’s website for that information sometime on and after June 13). Here are some key departments to look out based on what we learned from last year. These departments are listed in the order that they are currently scheduled to appear.

New Orleans Aviation Board – Monday, June 23 – 5 to 6:30pm

Last year, the City’s 5 year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) totaled over $1 billion. Of that, over $706 million was dedicated for the Louis Armstrong Airport, mostly for a new terminal (see their budget request at this link), by far the largest chunk of the CIP. The New Orleans Aviation Board (NOAB) raises its own funds, and due to FAA requirements, the NOAB must reinvest these funds into the Airport (so this money cannot be used to fix roads or other Capital Projects).

The new airport will be a big economic boom for the region; however, there are a number of critiques of this proposal. First, the NOAB just spent hundreds of millions of dollars to renovate portions of the Airport in time for last year’s Superbowl. Now this newly renovated terminal will be used only for private flights. I am not sure where NOAB gets its money, but I am guessing it is from take-off and landing fees. These fees must be too much if the NOAB can afford a major renovation and new airport in a matter of years. The TP recently reported on a number of lower-income and non-white residents who will likely be displaced by the new terminal. Anyway, the new terminal is moving forward, and it is guaranteed to be including in NOAB Capital Budget request.

Office of Homeland Security – Wednesday, June 25 – 10:30am to 12pm

Every year the Office of Homeland Security requests funding for a joint municipal training academy for public safety employees. Every year, this capital budget request is rejected. I have heard that this is a dream project for Col. Sneed that will never get funded. Last year’s $35 million request was rejected. I am not sure how much it will be this year’s request, but I am fairly confident that the joint municipal training academy will be back.

Department of Parks and Parkways – Monday, June 30 – 3 to 4:30pm

Park projects are always of interest to neighborhoods. Because New Orleans is New Orleans, park projects come under Parks and Parkway, NORDC, City Park, Audubon, Levee Board, and a number of organizations. If you are interested in your neighborhood park, it is important to understand which authority is responsible for the park (Here is a complete list of park jurisdictions). In last year’s request, Parks and Parkways sought funding for the following park projects: Joe Bartholomew Golf Course, Parks and Parkways’ Greenhouse and Equipment Shed, Washington Square Park, Brechtel Park, Congo Fountain, and for citywide park improvements.

Department of Property Management – Tuesday, July 1 – 2:30 to 4pm

In the biggest surprise from last year, the Department of Property Management requested $300 million for a new Civic Center at Charity Hospital (City Hall and Civil District Court). The interesting part is that in their initial request, Property Management made no mention of the Civic Center. It was not until their hearing that they informed City Planning about the Civic Center and had to submit a revised request. The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project has a complete account of Property Management’s under the radar Civic Center request.

Last year, the Civic Center request was approved, but there was only a small portion of the necessary funding allocated for the project ($13 million that the City got from the State). This year, I do not think that the City got any money from the State (it was not listed in Mayor’s press release recapping the legislative session), so that leaves an $87 million hole in the Civic Center’s budget (the City was counting on $100 million total from the State). I have also heard that the estimated cost of the project is now much higher than the $300 million estimate from last year. So it will be interesting to see if the Department of Property Management will continue to pursue the Civic Center at Charity Hospital idea, will look at other locations for City Hall, consider renovating the current building, or completely drop the idea. We will have to wait until their budget request is submitted on June 13 to find out.

Department of Public Work – Tuesday, July 1 – 5 to 6:30pm

Because of the interest in road projects, DPW is likely the most important to New Orleanians of all of the departments when it comes to the Capital Budget. Last year DPW requested almost $138 million for road projects; however the budget request does not provide much information on the specific projects, just the category of projects (major street, minor street, arterials, roadway enhancements, and the Recovery Road program).

One interesting thing to find out will be if the City has money to do future road projects. The City is currently working with FEMA to get more money to repair roads damaged during Katrina through the Recovery Road Program. However, that is the only source of road money identified beyond this year. According to last year’s budget request, there will be no more bond money for road (or any other) projects after 2014.

New Orleans Recreation Development Commission – Monday, July 7 – 5 to 6:30pm

Even more so than Parks and Parkways, parks and playgrounds are under the purview of NORDC (park jurisdiction list). Last year NORDC requested funding for 23 different projects, by far the most of any department. NORDC requested funding for the follow locations: Paris Avenue/I-610 skate park, Digby Playground, AL Davis Playground, McDonough Playground, Kerry Curley Playground, Pradat Pool & Playground, George Craver Playground, Gatto Playspot, Conrad Playground, Annunication Center, city wide playground equipment replacement, Donsereaux/Harrison Playground, Samuel Square, West Bank Indoor Pool, Bunny Friend, Skelly Rupp Baseball Diamond, Taylor Playground, city wide dog parks, and Joe W Brown Park. I expect this year’s request to include a number of projects and NORDC CEO Vic Richards put the NORD Commissioners on notice about Capital Budget request deadline at yesterday’s meeting.

Summary

Please note that the meetings listed above are not the only Capital Budget hearings, just the ones that will interest most people. You can find the complete schedule at this link. So far we do not have any information about budget requests. All of the information that has been discussed so far is from last year, and hopefully will provide some insights on what to expect this year. The budget requests are due on June 13, and are expected to be posted on CPC’s website (check the Capital Improvement Plan and the Calendar pages) shortly after. After the budget requests are made public, I will put up another post on what it all means, so please stay tuned to nolareport.com for more information.

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