Update 4:15pm: The article has been revised to have the correct surplus amount of $8.3 million.
At this morning’s City Council Budget Committee meeting, Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin announced some good news about the City’s budget. According to the City’s Revenue Estimating Conference, the City raised $19 million more in revenue last year than budgeted. This increase was mostly due an almost 10% increase in sales tax revenue in 2013 from 2012. With the better than expected collections, the City ended 2013 with an $8.3 million budget surplus, the first of the Landrieu administration.
While these numbers are not audited, Kopplin says that he has spoken to the auditor and is confident in the figures. Kopplin said that the better than expected sale tax revenues in 2013, could have ripple effects for this year’s budget as this will likely result in an increase in revenue projections for 2014. Kopplin was not prepared to revise the 2014 revenue projection, and said that the Revenue Estimating Conference would consider that at its next meeting in August.
The $8.3 million fund balance gives the city a budget cushion for the first time in years, meaning the City has a “rainy day” fund heading into hurricane season. Budget Committee Chairperson Stacy Head questioned Andy Kopplin about sources of all the budget savings to determine if any of these funds could be spent on repairing potholes and streetlights. Kopplin said that the City is being cautious on spending, because any increase in costs for the consent decrees or in the firefighter’s pension fund means that the City would need to go back to making cuts.
There was some good news when it comes to streetlights. At tomorrow’s City Council meeting, City Council is expected to pass a budget ordinance that would allocate $14.6 million to convert streetlights to LED lights. Also at tomorrow’s meeting, Council would introduce another ordinance (it will not be adopted for another two weeks) that would allocate $1.7 million for streetlight repairs, which would cover all repairs that could not be fixed by LED conversions. Kopplin said that this money will be used to fix all of the broken streetlights along St Charles Avenue, in New Orleans East, and across the City. If City Council adopts this ordinance in two weeks, Public Works would start work as soon as July.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting the Budget Committee heard a proposal from Civil Service to offer bonuses to NOPD employees who successful recruit new police officers. NOPD employees would receive $500 when a new recruit starts the police academy and $500 when he or she starts the police force. Councilmember Head used this as an opportunity to criticize some of the requirements for new police recruits saying that potential officers are being turned away by Civil Service because they use marijuana decades ago. “A history of longterm dependency is very different than trial usage in college or high school” Head said. The Budget Committee did not take action on this proposal, because they are waiting on an ethics opinion from the Attorney General’s Office.