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.


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 for more information.


Neighborhood Leaders Roundtable to Tackle the Budget on June 21

Update 6:40pm: According to some information will take place at provided at the NORDC meeting, this meeting Lakeview Christian Center, 5885 Fleur de Lis Drive.

From the Neighborhood Engagement Office:






Saturday, June 21st | 9:00am – 11:00am

Please join the Mayor’s Neighborhood Engagement Office for the 2nd quarterly Neighborhood Leaders Roundtable on Saturday, June 21st, from 9:00a – 11:00am. Location details to follow.

The Roundtable provides an opportunity for neighborhood leaders to connect with government leaders, learn the latest information on City program and priorities, and develop relationships with other neighborhood leaders.


Featured presentations include: 
Breakdown of City Budget presented by Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin
Capital Improvement Plan Process presented by City Planning Commission

New Orleans Master Plan and the Force of Law Myth

Today, I was reading an article in The Advocate on the Louisiana Landmarks Society placing the New Orleans Master Plan on its 2014 New Orleans’ Nine Most Endangered list. It was not supposed to be the case that the Master Plan would be such a weak document. In 2008, New Orleans voters approved a City Charter Change that would require the City to adopt a Master Plan with the “force of law.” When City Council adopted the Master Plan in 2010, everyone hailed it as a great accomplish that will end planning by surprise in New Orleans. So, has this happened? Is the Master Plan in danger or endangering historic properties? What does it mean that the Master Plan has the force of law, has it done anything to end planning by surprise?

The Force of Law is portion of the Charter Change that is supposed to give the Master Plan some weight. Many plans sit on the shelf collecting dust because they do not have funds to implement them and they have no legal authority. The Force of Law gives the Master Plan the legal authority that it needs and decisions around zoning changes are supposed to be consistent with the Master Plan. But is this really happening?

Yes and No. City Council makes the final decision when it comes to zoning changes. Are their decisions are not always consistent with the Master Plan. City Council members often make decisions for political reasons without much regard for what the Master Plan says. City Council members will certainly cite the Master Plan when it supports their decision, but they have ignored the Master Plan when it is not consistent with what they want to do.

Here is one example of City Council ignoring the Master Plan. On October 4, 2012, City Council voted to change the zoning of a property at 4321 Paris Avenue for Neighborhood Business (B-1) to Single-Family Residential (RS-2). Councilmember Hedge-Morrell, responding to constituent concerns that a problem corner store may reopen, sought to rezone this property from business to single-family resident. The problem was that the Master Plan designated this area for neighborhood commercial, so rezoning the violated (or at least was inconsistent with) the Master Plan.

If the Master Plan has the force of law, then how could this happen? It is because so far there has not been anyone to hold City Council accountable for their votes. Given the doctrine of balance of power and divided branches of government, it is up to the judicial branch to hold the legislative branch accountable. This has not happened yet, because no one has brought a case to the courts to challenge a City Council decision based on the Master Plan. If the property owner of 4321 Paris Avenue sued the City for the loss in land value due to rezoning his property from commercial to residential that was inconsistent with the Master Plan, I would think that he would have an open and shut case against the City.

I am not encouraging people to sue the City, because ultimately it would cost all of us New Orleans tax payers. Something needs to be done to hold the City Council accountable for its decisions that violate the Master Plan, or City Council will continue to disregard the Master Plan’s force of law. So a lawsuit against the City might be the only option. The Louisiana Landmarks Society’s call that the Master Plan is endangering history properties and neighborhoods, seems like a sound argument to me. As long as City Council sees the Master Plan as a recommendation and not a legal requirement, we will never end planning by surprise and have the protection we need for our historic neighborhoods in New Orleans.

City Planning Commission Announces Capital Budget Hearing Schedule

Yesterday afternoon, the City Planning Commission released the Public Hearing Schedule for the City’s 2015-2019 Capital Improvement Plan, which will be the basis for next year’s Capital Budget. The hearings will take place by Department between June 23 and July 7. The capital budget requests are not due to City Planning Commission until June 13, and should be publicly available on CPC’s website shortly after that. Here is the Public Hearing Notice from CPC:

City Planning Commission Public Hearing Notice

Capital Improvement Plan 2015-2019

The City Planning Commission, in accordance with Sections 3-117, 5-402, and 6-104 of the Home Rule Charter of the City of New Orleans, will hold public hearings to consider Capital Budget requests by the departments and agencies of the City for the 2015-2019 program years. All hearings will be held in Conference Room A of the One Stop Shop (OSS) in New Orleans City Hall, at 1300 Perdido Street, Room 7W03, New Orleans, Louisiana, on the following dates and times:


Date and Time Department/Agency

Monday, June 23

10:30am-12:00pm French Market Corporation/Upper Pontalba Building Restoration Corporation
1:00pm-2:30pm City Park Improvement Association
5:00pm-6:30pm New Orleans Aviation Board

Wednesday, June 25

10:30am-12:00pm Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness/Municipal Training Academy & Emergency Medical Services (Dept of Health)
1:00-2:30pm Municipal Yacht Harbor Management Corporation
3:00-4:30pm New Orleans Public Library

Friday, June 27

11:00am-12:30pm Office of Information Technology and Innovation
2:00-3:30pm New Orleans Fire Department
3:30-5:00pm New Orleans Museum of Art

Monday, June 30

10:30am-12:00pm Reserved for continuation or rescheduling
1:00pm-2:30pm Audubon Commission
3:00pm-4:30pm Department of Parks and Parkways
5:00pm-6:30pm Reserved for continuation or rescheduling

Tuesday, July 1

11:30am-1:00pm New Orleans Police Department
2:30-4:00pm Department of Property Management
5:00pm-6:30pm Department of Public Works

Thursday, July 3

9:30am-11:00am Department of Sanitation
12:30pm-2:00pm Mosquito Control Board
2:30pm-4:00pm Reserved for continuation or rescheduling

Monday, July 7

11:00am-12:30pm CAO/Equipment Maintenance Division
5:00pm-6:30pm New Orleans Recreation Development Commission



June 4, June 11, and June 18, 2014

Robert Rivers, Executive Director

The New Orleans Capital Budget: The $1 billion tree that fell in the forest, where nobody was around to hear

Every year the New Orleans City Planning Commission (CPC) oversees the City’s process to develop a 5-year spending plan for the City’s Capital projects. And every year, CPC host about 20 public meeting to get input on the various budget requests, with little to no involvement from the public. I attended a handful of these meetings last year, and there were only three or four non-City employees at all of these meetings, and those people were from local government watchdog organizations like BGR, CBNO, and NOCOG. So why is the Capital Budget important, and if it is important, then why are so few people engaged in the process?

The Capital Budget is important because it is the City’s plan for every major project the City will build over the next 5 years. The 2014-2018 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that the City adopted last year totaled over $1 billion (that is billion with a ‘b’) and included funding for a new airport terminal, a civic center at Charity Hospital, and money for every major road repair, park, police station, fire station, library, community center, and every other project that the City will build over the next 5 years. With the CIP’s $1 billion price tag and with projects in every part of the City, you would think that more individuals and neighborhoods would engage in this process.

The reason why more people do not engage in the CIP process, because most people do not know what the CIP is and they certainly do not know that the City is deciding the fate of these projects in their neighborhood. Some projects, like repairing City Hall elevators, will not be of interest to most people (unless you spent 40 minutes trapped in an elevator with Jackie Clarkson). Other projects are of vital importance to neighborhoods, like new equipment and improvements to your neighborhood playground, building a new fire station in your neighborhood, and major repairs to roads in your community. Neighborhoods care about these projects and would show up and provide input if they knew that these decisions were being made.

The problem is in how the City advertises and collects input on the CIP. CPC gets capital project requests and holds public hearings by the department. CPC emails a list out of different hearing dates of each department and does not give out information about the different projects that they are requesting funding for. So you may know that NORDC is holding a meeting on June 25, but you have no idea that NORDC is considering funding the park in your neighborhood. As a neighborhood, you would have to review every department’s requests to see if there are any proposals in your community. That is too much effort to expect from any neighborhood, especially considering that they do not understand this whole process.

At its last Operational Committee meeting on Tuesday, May 13, CPC announced that they were going to kick off the next round on Department Budget Hearings the week of June 23. CPC Chair Kelly Brown said that CPC has been criticized in the past for not having enough public involvement in the CIP, and that they need to do a better job this round. CPC staffer Geoff Moen said that he has been in contact with the Neighborhood Engagement (NEO) to help get the word out. I think that this is a good first step, but it is not enough.

CPC and NEO spent last summer and fall compiling a list of neighborhood association boundaries and contact information. It would not be difficult to map all of the Capital Budget request locations and contact the impacted neighborhood associations to let them know that CPC is considering a Capital Budget request in their neighborhood and let them know the request, the amount, the hearing date, and how to provide their input. In addition, CPC adopted its Neighborhood Participation Program (NPP) in summer of 2012, which call for more community engagement in all of CPC decision making processes including the CIP. The NPP specifically calls for NEO to do the following:

  • Prior to the Department’s submission of project proposals to the CPC, the City should engage the community to gather input on its priorities.
  • Issue a press release explaining the CIP process and announcing the opportunities for community engagement.
  • Create an online community engagement platform to record the community’s priorities for capital projects.

I do not think that CPC or NEO is doing any of these things (expect for maybe the second one), which are critical for getting more people involved in the decision making process. By being more proactive in engaging neighborhoods and residents in projects that they are interested in (those in their neighborhood), CPC can greater public participation in its CIP process. Currently, CPC is still getting more budget requests from the various City Departments, but they will soon announce the public hearing schedule for each department. I will be sure to announce it when the schedule becomes public, but you should be able to find more information on CPC’s website at its Calendars and Agendas and Capital Improvement Plan pages.