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ADVOCATE: Guest column, Landrieu budget shortchanges police

BY RON FAUCHEUX AUG 17, 2017 - 10:30 AM

Government is such a bureaucratic maze, it’s difficult for citizens to follow their tax dollars. The City of New Orleans recently proposed its 2018 budget. It’s worth a look.

In the current city elections, we’re hearing a lot about crime. Proposals have been made to hire additional police officers, raise pay, boost recruitment and retention, increase neighborhood patrols, cut response time and strengthen investigations. These are all vital initiatives to make New Orleans safer. 

To get this done, police protection must be moved up on the priority list of city spending. There is certainly much public support to do that — especially if the money can be found without raising taxes. As I’ve recently shown in this column, that can be done.

Unfortunately, the new budget falls short.

For next year, the proposed budget increases general fund spending from $622.1 million to $647.4 million, an addition of $25.3 million. How much of that extra $25.3 million will go to the police department? The answer is astounding: only $1.9 million. That’s right. A mere 7.5 percent of increased city spending for next year is budgeted for police protection. Other departments will get 92.5 percent of the additional revenue. 

A woman told police she was robbed at gunpoint in the Upper 9th Ward Wednesday afternoon, an…

Surely, competing budget items that are squeezing out the NOPD have valid purposes — EMS, Youth Study Center, equipment maintenance, IT upgrades and aligning firefighter pensions with the recent millage hike. But should they consume almost all of the new money, especially at a time when the police department badly needs strengthening?

There are always plenty of ways for government to spend money, usually more than there are dollars available to spend. That’s why priorities must be carefully set. While the city budget is slated to increase by 4 percent next year, NOPD funding will increase by only 1.3 percent. At the same time, City Hall’s administrative overhead will gobble up more of the general fund: The mayor’s and chief administrative officer’s budgets will both rise 8 percent, the Finance Department’s will jump 15 percent and “miscellaneous” expenses will go up 5 percent. 

In the 2017 budget, 24 percent of the city’s general fund goes to the police department (not counting the costs of the federal consent decree). Next year, it slips to 23.4 percent. Looking at total city expenditures — which include state and federal funds, special revenues and grants — the NOPD’s share drops from 16.2 percent to 15.3 percent.

Even though the NOPD receives more money than any other department, its portion of rising city spending needs to reflect the critical importance of police protection to public safety. Reducing crime and violence is either the top priority for these new dollars, or it’s not. The budget is proof of the pudding. While the city administration says it’s going to increase police pay and hire 150 new officers — positive advances, to be sure, even though they’re too little and too late — these new budget numbers make clear that the next administration will be stuck paying much of the tab. That’s why the mayoral candidates need to have clear ideas on how to fund more effective law enforcement. 

A man was shot in the thigh during a robbery attempt in the 8500 block of North Interstate 1…

In fairness to the current administration, it was successful in cleaning up the fiscal mess left seven years ago by the previous administration, erasing a $97 million structural deficit and stabilizing city finances. Those moves saved city government from financial ruin, and there is now has a reserve fund of over $60 million to show for it. 

Looking to the future, the next administration must continue to pursue fiscally responsible policies and should use the recently released “Forward New Orleans” platform on city finances as a guide. In addition, the next mayor must confront the harsh reality of crime — which not only takes and ruins lives but threatens the local economy’s ability to attract jobs and businesses. This will require commitment, focus and the right priorities.

The city’s 2018 budget book says, “Crime is the number one concern and should be a top priority.” I wish it had said, “Crime is the number one concern and is the top priority.”

Ron Faucheux is a writer, pollster and nonpartisan political analyst. He publishes LunchtimePolitics.com, a daily newsletter that covers polling trends, and is president of Clarus Research Group. 

Read the original article here.

Sharree Walls