NEW ORLEANS, LA—In advance of the 2013 Louisiana Legislative Session that begins next Monday, Mayor Mitch Landrieu this week outlined the City of New Orleans’ legislative agenda.
“We are focused on reform,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “Working with the entire Orleans delegation, we will support bills that reform the Sewerage & Water Board, our pension systems, and our juvenile justice system. Our team will also concentrate on attaining the resources we need from the State to deliver results for our residents and business.”
Below is a summary of key items from the City’s agenda:
SEWERAGE AND WATER BOARD REFORM
SB47, Senator J.P. Morrell
In order to compete and grow as a city, New Orleans must secure and invest in its infrastructure. Mayor Landrieu has committed to reform the operations and governance of the Sewerage and Water Board to increase performance, accountability, customer service and coordination with the City’s Department of Public Works. To coincide with rate adjustments to fund a $3.3 billion infrastructure improvement program, Mayor Landrieu and the City Council committed to governance reforms.
The proposed bill would create a smaller, more professional Sewerage and Water Board—going from 13 to 9 members, reducing terms from 9 to 4 years, with a limit of two consecutive terms, and requiring a majority of members to have real expertise in a pertinent field such as engineering, business administration, finance/accounting, architecture, environmentalism, consumer/community advocate, law or public health. This bill will be amended during session to create a nominating committee comprised of local university presidents that would help select appointees.
Like what was done for the Public Belt commission last legislative session, these structural governance changes will go to a vote of the people this fall. If approved, it will be incorporated into the City Charter.
“These reforms are critical to improving accountability at the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans,” said District 3 Senator J.P. Morrell.
FIREFIGHTER PENSION REFORM
The City needs to address unsustainable cost pressures which threaten to undermine both the City’s budget and the promises it has made to its retirees. The City negotiated with firefighters for over two years. Unfortunately, the Firefighters Pension Fund is in bad shape and threatens the City's budget. It is only 40 percent funded, has high administrative costs and has made poor investments. Adding in the debt service on pension bonds, the City is spending $50 million this year on the Firefighters Pension Fund alone. If it was a stand-alone department, the Firefighters Pension Fund would be the fifth largest spending department in the City. This reform package is about finding a way to make the system sustainable so firefighters working today can enjoy some benefit. There is a shared responsibility to make this right. The City is proposing a series of bills aimed at reforming this broken system that could save $2 million or more annually.
HB49, Representative Kevin Pearson, Chairman of House Retirement Committee
The City has had success with the municipal employees system because there was shared authority and shared responsibility. The current Firefighters Pension Board has 10 members. This bill would reduce that number to five, bringing the pension board under local control with a balance between current and retired firefighters, and a financial expert from the City.
HB50, Representative Kevin Pearson, Chairman of House Retirement Committee
This bill’s provisions would increase member contributions from six percent to ten percent. This is more in line with other systems, including the New Orleans Police Department. In addition, the City is proposing that all firefighters, regardless of years of service, continue to contribute the set rate of their salary. Currently, firefighters with more than 20 years of service do not contribute anything toward their retirement.
HB 51, Representative Kevin Pearson, Chairman of House Retirement Committee
Currently, firefighter’s final average retirement compensation is based on their highest four consecutive years of employments. This bill would increase that number to five.
HB52, Representative Kevin Pearson, Chairman of House Retirement Committee
Currently, the Firefighter’s Pension Board exists as its own board in the City of New Orleans with any changes having to be made by the Louisiana Legislature. This bill would allow the New Orleans City Council to establish a firefighter retirement system and allow the new retirement system to assume all of the assets of the current system. The City believes this would allow greater flexibility in reforming the firefighter retirement system and would match authority for decision making with the responsibility for investing and paying.
REFORMING JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
HB607, Representative Helena Moreno
The City’s criminal justice system as it stands is disjointed, expensive, lacks coordination and delivers too few results. As part of Mayor Landrieu’s plan to reform the structure of the City’s criminal justice system, the City is proposing the reduction of the number of Orleans Parish Juvenile Court judges from six to four. The money saved from personnel costs will be invested back into prevention and public safety efforts. The legislation is the result of studies conducted over recent years along with input from key stakeholders, Orleans Parish Juvenile Court (OPJC) judges and juvenile justice advocates in the city.
“Not only will we now be able to allocate more dollars and resources toward needed programs in our community, but it seems clear, that four judges can do a very effective job without a disruption of service,” said District 93 Representative Helena Moreno. “I thank the current OPJC judges for working with us through this process and look forward to their continued input.”
ELECTION AND ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS FOR SECURITY/TAXING DISTRICTS
HB 384, Representative Austin Badon
This bill would alter the election code to require that political subdivisions are responsible for their own election costs and increase the current one percent that the City of New Orleans charges for handling property tax bills and collections on behalf of other entities to, one percent or the actual cost—whichever is greater. This will ensure that the City is fairly reimbursed for its actual cost in preparing tax bills for special districts and political subdivisions.
“I am very happy to author HB 384 on behalf of my City,” said District 100 Representative Austin Badon. “I think that it’s the right thing to do in order assist the City of New Orleans operate in a fair and equitable manner.”
HB500, Representative Helena Moreno
This bill would change the election code to require that security and taxing districts hold elections no later than November in order to streamline the City’s property tax process. Were a special security or taxing district be successful in an election in December, it would require the City to send two sets of tax bills which is both a financial burden on the City and confusing for the resident or business affected.
"This legislation corrects a situation that has been costing the City hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said District 93 Representative Helena Moreno. “I much rather the City be able to spend that money on much more pressing needs than in having to send a tax bill twice."
CASINO SUPPORT SERVICES
HB 320, Representative Walt Leger
This proposed bill establishes a stable and sustainable method for the City to receive its legally obligated reimbursement from the State for the direct and indirect expenses it incurs to support Harrah’s Casino, including fire, police, EMS, and sanitation. This legislation solves the problem, once and for all, so the City and State do not have to continue to haggle each year and the City would no longer need to seek annual appropriations. Under the bill, the City recommends dedicating this $3.6 million appropriation to public safety. While this bill has passed in previous years, Governor Jindal has vetoed it.
"The State of Louisiana owes an obligation of $3.6 million a year under the terms of the Casino Support Services Contract, and this legislation will ensure that the State fulfills that obligation,” said District 91 Representative Walt Leger, Speaker Pro Tempore. “In past years we have struggled to be compensated fairly. Passage of this bill will end that struggle and provide us the resources to meet our public safety obligations more fully."
CAPITAL OUTLAY PROJECTS
New Orleans East Hospital
The City of New Orleans is requesting the rest of the funding appropriated for the planning, construction and design of the New Orleans East Hospital. The City had previously secured over $15 million in capital outlay funding for the hospital project, which broke ground in December 2012. The hospital will serve an area with more than 70,000 residents.
Airline Drive to Hoey’s Cut Canal Improvements
Funding for this project would provide canal lining, levee and flood wall construction in the Monticello Canal area. This capital outlay request is a joint, regional request with Jefferson Parish. Last year, in a joint request with Jefferson Parish, the City was able to secure $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding which will be leveraged to assist in widening the drainage culverts in the Monticello Canal to mitigate widespread neighborhood flooding in Carrollton and Uptown New Orleans. The Monticello Canal divides the Hollygrove neighborhood in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.
Airline Drive (US 61) at 17th Street Canal Drainage and Railroad Bridge Replacement
Funding for this project would provide for additional box culverts and the replacement of the railroad bridge in the Monticello Canal area. Last year, in a joint request with Jefferson Parish, the City was able to secure $1.8 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding which will be leveraged to assist in widening the drainage culverts in the Monticello Canal to mitigate widespread neighborhood flooding in Carrollton and Uptown New Orleans. The Monticello Canal divides the Hollygrove neighborhood in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish.
Earlier this week, Mayor Landrieu addressed specific items from the City's legislative agenda. The remarks as prepared for delivery are attached here.