In The News › Analysis: Mayor’s budget proposal falls on friendly council ears, so far

Oct 15, 2010

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Orleans Parish

Analysis: Mayor’s budget proposal falls on friendly council ears, so far

Friday, October 15, 2010
By Ben Myers

City Council members frequently praise the Landrieu administration for including them in planning for the mayor’s 2011 budget proposal. That harmony may explain this year’s low-key, low-turnout edition of the mayor’s budget address to City Council, which occurred today in Council chambers.

Unlike last year, when Mayor Ray Nagin faced withering interrogation, administration officials escaped with nary a pointed question or critique from the dais.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu spoke for only a few minutes before turning over the details to his leadership team. And they mostly reiterated the key points of Landrieu’s budget speech Thursday at Gallier Hall, a higher-profile event well attended by the who’s who of the city’s civic elite.

Today’s formality, by contrast, barely achieved a quorum of City Council members — Councilwomen Stacy Head and Susan Guidry were absent.

That’s not to say today’s meeting was insignificant, or that council members in attendance were disengaged. Questions from Councilman Arnie Fielkow and Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson elicited a few more details in the administration’s thinking.

Clarkson wondered about the city’s tax-exempt properties, which prompted Kopplin to explain that this will be within the scope of a mayor-appointed Tax Study Committee, which Landrieu announced in Thursday’s address. A report from the committee is due June 1.

Fielkow said all tax-exempt statuses should be reviewed. The city is home to 13,725 tax-exempt parcels, about 9 percent of its total, according to Assessor Erroll Williams’ office.

Fielkow asked for elaboration on a proposal to add sales tax auditors to crack down on delinquent business owners. Attention paid to this proposal paled compared to increased property taxes and sanitation fees, possibly because there is no controversy in claiming money that rightfully belongs to the city.

But even that requires an investment and Fielkow wanted clarity on what it will cost to claim the $2.4 million the administration says it will reap. Answer: That net reward comes with an investment of $1 million, said Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.

Sales tax collection has been “identified as an area of weakness” in city government, said Bureau of Governmental Research CEO Janet Howard. An upcoming BGR report on city contracts shows that Nagin, before he left office, invested $225,000 in 115 additional audits. That resulted in an additional $2.1 million, Howard said.

Fielkow pursued a similar question during a broader conversation about tax collection at the Revenue Estimating Conference, which occurred Thursday after Landrieu’s speech. Landrieu, Kopplin and Fielkow’s querying of the city’s chief economist, Jerome Lomba, prompted Lomba to focus on what the city receives in return for its tax collection efforts.

For example, the city keeps only 11.5 percent of the hotel-motel taxes that it collects.

“We are basically sharing our stream, as dedicated by law previously, with other entities,” Fielkow said. “We the city, though, still bear all the expenses of collection.”

Lomba’s data shows that the city will collect more than $8.5 million in tax collection fees charged to other governmental entities, but he could not say whether that amount is adequate to cover costs.

“We need to know that,” Landrieu said.

Oct 15, 2010

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Orleans Parish

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