In The News › Attorney for waste collection firms says city has no wiggle room

Oct 19, 2010

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Orleans Parish, Taxation & Assessments

Attorney for waste collection firms says city has no wiggle room

Tuesday, October 19, 2010
By Ben Myers
CityBusiness

City Council members frequently praise Mayor Mitch Landrieu for including them in planning the city’s 2011 budget. Unlike last year, when Mayor Ray Nagin faced withering interrogation, Landrieu administration officials escaped with nary a pointed question or critique from the dais.

That harmony may explain the low-key, low-turnout edition of the mayor’s Oct. 15 budget address to the City Council. With Councilwomen Susan Guidry and Stacy Head absent, the meeting barely reached the needed quorum to commence.

Council members may have viewed it as a formal prelude to the blitz of budget hearings that starts next week. But at least two potential legal challenges related to Landrieu’s plans were in full public view, and escaped council scrutiny, before the meeting.

One popped up after Landrieu’s address at Gallier Hall Oct. 14, in which he proposed increasing monthly sanitation fees from $12 to $20 per household. It would still leave the city on the hook for a $3-per-household subsidy, something Landrieu wants to eliminate through renegotiated contracts.

The mayor praised the work of Metro Disposal and Richard’s Disposal, two of the three companies that handle city sanitation, but expressed his belief that the city is paying too much for their services. Negotiations are under way to reduce the contracts.

Landrieu said if negotiations fail, the contracts would be rebid “if the law allows me to do so.”

“I would really prefer not to do that,” Landrieu added.

Daniel Davillier, an attorney for Metro and Richard’s, issued a press release a few hours later claiming that Landrieu has no such right.

“I don’t want people in the city to think the solution is just to rebid the contracts,” Davillier said in an interview. “Certainly we don’t think that’s legally permissible.”

The second potential court battle involves the Municipal Employees’ Retirement System, which claims the city shortchanged it by about $5 million this year. The administration agrees that Nagin failed to properly fund the system but disagrees on how and when that debt can be paid.

ERS wants a plan in place in by Dec. 1 and a lump sum paid by Jan. 15.

Council members’ apparent disinterest in the topics at the Oct. 15 meeting is not to say they were completely disengaged, although only two deigned it necessary to speak. 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 Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin to explain that they will be within the scope of a mayor-appointed Tax Study Committee. Its report 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 parcels, 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, specifically asking what it will cost to claim the $2.4 million the administration says it will reap.

Kopplin’s answer: $1 million.

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

Oct 19, 2010

Source: CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Orleans Parish, Taxation & Assessments

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