NEW ORLEANS, LA— As the state legislative session closed today, Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared victory for the City of New Orleans. Landrieu applauded the Orleans Delegation for their leadership in reforming the Sewerage and Water Board; improving the stability of the firefighters pension fund; helping save time and money in the construction of the Sewerage and Water Board power plant and the new airport with design-build and construction manager at risk (CM At Risk) legislation, respectively; protecting the taxpayers of New Orleans by preserving the $100 million in local tax funds for the Convention Center that the State had threatened to sweep; requiring the State to honor its obligation to pay for casino support services; securing priority 1 status for $15.1 million in funding for the new hospital in New Orleans East; and making common sense changes to security district elections.
“I am proud of the work we did in partnership with the Orleans Delegation this session to reform the Sewerage and Water Board and to improve the stability of the firefighters’ pension fund,” said Mayor Landrieu. “These were tough reform efforts. I especially want to thank our City Councilmembers who were extremely active in Baton Rouge this year and were critical to the successes we had.”
Mayor Landrieu traveled to Baton Rouge multiple times during the legislative session to meet with area lawmakers and state leaders about the City of New Orleans’ priorities. City Councilmembers and local board chairs also joined the effort.
City Council President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson said, "It was a great team effort on the part of the administration, council and our lobbyist. Much was accomplished, reducing the cost to city government with increasing the efficiency of operations."
District C Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said, "I am encouraged that state officials recognized the need to continue ferry service and passed Senate Bill 215. It is very important that as a city, region and state we continue to plan for and invest in sustainable transportation options, especially those modes of transportation that support our residents who need it most."
District D Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell said, "I commend our state legislators for their hard work this session. The highlights for me were bills to ensure pay equality for state employees and improve mental health care for juveniles in New Orleans. The New Orleans delegation did a great job of representing us."
Landrieu added, “I want to thank Rep. Helena Moreno and the City Council’s entire Criminal Justice Committee for working with us to try to right size Juvenile Court so that we could invest more funding in juvenile services. While this legislation did not pass, I look forward to working with the Judicial Commission in the coming year so that we can make meaningful change in the next session.”
Below is a summary of key legislative victories that were part of the City’s agenda.
SEWERAGE AND WATER BOARD REFORM
Senate Bill 47 by Sen. J.P. Morrell creates a smaller, more professional Sewerage and Water Board—going from 13 to 11 members, reducing terms from 9 to 4 years, with a limit of two consecutive terms, and requiring a majority of members to have expertise in a pertinent field such as engineering, business administration, finance/accounting, architecture, urban planning, environmental quality, consumer/community advocacy, law, construction management, public health, and other pertinent fields. The bill also ensures that all Council districts are represented on the Board. The bill creates a nominating committee comprised of representatives from local universities and economic development and business organizations that would nominate three individuals for each seat. 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.
“We proposed major governance reforms for Sewerage and Water Board that will improve the operations and oversight of a key agency, and I want to thank to Sen. J.P. Morrell and Rep. Walt Leger for leading the effort,” said Landrieu. “Just like we did with the Public Belt and NORDC, this governance reform package will now go to the City Council and then the people of New Orleans for an important City Charter change. These reforms are critical as we rebuild trust in the S&WB and rebuild the S&WB infrastructure that is so essential to our city’s future.”
“I’m proud to have worked closely with my colleagues and the City to produce tough reforms for one of city’s most vital institutions,” said Senator Morrell. “These good government modifications modernize agency governance, vastly increasing public accountability and transparency while enabling the board to act more effectively and efficiently. I believe this measure will increase public confidence in the agency and make it more responsive to the needs of all New Orleanians.”
Speaker Pro Tempore Leger said, "With this historic overhaul of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, our Legislative Delegation has modernized the structure of our Board, improved the appointment process, and created more transparency and accountability. These important steps will pave the way toward improved service and infrastructure in the future, and turns the page of history to a new day for this important Board and for the City of New Orleans."
FIREFIGHTER PENSION REFORM
A major legislative priority for the City was to address unsustainable cost pressures from the New Orleans Firefighters' Pension and Relief Fund which threaten to undermine both the City’s budget and the promises it has made to its firefighters and retirees.
The legislature approved a package of bills aimed at reforming the firefighter pension board and improving the sustainability of the system.
The package increases employee contributions from six percent to ten percent. This is more in line with other systems, including the New Orleans Police Department. In addition, all active firefighters, regardless of years of service, will continue to contribute this set rate of their salary. Currently, firefighters with more than 20 years of service do not contribute anything toward their retirement. The bills also change the formula used to calculate retirees’ monthly benefit. The final average retirement compensation will be based on their highest five consecutive years of employment, rather than three years.
Though a bill calling for local control of the board did not pass, the package made modest changes to the pension board and makeup, including reducing the number of total board members from ten to seven, which will create a better balance between current and retired firefighters and City representatives.
“I want to thank Rep. Pearson for working with us on this important issue. The bills passed were a step in the right direction and make the system more sustainable. However, these modest reforms do not solve the problem and there is certainly more work to be done," said Mayor Landrieu.
Rep. Kevin Pearson said, "The New Orleans Firefighter pension system has long needed reform and I think this is a good first step toward firefighter pension reform in the City of New Orleans."
DESIGN-BUILD FOR S&WB POWER PLANT
The Sewerage and Water Board received an extension to use the design-build process through House Bill 559 by Rep. Jared Brossett. This extension will allow work to continue quickly on key projects including, the rebuilding of the S&WB power plant, and also extends the use of the design-build method for school construction by the Orleans Parish School Board and Recovery School District.
“This was essential to rebuilding of the ailing S&WB power plant which powers our water, sewerage and drainage systems,” said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.
State Representative Jared Brossett said, "With the passage of HB 559 that I carried through the Legislature, I'm glad the City of New Orleans can finally move forward with the restoration of the Sewerage and Water Board power plant. This infrastructure project will be one of the largest in our city's history and is important to our future. In addition, the last of our remaining Katrina damaged schools will be restored and will benefit from the design-build method."
“We have depended on design-build in our recovery, so we wouldn’t miss opportunities to leverage money,” said City Council President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, who gave key testimony on behalf of the bill in Baton Rouge.
ELECTION AND ADMINISTRATIVE COSTS FOR SECURITY/TAXING DISTRICTS
The City will save hundreds of thousands of dollars through HB 500 by Rep. Helena Moreno. The bill changes 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 requires 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.
Rep. Moreno said, "HB 500 streamlines the election process for security and taxing districts so that they are timely included on tax bills and prevent additional costs of printing a second bill. I am pleased that this legislation will correct a situation that has been costing the City significantly."
CASINO SUPPORT SERVICES
The City was able to establish a stable and sustainable method 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. If signed into law by the Governor, HB 320 by Rep. Walt Leger provides a long term, sustainable means for the State to honor its obligation so the City no longer has to haggle each year for this reimbursement in the State budget.
Rep. Leger said, "Once again, we have sent a reasonable, thoughtful bill to the Governor's desk. The Casino Support Services Contract is an obligation of the State to the City of New Orleans, and this instrument sets out a measured approach to ensuring that the State meets its obligation each and every year. Harrah's Casino in New Orleans generates significant revenue for the State of Louisiana, and is able to do so because of the investments that the City of New Orleans makes in supplying police, fire and other public safety and sanitation expenditures for the benefit of the State. While we applaud the legislature's wisdom in including the full amount of the State obligation to the City in the Fiscal Year 2014 budget, we hope the Governor will do the right thing and sign HB 320 into law this year, and put this issue behind us once and for all."
PROTECTING LOCAL TAXPAYER FUNDS
When the Governor proposed his budget, it included taking $100 million from the Convention Center capital funds, all of which were obtained from a local hotel/motel and restaurant taxes, for the State's General Fund. The Orleans Delegation, led by Speaker Pro Tempore Walt Leger, was united in ensuring this did not happen.
"The effect would have been devastating to New Orleans," said Mayor Landrieu. "Local hotel/motel tax dollars generated in New Orleans ought to remain in New Orleans. Rep. Leger led our delegation in protecting these local taxpayer dollars.”
The City will be able to streamline the design and construction process for the City’s new airport terminal project through SB 65 by Senator Ed Murray. The bill authorizes the New Orleans Aviation Board to use the construction manager at risk method, which places liability for cost overruns and time delays on the prime contractor. This will allow for the airport upgrades to be made in a timely and cost effective manner.
Senator Ed Murray said, “New Orleans deserves a world-class airport. This bill ensures that the project moves forward on time and on budget.”
CAPITAL OUTLAY PROJECTS
As it has been in the past, the City’s number one capital outlay priority was funding for the redevelopment of a full-service hospital in New Orleans East. Significant new funding was secured last session through the capital outlay process, bringing the total to $15.13 million. This year, that funding was moved to a Priority 1 status, which is a better classification because it is cash rather than lending authority.