LaToya Cantrell to use borrowed money, federal aid for streets, drainage, housing improvements | Local Politics

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration said Tuesday it plans to spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure in 2021, largely using borrowed money and federal government assistance.

City Hall’s general fund has taken a hit this year due to the coronavirus pandemic and is now down to $635 million, about $100 million less than last year. As a result, the administration has furloughed employees and cut services.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell unveiled on Monday a 2021 spending plan that would cut city workers’ pay by 10% through next year and slash as much as 4…

But spending on infrastructure and other capital improvements is expected to remain high. The administration plans to spend about $1.1 billion over the next five years on infrastructure, mostly funded by money borrowed in the past via bond sales and by money coming from FEMA.

In 2021, the spending includes $271 million of a $500 million bond issue that was approved last year. About $138 million of that would go toward streets and drainage. Another $118 million would go toward public buildings and equipment, and the remaining spent on housing.

Bond money is restricted to infrastructure and equipment and may not be used on day-to-day expenses such as operations and salaries. Funding from FEMA also may not be used for day-to-day expenses because it is dedicated to specific projects.

The capital budget for the coming years includes road and pipe repairs, building maintenance and improvements to parks and other properties, administration officials told a City Council budget hearing.

Among the major projects scheduled for 2021 is to start moving City Hall operations to the Municipal Auditorium, a shift that Cantrell has promoted throughout her term and on which city officials began working before the coronavirus pandemic. A City Hall consultant has said the current headquarters for municipal government needs about $167.5 million in repairs and improvements.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s plan to move New Orleans’ City Hall to Municipal Auditorium is evolving into a proposal that could see government offi…

Next year’s budget will include $16.5 million in bond money to start work around Municipal Auditorium, vacant since Hurricane Katrina. This project includes landscaping on Basin Street. FEMA has set aside $41 million for repairs on the building, which the city must spend or forfeit in the near future.

Exactly what the project will ultimately look like is still being worked out, however, as officials consider the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on how city employees can work remotely.

More concrete plans could be worked out after Thanksgiving, said Ramsey Green, deputy chief administrative officer for infrastructure.

“If you look at the greenspace around that building and the exterior space that could potentially give us more options, and that’s what people are looking for in this post-COVID world,” Councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer said.

Also up for funding next year are efforts to restore Lincoln Beach in New Orleans East, which served as a recreation area for Black New Orleanians during segregation. The site is abandoned and has fallen into disrepair in recent decades.

The spending plan will include $3 million for Lincoln Beach, up from an initial proposal of $500,000, Director of Capital Projects Vincent Smith said. The higher amount will let City Hall begin design and planning and potentially have some money left over for site work, Green said.

Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen, who represents the East, said the project would help provide activities for families, as opposed to the adult-oriented entertainmentsfor which New Orleans is sometimes known.

The capital plan also includes $150,000 for a memorial to residents who died of the coronavirus.

The $15 million in bond money for affordable housing will be divided up between nine projects that have pledged a total of 839 new units. Each of those projects will get $1.5 million, with the remaining share of the funding going toward a property acquisition fund.

Administration staff said some of the projects might require additional incentives through the city’s zoning process in order to come to fruition.

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