By Valerie Robinson
Mayor Mitch Landrieu fielded questions from Algiers and other District C residents for about an hour on Aug. 17, then fired back answers to those gathered to provide input into the 2012 City of New Orleans budget.
Landrieu touted the accomplishments of the past year: 28,000 potholes filled, seven miles of roads paved in District C, 735 blighted properties demolished, 3,600 inspections completed, 17 teen summer camps and 12 swimming pools open. He said he knows these numbers because everything is tracked in order to provide a more efficient manner of accomplishing goals.
"I am proud of our accomplishments, but we have a long way to go," he said, as he explained that he wants to improve both customer service and the delivery of service to the consumer.
District C Councilmember Kristin Palmer and Councilmember-at-Large Jackie Clarkson, both from Algiers, attended the meeting along with Mayor's Office staff and representatives from assorted city agencies, who offered one-on-one counsel prior to the meeting.
Constituent comments ran the gamut from street lights that need repair, catch basins that need to be cleaned and potholes waiting to be filled to questions about ethics and transparency in government.
By far, the largest number of complaints came from homeowners in areas where the streets are in what was described as "deplorable" condition...places such as Behrman Heights, Somerset Drive, Old Behrman Highway and Gen. Meyer Avenue. But one resident said she just wants a street of some kind in the Elmwood subdivision off the Old Behrman Highway. This area was developed without paved streets or drainage several years ago.
Transportation was also a common theme, whether it was bike paths, better access roads or ferry service, which is subsidized by the tolls on the Crescent City Connection and set to expire in 2012. The mayor explained that he is in favor of the keeping the tolls because it is a dedicated source of funding to maintain the bridge and keep the Canal Street and the Algiers ferry operating. Landrieu and many attendees in the room agreed that pedestrian tolls could offset the deficit on the ferry.
"The impact of the global economy is that within 5, 10 to 15 years, our economy will get smaller. Government will be forced to get smaller too. As the federal and state governments contract, at the local level we will have to be smaller, leaner, faster and more efficient," he said. "If we want to keep moving forward, we will need to find other ways to pay for it."
Connie Burks, representing Friends of the Ferry, suggested integrating the ferry service into the Regional Transit Authority system so that it connects to other modes of transportation. Although neither the ferry nor the RTA is operated by the City of New Orleans, having such discussions brings the city closer to a solution, Landrieu said.
And solutions are what he hopes are the outcome of the meetings he is holding in each councilmanic district prior to the presentation of the budget to the city council in October.
"We need your help finding solutions to the problems the city faces," Landrieu said. "We want your input into how we spend your money, because at the end of the day, you are going to hold us accountable.