Bad streets among top topics on minds of N.O. residents at meeting

If residents who attended a meeting with Mayor Mitch Landrieu on Monday night have their way, the city will spend a significant amount of its 2015 budget on repairing city streets.

The issue of bad streets was a dominant one during the question-and-comment period of the first of five community discussions the mayor is hosting to discuss budget priorities for the coming year.

Several attendees carried the bright red “Fix My Streets” signs that have popped up in neighborhoods around the city.

“We don’t have a pothole; we have a sinkhole,” Algiers resident Hilda Lee said of a depression on Westchester Street.

One Algiers resident said he spends $500 a year on his cars just to repair damage they receive from city streets. Another said he has had to trim and kill the weeds growing from the cracked streets in his neighborhood.

Eric Songy, president of the Bocage Civic Association, proposed that the city reallocate its millages so that less money goes to the Audubon Nature Institute, for instance, and more to the Public Works Department.

“The streets in this city are deplorable,” Songy said.

Residents were given two minutes each to ask questions or make comments. The mayor did not give individual responses, instead offering a wrap-up at the end of the meeting.

On the matter of streets, Landrieu made no promises.

“I’m going to say some things you don’t want to hear,” he said.

Put simply, he said, the city doesn’t have enough money to repair all its streets. The focus instead is on heavily trafficked streets. It costs $7 million to repair one mile of road, he said. By comparison, the entire NORD budget is $10 million.

“The interior streets in the city are awful,” Landrieu said. “There’s no use in trying to deny that.”

Monday’s meeting at L.B. Landry High School was the first of five community discussions the mayor will hold — one in each City Council district — as part of an approach called “budgeting for outcomes.” The meetings are aimed at allowing the Landrieu administration to gather input from residents before the mayor puts together his approximately $500 million 2015 budget for presentation to the City Council.

Landrieu has held similar meetings every year since taking office in 2010.

The first meeting was co-hosted by District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey at L.B. Landry High School. Several deputy mayors and the heads of city departments were present. Michael Harrison, who was named the city’s interim police superintendent on Monday, sat with the mayor’s top advisers.

Several of the concerns expressed will be placed in the new chief’s lap.

Derrick Floyd, president of the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association, said the department’s depleted ranks aren’t a good enough excuse for not having better patrols and specifically bike patrols in his neighborhood. He urged the city to add more.

Landrieu said the Police Department is in the “process of being reformed from top to bottom.” He said he intends to “stay tight” with the St. Roch neighborhood and work with it on crime cameras and other issues.

Algiers resident Freddie Marshall said New Orleans needs more bowling alleys, skating rinks and other recreation and leisure options for young people, who he said get into trouble because they have “no opportunities to occupy our minds.”

Marshall was one of several residents who urged curbing crime by creating more jobs for young people, particularly African-American men.

Landrieu said the city has created 8,000 jobs, many of them in retail, and has hundreds more coming down the pike, particularly on construction jobs at the airport and infrastructure repair with the Sewerage & Water Board.

“I’m not saying everybody can be employed, but I’m saying we can do a much better job,” he said.

Other quality-of-life issues, such as blight, tall grass and the condition of playgrounds, were also on the minds of some residents.

The city will have to balance the requests from residents with two big bills that have come due. The city must pay for a costly federal consent decree requiring it to make improvements to the Orleans Parish Prison. The city is also on the hook for millions of dollars it owes to the New Orleans Firefighters Pension and Relief Fund.

Landrieu urged voters to support a constitutional amendment authorizing tax hikes on the Nov. 4 ballot. If the request passes both in the state and in Orleans Parish, the City Council would then be able to put up to a 10-mill increase on a local ballot to pay for public safety and fire protection.