Sheriff: ’13 budget not enough

Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman on Monday told the City Council he needs $14 million more than the city wants to give him in 2013 in order to operate his department next year.

During the first day of their second week of budget hearings, council members peppered Gusman with questions about his proposed budget because some said he provided too few details to make a decision about his funding for next year. The council will vote later this month on Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s proposed $491.4 million 2013 budget.

While the number of inmates in his custody is down and he has closed several jail buildings, rising costs for food, medical care, maintenance and the end of employee furloughs forced him to ask for $37.1 million while the city wants to give him $22.4 million, Gusman told the council.

“Proper funding of the city’s jail cannot be ignored any longer,” Gusman said.

Later in the hearing, Councilwoman Stacy Head said she had concerns about Gusman’s prepared budget documents and the information they included.

“The ultimate goal for me as a council member is to understand what dollar figure does it take to provide a quality parish prison,” Head told Gusman. “I need to know specifics.”

Gusman promised each council member who questioned him about detailed information that he could soon provide it.

As the council waits for those details, one point of contention that does not appear to be close to a resolution is the per diem system the city has with the Sheriff’s Office.

While the council, administration and Gusman each said they’d like to see the per diem system changed to a flat rate that would be paid out monthly, the only way that could happen would be if the city and Sheriff’s Office go to a federal judge to amend a years-old consent decree that set the rate at $22.39 per inmate per day, but Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin said the actual cost is about $32 a day when other operational costs are factored in.

Each side painted the other as the roadblock to doing away with the per diem system.

Gusman said giving him his proposed $37 million would kill the need for a per diem. Kopplin said the city simply cannot afford that figure because its own operating budget will be about $5 million less next year because of rising costs associated with pensions, insurance, workers compensation and the New Orleans Police Department consent decree.

“We want to have a budget that is based on real-life spending, not the number of people we keep in jail,” Gusman told the council, noting that the average number of inmates in 2012 was about 1,900, compared to 6,200 pre-Hurricane Katrina.

“The problem is while both of us want to get rid of the per diem, the sheriff wants $15 million to do that,” Kopplin said after the meeting.

In regard to his proposed $37 million figure, Gusman said it is a one-time request for such a massive increase as his office prepares to close a series of existing buildings as new facilities under construction come on line in the coming months.

When those new buildings are in operation, he said, redundant costs will be cut, and some expenses will altogether disappear.

“Twenty-thirteen is going to be a transitional year,” Gusman said.

As the sheriff’s office prepares to enter a new federal consent decree because of alleged civil rights violations, attorney Katie Schwartzmann, who represents the Southern Poverty Law center, one of the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit against Gusman, asked the council to consider the sheriff’s office’s past.

“Simply put, the jail is out of control,” she said before asking the council to consider what the city has previously received for its money.