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New Orleans City Council passes Entergy rate freeze

 New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the cities CAO Gilbert Montano present a 2022 to the City Council, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.
New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the cities CAO Gilbert Montano present a 2022 to the City Council, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021.

The New Orleans City Council is freezing Entergy’s rates for customers’ electricity bills for the next five months in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. The council passed the legislation on the same day it approved Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s proposed 2021 budget.

The measure regulating Entergy, which was proposed by City Councilmember Helena Moreno, will use $18 million to hold off increases on consumer bills for the next five months. The city will use that time to search for more measures to harden the current grid and keep prices low.

"I have remained laser-focused on protecting ratepayers who have already suffered enough this year," said Moreno.

Another measure Moreno introduced would create a $5 million assistance fund that will aid residents with the rising cost of natural gas.

"I believe this plan which holds electric bills steady and provides strong financial relief opportunities will give customers comfort and safe harbor from bill increases during this critical time," said Moreno.

The council also passed Mayor Cantrell’s proposed 2021 budget after the mayor spoke at length detailing the challenges faced by the administration and some of its major accomplishments.

She thanked the council for their leadership through the past four years but also directed some vitriol toward councilmember Kristin Gisleson Palmer who graded Cantrell's a ‘C’ in the Gambit's Candidate Forum. https://www.nola.com/gambit/news/the_latest/article_e3116918-320a-11ec-8951-5f9ada3f1b44.html

"I know I talk a lot, but it's very important to seize the moment and not be one of confrontation, but one of collaboration," said Cantrell

during her 26 minute long opening remarks.

The mayor’s proposed 2022 general fund budget is at $652 million. The council will have until Dec. 1 to pass a budget and has fifteen meetings scheduled next month to alter the mayor's plan if needed.

The city's budget could have had a shortfall from losses taken during the pandemic and Hurricane Ida, but an additional $155 million from the American Rescue Plan Act will allow it to operate at pre-pandemic forecasts. The city will also receive $39 million for Orleans Parish from the ARPA and expects more in the future.

The city's chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montano, called the budget conservative and optimistic. The city is expecting additional funding from the federal level but did not feel confident including any unknown payments into the plan.

The council did approve a portion of the budget Cantrell proposed for 2021, as the city received $77 million from ARPA after the original budget was passed. The council cut $23 million from the mayor’s plan, including from places like the Law Department, that the council was unsure if using funds from the ARPA was appropriate. However, the funds could be returned at the next council meeting on Nov. 4, where the administration can explain their thought process.

Administration officials said one of their main priorities for 2022 year would be infrastructure. The city has raised more than $300 from a bond sale and will use the money to fund infrastructure projects like drainage lines, stormwater management and improve public spaces.

"One of the biggest legacies that Mayor Cantrell is going to have is turning to different kinds of infrastructure," said Ramsey Green, the city's Chief Administrative Officer for Infrastructure.

Green complimented the mayor on building infrastructure with the idea the effects of climate change are already affecting the city, like "putting stormwater into our sediment, so our sidewalks don't collapse."

The city said it currently has 58 ongoing street projects, which made Councilmember Jay Banks interrupt the presentation.

"I would love to know how I go in, punish, hurt, whatever I can do to the contractors to get them off where they are," said Banks, who is looking for repairs in East Riverside.

The city responded by saying there are measures in place that allow them to discipline contractors that fail to meet their expectations, including termination of contracts. The city said they have made changes at leadership positions and have seen progress from their new measures.

"It speaks to contractor accountability which we are pushing for 100% and changing the culture that doing business with the city is not doing the city a favor," said Cantrell.

Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio

Ryan Nelsen