City’s top administrator discusses expenses incurred by the city due to the Hard Rock Hotel collapse

City’s top administrator discusses expenses incurred by the city due to the Hard Rock Hotel collapse
The ongoing presence of local public safety personnel at the Hard Rock Hotel site is costing city government hundreds of thousands per day. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The man overseeing the day-to-day operations of City Hall says city government will fight to recoup the huge amounts of money it has spent in response to the Hard Rock Hotel construction site collapse, but he does not expect the city to be reimbursed quickly.

Anyone in the vicinity of the construction site will see a strong presence by local public safety personnel, including New Orleans police officers and city firefighters.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell says the city is spending about $400,000 a day because of the incident and her chief administrative officer, Gilbert Montano, gave more insight on the impact on the budget during an interview on Tuesday in his City Hall office.

"Every time you see an officer out there I have to back-fill their position where they’re supposed to be with overtime on someone else, and we’ve had hundreds of public safety officers, both first responders, EMS crews, and police officers on site since the tragedy did occur,” Montano said.

A portion of the towering construction site along busy Canal Street collapsed on Oct. 12th and three people were killed.

Montano says personnel costs make up the bulk of the added expenses for the city.

"So right now everything’s general fund, everything is coming from our general fund,” he said.

Still, $400,000 a day for more than a week now is no pittance.

Montano said because the budget is on a sound footing and the Cantrell administration planned for possible emergencies no drastic measures are contemplated at this time.

"We are moving in the right direction as far as our financials, we've ensured that we have the fund balance or the emergency funds necessary to be able to accommodate both the personnel costs that we're dealing with, but we also have to think long-term. This is not an issue that is going to go away next week, next month, or anywhere in the near future,” he said.

New Orleans CAO Gilbert Montano discusses the impact of the hotel collapse on the city's budget
New Orleans CAO Gilbert Montano discusses the impact of the hotel collapse on the city's budget (Source: WVUE)

Montano was asked how much of the ongoing expenses the city can absorb in the short-term.

“You know, we have to prioritize public safety first and then we'll back into that. So, whatever we have to do to move around, whatever I have to do to make sure things are free, I won't ever cheat the residents and nor will the mayor on the resources needed to provide, we'll figure out a way to make it happen,” he said.

But he stressed that the city will avail itself of all options to recoup what has been spent.

"I’ve had a meeting as early as today to move forward but understandably because of the nature of this, the entirety of the situation, there’s only going to be so much insurance money and so many people going after it and trying to recoup their own costs,” Montano said. “There’s other legal methods to take thereafter which certainly we will pursue to the utmost extent but it’s important for us to know that we’re not just going to get reimbursed for any of this over the next week, month, maybe even years.”

The unexpected expenditures come as the city council prepares to examine the mayor’s proposed $722 million dollar budget for 2020.

District “E” councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen reacted to the expenses being borne by the city.

"I think that's something that I'm pretty sure the mayor is going to be looking at very seriously and try to recover that cost for the city of New Orleans, but I think right now we've got to focus on the victims that are still in the collapse,” said Nguyen.

Montano says it is critical that in the end a budget is approved that will adequately fund city government and position it to respond to future unexpected events.

“Any deviation or discussion not to provide some of those resources that we’ve requested could seriously affect and jeopardize future events, or even this current event and I’m not saying that as a scare or false tense narrative, but it’s certainly a reality that we have to prepare for the unexpected here,” he said.

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