Wed, Oct 05, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Stricken city prepares to slash its staff

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

New Orleans officials are considering laying off as many as 3,000 employees -- nearly 40 percent of the city government's workforce -- to balance the budget. In nearby St. Bernard Parish, 120 municipal employees have already lost their jobs and the parish president is begging for federal assistance.

The proposed cutbacks and pleas for aid illustrate one legacy of the two hurricanes that lashed the Gulf Coast: With storm losses crippling the economy, municipal governments in southern Louisiana are running out of money and are now seeking federal aid to avoid bankruptcy or widespread layoffs and reductions in city services.

"We are asking for help to survive," said Henry Rodriguez, the president of St. Bernard Parish, where some 80 percent of the houses are likely to be knocked down because of damage. "We have to let our workers go. Those people that are coming back into the parish will have no services whatsoever."

Presidents of dozens of parishes hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita met with Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco at the state Capitol in Baton Rouge on Monday to determine how much money would be needed to pay for critical services to repopulate areas devastated by the storms.

Local officials say their tax base has been obliterated since the storms hit in late August and late last month. Greg Albrecht, the state's chief economist, told the legislature last week that at least 120,000 jobs would be lost because of the storm, most in the southern part of the state.

Even as businesses and residents begin to return to the New Orleans area, there is little open for regular business. In St. Bernard Parish, there are no businesses open, Rodriguez said, which completely wipes out the tax base.

Workers standing outside the New Orleans City Hall on Monday, many returning to work for the first time in more than a month, were shocked at the prospect of layoffs. Most of them had not heard of the possibility of losing their jobs.

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