Officials told the New Orleans Revenue Estimating Conference last week that the city collected $397.7 million in recurring general fund revenue in 2008 while spending $496.1 million.

The city avoided a shortfall with the assistance of $47 million in federal and state loans earmarked for hurricane recovery efforts, $25 million in one-time transfers into the general fund, and $26 million carried over from 2007.

New Orleans operates on a calendar fiscal year.

Assistant chief administrative officer Cary Grant said property tax collections in the first quarter totaled $55.6 million, down from $63.6 million over the same period in 2008. Sales tax collections totaled $22.4 million, down about $500,000 from 2008.

Grant said interest on city funds is down due to low rates being paid by banks. He said interest income totaled $736,000 in the first quarter, which is down almost 33% from 2008’s first quarter.

New Orleans was not able to sell about $80 million of bonds in 2008, Grant said, which further reduced the income on city investments.

Officials hope to issue up to $135 million of general obligation bonds to finance ongoing recovery efforts in 2009, along with a refinancing of a $171 million taxable pension bond issue from 2000. New Orleans has approximately $524 million of outstanding GO debt.

City economist Jerome Lomba said New Orleans generated $9.8 million in sales tax revenues from retail sales in 2008, almost 8% lower than expected. He said hotel tax revenue for 2008 met expectations thanks to a strong first half.

Standard & Poor’s recently increased its underlying rating on the city’s GOs to BBB from BB. Fitch Ratings earlier raised its rating on the city’s tax-secured GO bonds to BBB from BBB-minus. Moody’s Investors Service affirmed its Baa3 rating on the city’s GO debt in March.

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