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New Orleans replaces fired workers with computers
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AFP) Oct 16, 2005
After sacking half its workers, the city of New Orleans sent out word this weekend that people should do business with the city by computer.

"Due to a reduction in personnel in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the city of New Orleans is now requiring the use of online services," Audrey Rodeman of the mayor's office said in a written release.

People should tend to taxes, fees, permits, licenses and other city matters via the Internet at the city's website, according to Rodeman.

A computer linked to the Internet will be accessible at City Hall in New Orelans for limited hours on weekdays, officials said.

Final paychecks were issued Friday to thousands of New Orleans city workers laid off in the wake of ruinous hurricanes.

"In addition, all employees who are part of the layoff are asked to turn in any city property immediately, including cell phones, cars and fuel cards," Mayor Ray Nagin said in a message posted on the city website.

Aftershocks from hurricanes Katrina and Rita continued to cripple New Orleans, which was limping back to life.

While bars, restaurants and other businesses were gradually being reopened in the mostly desolate metropolis, most of the residents were still gone and the once-bustling streets were deserted.

The only signs of the city's past vibrance have been in the famed nightlife zone Bourbon Street, where tavern owners on Friday pressured Nagin into trimming curfew hours to allow them to keep parties going until 2 am.

The absence of businesses and residents stripped the city of its tax base, prompting Nagin to lay off some 3,000 "non-essential" city workers, about half of the New Orleans workforce.

"As we look toward a brighter future for our beloved city, we are faced with difficult decisions," Nagin said in a written release.

"We sought funding from every possible public and private source, but unfortunately, we did not receive enough to meet all our needs."

Police, fire and emergency medical personnel remain on the payrolls, with US federal funds paying the bill for overtime.

Nagin expected the cutbacks will save the city between five million and eight million dollars a month.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has urged President George W. Bush to modify federal rules to allow federal aid to pay the wages of local government employees in communities whose tax bases have been wiped out by the storms.

She has also asked Bush to give Louisiana businesses priority in hiring and contracting for the reconstruction effort.

Bush has responded by saying the burden of rebuilding should fall to the private sector.

At least 1,270 people were killed by Katrina when it ripped through the southern United States on August 29, including 1,035 in Louisiana, the hardest-hit state.

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