Metro Council members in the Metro Council chamber
Louisville Metro Council | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

Metro Council’s budget committee unanimously passed on Thursday evening an amended version of Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed operating and capital budgets for the next fiscal year. Most notably, the committee added $1.4 million of spending to restore library services and cut nearly $1.3 million by transferring the city’s services for incarcerated youth to the state by the end of the year.

While most of the cuts and appropriations in the mayor’s budget proposal remain intact, the amended budget advanced by the committee would also add funding to repair and reopen two of the city’s four outdoor pools next summer, restore weekly recycling and yard waste pickups, and maintain most of the discretionary funds doled out by individual council members to groups and projects in their districts.

This amended budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 must now be passed by the full Metro Council at its meeting on Tuesday for it to go into effect. This would end a contentious budget process that was kicked off by Fischer’s warning in February that the city would have to undergo $35 million worth of cuts and layoffs next year without new tax revenue, mostly blaming escalating pension costs mandated by the state.

Following the council’s 11-15 vote in March rejecting a proposal to raise $20 million in new tax revenue, Fischer proposed a budget on April 25 that cut services across city departments by $25.5 million, including 88 layoffs of city workers and 224 positions lost through attrition.

In dozens of special budget committee meetings over the past two months questioning department leaders and taking comments from the public, council members significantly focused on ways to minimize the budget’s impact on library branches — two of which were to be closed, along with operating hours significantly cut and nearly 90 position eliminated — and the closure of all four of the city’s outdoor pools.

The amendments to the operating budget passed on Thursday added the largest amount of funding to the Louisville Free Public Library, increasing its appropriations by $1 million to restore the regular operating hours of its 14 neighborhood branches, plus another $412,500 to reopen the Middletown branch that was just forced to close this week.

While the city’s four outdoor pools would remain closed throughout this summer, the amended operating budget includes $200,000 to reopen the Algonquin and Sun Valley pools in the summer of 2020. The amended capital budget included $400,000 to repair those two pools and $800,000 in bonding to convert the Camp Taylor and Fairdale pools into splash parks.

The amended budget also restored $318,000 of funding to Public Works to avoid moving the weekly recycling and yard waste pickup services to every other week, plus another $417,700 to increase mowing along roads maintained by the state and city. However, an additional $238,333 was cut to eliminate wet-dry recycling services in the Central Business District.

While Fischer’s budget called for significant cuts to the discretionary funds that each council member is able to distribute to organizations, nonprofits and projects in their districts, the amended budget restored $520,000 of those cuts.

The mayor’s budget cut each member’s annual Neighborhood Development Fund total to $45,000 from $75,000, but the council’s amended version raised this to $65,000, in addition to restoring $5,000 of proposed cuts to each member’s operating budgets, which amounts to an additional $130,000 of funding.

The amended budget would also restore $333,200 of funding to the Louisville Metro Police Department to allow a new recruiting class to begin a month earlier next year and increase recruit allowance, while the capital budget adds $5 million in bonding for a project to relocate LMPD’s headquarters.

The biggest item on the chopping block in the amended budget is Youth Detention Services, as the city’s services for incarcerated and at-risk youth would be transferred to the state by the end of this year.

The amended budget states that ending this service would save the city $1,287,632, with those additional savings to be directed toward continuing the city’s $400,000 contract with Shotspotter, technology that alerts the police to potential gunfire in certain high-crime areas.

Ending Youth Detention Services could not only lead to the layoff of over 100 city employees, but create a situation in which incarcerated youth are transferred out of the Jefferson County and away from their families, as the nearest state facility — which is currently full — is located in Fayette County, while others are even further away.

The amended budget includes language stating that the council encourages the mayor to establish an agreement with the state to take over these youth services by the end of the year and “requests that efforts are made to have the (state) operate such a facility in or near Louisville.”

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, and Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, the chair and vice chair of the budget committee
Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, and Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, the chair and vice chair of the budget committee. | Photo by Jeremy Chisenhall

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9 — the budget committee chairman who sponsored the failed ordinance that would have increased taxes on types of insurance premiums to minimize the cuts needed in this budget — told Insider Louisville after the meeting that the city has no way to force the state to provide those services for at-risk youth within the county.

“There’s this sort of facility in Fayette County and we certainly hope there would be this sort of facility in Jefferson County as well,” said Hollander. “We are the only county in the state that provides its own facility.”

Hollander said the testimony of a grandmother at a public hearing on the budget in May has stuck with him, who urged the council not to turn these services over to the state because she is able to frequently visit her grandchild and doesn’t know that she will be able to do that if the state takes over.

“There are costs to all these cuts,” said Hollander. “The costs will be much less if the state continues to have a facility in Jefferson County, and I hope they do… It’s a very expensive program to run for the county and under our current conditions we didn’t think we could.”

Another department that faced a significant additional cut in the amended budget is the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, which is losing an additional $1 million in funding for contractual services and personnel. This includes the closing of three of the city’s four Red Dots sites to prevent violence, which employ “interrupters” who embed themselves in certain high-crime areas and interact with those at the highest risk of committing violence.

The city’s economic development department would also be cut by an additional $302,100 to reduce personnel costs, while the Office of Performance Improvement would lose an additional $283,000 to reduce personnel, training and certifications.

Hollander and Councilman Kevin Kramer — the budget committee vice chairman — both defended the increase in council members’ discretionary funds, noting that external funding to nonprofits were significantly cut in this year’s budget compared to previous years and these funds are often directed toward infrastructure projects.

“To suggest somehow that an increase in Neighborhood Development Funds means a reduction in services is not accurate,” said Kramer. “It’s dangerous to talk about those as if that’s some kind of benefit to the council member. That’s a fund used to provide services.”

Hollander said that he was confident that the council would pass a final version of the budget that Mayor Fischer would sign into law, even though his administration may not agree with all of the amendments.

“I’m not going to tell you they like everything in the budget… I don’t like everything in the budget, either,” said Hollander, who noted that he pushed for restoring the library hours and weekly waste pickups. “I think the amendment that we made is good for the community. We tried to reduce the impact of these reductions on citizens as much as possible and I hope we’ve done that.”

However, Hollander noted that reducing these impacts will only get more difficult in future years, as the city’s pension costs are set to increase by roughly $10 million each year for the foreseeable future.

“We will be looking at the budget next year, too, and some of the things that people might say we were able to save this year may be back on the chopping block next year,” said Hollander. “But we’ll do the best we can next year and the year after that and the year after that.”

Kramer — who along with six other Republican members and eight Democrats voted against the proposal for new tax revenue — said that he believes there are “opportunities for further savings and opportunities for additional revenues that we weren’t able to recover in this budget.”

The amended budget did not change most of the cuts proposed in Fischer’s original budget presented to the council, which reduces the number of police officers through attrition by 48, closes one fire station, eliminates all funding for the Living Room Project of Centerstone Kentucky and calls for closing and repurposing four city-owned golf courses this fall.

This story has been updated.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]