Mayor Greg Fischer presented his budget to Metro Council on Thursday. | Photo by Joe Sonka

Mayor Greg Fischer Thursday unveiled his proposed city budget for the next fiscal year, which he said increased investments in public safety and infrastructure without layoffs — despite what he called a “challenging budget cycle” caused by a sharp increase in employee insurance and pension costs.

The $623 million general fund budget devotes 55 percent of its appropriations to what Fischer has called his No. 1 priority — public safety. The money will fund line items ranging from the Louisville Metro Police Department to violence presentation programs in the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods.

Fischer’s budget also includes $22.5 million in infrastructure spending, with more than $18 million going toward road paving and nearly $4 million for new bike lanes and sidewalk repairs. The total devoted to road paving is higher than what the mayor has proposed in recent years, as the council has wound up dramatically increasing such appropriations in their final budgets.

The budget would also allocate $10 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $2 million to Louisville CARES for the second consecutive year; that would amount to a three-year investment total of almost $30 million for workforce housing. In his budget address to Metro Council, the announcement of these appropriations for affordable housing brought forth the largest standing ovation from the audience in the council chamber.

Centerstone Kentucky’s Living Room Project, which diverts those with drug addiction or mental health issues into treatment and services instead of jail, would receive $650,000 in Fischer’s budget in order to help expand the program. However, Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, D-4, later said she would push for the full amount of $1.3 million that is needed for Centerstone’s desired expansion of the program.

In his address, Fischer said that this budget was especially challenging due to a $9.4 million increase in pension costs for city employees caused by “decades of Frankfort underfunding of our state’s pension system.” This increase likely would have been nearly $40 million higher if not for the Kentucky General Assembly overriding Gov. Matt Bevin’s veto of a bill that capped local government’s increase to 12 percent; without the override, Louisville’s pension contribution would’ve risen to 50 percent.

Fischer said his budget addressed pension costs and a 20 percent increase in employee health care costs — a $19 million impact — “through a combination of cuts and efficiencies spread across Metro agencies.” His budget was able to accomplish this, the mayor said, with “no complete eliminations of a specific service, and no layoffs.” Forty-nine positions will be eliminated through attrition.

Fischer also touted Louisville’s “economic momentum” that allowed the budget to overcome these challenges, saying that since he took office, 72,000 new private sector jobs have been created; 2,500 new businesses have opened; and the unemployment rate fell from 10.4 percent to 3.9 percent. The mayor added that since 2014, Louisville had “attracted nearly $13 billion in capital investment.”

Metro Council will now have the next two months to wade through the proposal before the 2018-2019 city budget has to be passed into law. Three public town halls on the budget will be held in May, when the council’s budget committee will also begin meetings and receive presentations from city agencies.

Below are some of the highlights of Fischer’s proposed budget:

Public Safety

In addition to funding 145 new LMPD recruits and 43 Louisville Fire Department recruits, Fischer’s proposed budget adds $2 million to expand the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods’ Cure Violence initiative. This initiative uses “interrupters” to detect, identify and treat the individuals in an area who are at the highest risk of committing violence; it treats violent crime like a public health department would combat the spread of a disease.

This is the same program that Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, the director of the Metro Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, pitched to a meeting of the Steering Committee for Action on Louisville’s Agenda (SCALA) last month, saying that the expansion of this initiative would cost $3 million.

The proposed budget also devotes $7 million to new first responder vehicles and equipment.

Although Fischer claimed in his address that his budget “provides funding to address the challenge of the LMPD headquarters” Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, later indicated that it did not, and Sexton Smith wondered if the $500,000 allocated to the maintenance of the aging and crowded city jail was adequate.

SummerWorks

The budget contains $600,000 to support the staff of SummerWorks, which last year matched 5,200 youths to job opportunities tin the private and public sectors.

Noting that most of the kids placed in SummerWorks jobs came from the city’s poorer West End, Fischer said in his address that this program “helps us address the fundamental fact that while we are one city, not everyone in our city is experiencing our prosperity to the same degree.”

Tree Canopy

The budget devotes $600,000 toward planting more trees to restore the city’s tree canopy and combat the heat island effect.

Citing the council’s passage of a tree protection ordinance last year, Fischer said such funding is “critical” because the city’s tree canopy “makes our city not only more beautiful but improves air quality and health.”

Animal Services

Fischer’s budget earmarks $6 million to complete a new animal shelter on Newburg Road.

Noting Metro Animal Services’ poor live release rate of 50 percent in 2011, the mayor said this has now improved to more than 90 percent, adding that “not one dog, not one cat in our care was euthanized to create space or because they’d been there too long” in 2017.

Track and Field Facility

The newly proposed track and field facility at the Heritage West site led by the Louisville Urban League would receive a $10 million bond to advance the $30 million project.

With the new Passport headquarters at 18th and West Broadway and the $29 million Choice Neighborhood grant from HUD for the Russell neighborhood, Fischer said these proposals represent “close to a billion dollars of investment west of Ninth Street.”

Fischer’s office also indicated that the budget would allocate $750,000 for private development in Russell related to land acquisition, mitigation of vacant property and “support for neighborhood wealth creation.” Council members later indicated that they did not know any specific details about how such proposed funds would be spent.

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]


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