Does Mayor Greg Fischer’s Proposed Capital Budget Stiff Louisville’s East End?

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s 2014-15 budget proposal has $63.7 million slated for capital spending, a 60 percent increase compared to last year.

But some Metro Council members are crying foul over the lack of funding for needed projects in the city’s East End, which has experienced the greatest  population growth in recent years.

The mayor’s proposed expenditures include $1 million to redevelop Ninth Street, another $500,000 for a dozen electric TARC buses, and $581,000 in Slugger Field renovations.

The mayor’s office has also touted $10 million upgrading Metro Parks, community centers and other city-owned buildings. 

In a May 4 e-mail, council Republicans submitted a “wish list” to Budget Committee Chair Marianne Butler, D-15, outlining $3.1 million worth of projects across their mostly east Louisville districts.

But the nine-member caucus says none of those were included in Fischer’s proposal introduced Thursday.

“Fact of the matter is the 300,000 people east of Bowman Field do not exist in terms of what the mayor thinks about,”  says Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19. “So it’s clear that the only interest he has in those 300,000 people is paying new taxes such as the local option sales tax he wanted to pass and now the LG&E fee.”

The oversight could result in budget battle as the council begins its month-long budget hearings this week.

‘We Should Matter’

Among the projects Republicans want funded are $250,000 in improvements for Robison Park, $800,000 for a Southpointe Commons development and $36,000 to connect a thoroughfare in Jeffersontown to the Louisville Loop.

Those allocations also include $50,000 in renovations towards the historic Locust Grove farm site, which covers a large swatch of Republican Councilman Kelly Downard’s district.

Carol Ely is executive director of the non-profit overseeing the property. She says the 200-year-old home requires a lot of maintenance, but the home of Louisville’s founder, George Rogers Clark, should matter as much as preservation in the city’s urban core.

“We understand the city has a lot of needs,” she says. “And in no way to slight the needs of people who live downtown, West End, or South End; we understand that there’s a need for culture, history and strong communities.

“However, I would make the case that the stories Locust Grove embodies are the entire history of Louisville that belong to the whole city deserves some support. We still have a case to make that we should matter to the rest of the city.”

Almost half of the mayor’s capital budget comes from federal and state government sources, such as Community Development Block Grant Program funds. Some of those require that the funds be spent in certain urban areas in the city.

“They have to remember every year not every district is going to get a big project,” says Butler, the budget committee chair. “We’ve done work throughout the East End, but you can’t get them every year.”

A spokesman in the mayor’s office tells WFPL they never received a priority outlining needed GOP capital projects.

Butler says the Republican wish list arrived after initial budget talks with Fischer’s office began, but that she is open to funding projects in those districts through the course of their hearings.

“In the past I’ve never sent something like this on to the administration,” she says. “And typically we also get it well in advance because we started working with the administration back in February. It came May 1.”

But an April 28 e-mail shows Butler solicited the entire council asking about capital projects to provide to the mayor’s office.

“Colleagues I sent you an e-mail asking about capital projects can you please send me the list by May 4,” Butler asked in the e-mail. “Please include any capital projects in Metro you are interested in the administration is considering a small bond there may be some additional room for a projects.”

Fischer’s Office Defends East End Investments

About $30 million of Fischer’s capital spending is coming from city coffers mostly through notes and bonds Metro Government is borrowing in debt.

Of that $4.5 million is being spent on site-specific projects such as a new regional library in the Okolona neighborhood, improvements to the Belvedere downtown, and Metro Park maintenance.

The remaining $25 million will benefit the entire city, according to mayoral spokesman Chris Poynter. As much as $12.7 million will be spent in short-term notes to buy snow plows, police vehicles and EMS equipment.

These are the proposed site-specific projects in the mayor’s spending plan, from information sent by the Republican caucus:

Asked why no East End projects were among those site development projects, Poynter says the mayor’s office makes major investments in that part of the city annually.

“I can tell you one major one that you don’t physically see in here, but is a major investment that we make every year in the East End is the Ford Plant factory,” he says. “That’s $8 million per year that goes from city government dollars to keep that plant open.

“We reached a big agreement with Ford Motor Company to keep them in town. That’s a major investment this makes every year. You don’t see it in the capital budget, but it’s $8 million in tax money.”

That’s an unsatisfactory explanation for many GOP council members, including Miller, who is running for the state legislature this year.

He says Fischer’s budget reflects a larger thinking that East End residents only matter in terms of tax revenue.

“If I’m fortunate enough to be elected this fall to state representative, I don’t really want to hear the mayor complain about how little tax revenue that Louisville gets back from Frankfort because frankly my constituents feel the same way about him,” he says.

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