After an intense 90-minute debate, the Louisville Metro Council Thursday night approved a measure allowing a 2 percent fee on natural gas that will likely be passed on to customers.
The fee is a major part of Mayor Greg Fischer’s budget plan to strengthen public safety and invest in youth programs. It led to intense criticism from council Republicans, the city’s business community, and concerned residents.
Several of those who addressed the council Thursday evening spoke out against the fee, saying the mayor’s plan disproportionately hits poorer residents because it exempts those living in wealthier, suburban cities.
“We don’t need any more money for police,” said Mary Touray. “What we need more is for our children. Whatever real children’s programs we can do we should do.”
“And if we’re going to do this budget you have no right to put it on poor people. Business people, not just LG&E, business should pay this price. If they need protection, let them pay it. Why should we pay it?”
The mayor had initially sought a 3 percent franchise fee that would have netted $4.8 million for a more robust police force and youth programs. But council leaders forged a compromise after a deluge of opposition poured into city officials offices.
Fischer had argued that citizens had made it clear their desire for enhanced public safety and additional investments in community centers following an outbreak of mob violence downtown this year.
The Council passed the measure by a 12-10 vote.
In a released statement, Fischer praised the council’s vote.
“This is a great day for public safety in Louisville,” he said. “The vote is a strategic investment in our city that will put more police officers on the street and increase programs for youth while benefiting our entire community. “
At 2 percent, Fischer’s office projects the fee will generate nearly $3 million that it says will go towards hiring at least 24 new police officers. Other public safety initiatives are included, and the council is expected to fill the other $1.8 million by transferring funds from capital accounts.
The mayor argued it will cost about $1 per month for average households, but Republicans countered earlier in the day that the cumulative cost for new and proposed fees since January 2013 is above $400 a year.
Many council members who sponsored the ordinance admitted being torn over how best to fund a heftier police force without putting more tax burdens to residents.
“I have been conflicted even as having discussions with the mayor over this proposal,” said Councilwoman Cindi Fowler, D-14, who voted for the ordinance. “What I hear from my constituents is gasoline is $4 a gallon, MSD has raised rates 5.5 percent and JCPS is probably going to raise their taxes on the community as well.”
A bipartisan coalition including Democrats Attica Scott, David Yates, and Brent Ackerson joined seven council Republicans to vote against the ordinance. But ultimately the Democratic majority pushed the mayor’s bill through in order to fund his new measures.
“No one, including my membership, wants to have to pay more fees to get the services that we need and want,” said FOP President David Mutchler, who lobbied in favor of the bill. “But if we must pay a minimal fee, then I can think of no more important reason than public safety.”