Louisville Metro Council Prods Mayor’s Office Over Urban Services

Several Louisville Metro Council members aren’t happy with Mayor Greg Fischer for failing to restore previously cut urban services in his new budget proposal.

City chief financial officer Steve Rowland testified at a budget hearing Monday that the city is investing in key areas such as infrastructure and strategic planning.

Fischer had been praised for putting additional funds towards fixing the city’s roads, for instance.

But city lawmakers grilled Rowland over why the administration is not using  a projected $3.3 million surplus to bring back two rounds of street cleaning and junk pick-up in the Urban Services District that were cut during the recession.

“It’s really hard for me to understand how we continue to implement new programs and spend the taxpayer’s dollars when we can’t restore services that were in place before merger,” says Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3. “It mind boggling to think we can spend $6.4 million to upgrade side walks, roadways and especially bike lanes when we have reduced services in this city. Are we ever going to get money in this budget to restore at least one of these?”

Residents who live in the Urban Services District—the Louisville city limits before city-county merger—pay higher taxes than those who live in suburban areas or incorporated cities in order to receive those services. The initial cut to street cleaning and junk pick-up were made by former Mayor Jerry Abramson in the face an over $20 million budget shortfall, but they have not been replaced.

“Those services were reduced at a time obviously when we were going through some significant budget reductions,” Rowland told the budget committee, adding the funds have not available to restore those functions.

Council members pointed out citizens who live in the old city limits are still paying more than their county neighbors for services they aren’t getting.

Many lawmakers urged the administration to consider putting those services back and to eventually equalize fees residents pay to what the city provides regardless of their neighborhood.

“For those in the non-Urban Service District, the reality is you shouldn’t get as much because you don’t pay as much. But right now you do,” says Councilman Brent Ackerson, D-26. “We don’t have consistency across the board in services and in what we pay. And that ought to be the greater discussion when we talk about those topics.”

Council President Jim King, D-10, went further, saying the discrepancy between what urban and county residents pay and what services are received demonstrates Metro Government isn’t truly merged.

“Instead of taking a glass of water and a glass of Coke, and pouring them in the same bucket ours is like having a glass of water and a glass of Coke and putting a rubber band around them,” he says. “That’s really what we have right here in our city is two different entities. And it’s very, very difficult to function like that.”

The unfinished merger question has come out for residents outside of the urban areas as well.

Last month, the Courier-Journal reported a decade after city and county governments merged, thousands of residents still pay “significantly higher taxes on their wages” when their job is located within one of four smaller incorporated cities, which have their own occupational tax.

Rowland admitted to lawmakers there is a “disconnect” between revenues generated and the cost for city functions in the Urban Services District such as fire or sanitation.

The city CFO is scheduled to meet with the budget panel again this week to discuss the discrepancy, and the administration’s views on how to handle the matter.

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