Thu June 5, 2014
Council GOP Highlight Rising Cost of Louisville Taxes, Fees
Louisville Metro Council Republicans rallied this morning against Democratic Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed ordinance to add a fee to LG&E’s natural gas rates.
The mayor had proposed a 3 percent fee that would be applied to some resident's utility bills in order to pay for more public safety in response to downtown violence. The proposal comes up for a vote at tonight's Metro Council meeting.
But after a large number of residents voiced opposition to the ordinance, a 12-member council coalition announced Wednesday that a 2 percent compromise is in the works.
That isn’t good enough for at least nine lawmakers who plan to vote against the bill tonight. They are lobbying others to join them.
Republicans argue the cumulative cost of taxes and fees on residents is far more than the $2 a month Fischer's office outlines.
"This year we have a four percent increase in revenue," Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, said at a press conference Thursday morning. "That’s over $18 million in new revenue and we have a mayor who is telling us ‘oh, it’s just a cup of coffee, you can afford this."
"The same mayor who told us ‘oh, just don’t go out to eat once a month, you can afford this.’ At some point I don’t believe that people can afford this," Kramer said.
GOP lawmakers provided a chart showing that since 2013 the average Louisville household has been asked to pay over $400 in additional state and local taxes and fees.
The GOP analysis compiles fee increases by the Metropolitan Sewer District and Louisville Water Company along with hikes in the state gas tax and Jefferson County Public school system.
It also includes proposed measures that have yet to pass, such as the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and Fischer's pitch to the state legislature for a local option sales tax.
One of the chief concerns among Democrats is the mayor's fee only applies to Metro Louisville residents and exempts those living in smaller incorporated cities.
That divide could mean residents in poorer, urban neighborhoods will pay the extra cost while those living in wealthier areas such as Prospect would not.
"There is some concern in looking at it geographically when you realize the smaller cities also have the option of their own franchise fee," said Democratic spokesman Tony Hyatt.
"There are people who are more comfortable with the two percent ability of the mayor to increase than the three," Hyatt added. "It all depends on last minute discussions as well as listening to constituents. Most people believe it will be a close vote."
Council members on both sides of the aisle have said the vast majority of phone calls and e-mails from residents are against Fischer's proposal.
The chart compiled by council Republicans shows residents have seen a $540 increase in fees and taxes over the past five years. That cumulative cost is having an effect on individuals and businesses, said Louisville resident Moser Khani, who has a chiropractor practice in the Fairdale neighborhood.
"The utility companies have already increase my bills my many folds," he said.
Khani said when he contacted Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, to voice opposition, the Democratic leader said the fee was needed to pay for more police officers to combat downtown violence.
"I told her most of the patients I see are living on minimum wage and paycheck to paycheck. I said we need to stand up for these folks," he said. "I said Fairdale is the bastard child of Metro Louisville. She just went off on me and said, 'If you don't like it move out of my district.'"
Welch could not be reached for comment.
The council meets at 6 p.m. tonight.
UPDATE 4:20 p.m.: A spokesman tells WFPL Welch said Khani should "move out" of the district after she took exception to the physician saying nothing was being developed in Fairdale.
The councilwoman was not referring to his objection to the LG&E fee, according to the spokesman.
UPDATE 4:35 p.m.: The mayor's office is pushing back against GOP claims that $18.4 million in new revenue can be used for his public safety measures.
City Chief Financial Officer Steve Rowland said Thursday afternoon those dollars are already committed to the basic rising cost of doing business such as employee health care costs, street paving, and purchasing road salt for winter.
The Fischer administration also argues--despite vocal public opposition--residents made clear after the March 22 mob violence they wanted investments in public safety and youth development.
In a chart provided to WFPL, the mayor's office broke where the new revenue is going.