Politics

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is proposing a $822 million budget with heavy investments in public safety, roads and city owned capital.

Fischer presented his budget to the Louisville Metro Council Thursday afternoon. The council will begin examining the budget in the coming weeks. A final vote is set for June 23.

The 2016-2017 budget will divvy out more than $580 million in general funding. About 80 percent of that money is generated through property and occupational taxes. The rest comes from permit fees, service charges and other revenue sources.

Fischer said his budget “strikes a critical balance” by investing in immediate needs, like road improvements, and allocating funds for initiatives considered vital for future growth.

“This budget anticipates our needs and it builds on our success,” he said.

And council members are already looking forward picking apart the 219-page budget document.

Councilwoman Angela Leet, a Republican representing District 7 and co-chair of the council’s budget committee, said, “There will be a lot of questions and a lot of analysis.”

Public Safety

Fischer is proposing 58 percent of the city’s budget for the coming fiscal year be spent on public safety initiatives.

One of Fischer’s top goals is to reduce crime across the city by three percent. In recent months, however, crime has spiked.

Violent crime — notably shootings and homicides — are surging this year, according to police data. Police are reporting nearly 40 percent more shootings than last year, which ended with the most homicides in nearly four decades.

Property crime is also up this year compared to previous years.

To combat these issues, Fischer is seeking to boost the city’s police force by about 40 officers. He’s also looking to spend about $640,000 on overtime for police officers and he’s seeking approval to invest $300,000 for more cameras across the city.

Other public safety investments include a $12 million allocation for new police cars, fire trucks, ambulances, snow plows and garbage trucks.

Councilman David James, a Democrat representing District 6, has long been calling for stronger investments in the city’s police department.

James said he’s pleased with Fischer’s initial proposal. Still, he said combating crime takes more than just police. He said he fears Fischer is underfunding community centers and summer jobs programs for young people.

“But I think we’re moving in the right direction,” James said.

Roads

Fischer is proposing a $23.5 million investment to improve the city’s street and sidewalk infrastructure. Council members in recent months have bemoaned the city’s lack of investment in such areas.

Public Works officials estimate a near $112 million road paving deficit. When sidewalks and bridges are included, the deficit balloons to nearly $300 million.

Councilwoman Angela Leet said the council’s top priority is improving the city’s streets and sidewalks. And though she said Fischer’s proposal appears to be a mesh of the city’s needs and wants, she questioned if the proposed budget will meet the goal for infrastructure repair funding.

Leet said the city needs to spend at least $15 million on roads alone to avoid growing the deficit. She’s concerned the $23.5 million proposed for infrastructure repair will fall short of the need because it’s not all committed to road improvements.

“To get to a number where we can start to chip away on our road situation, we need to be at $23 million for road paving,” she said.

She expects council members will take a critical look at Fischer’s proposal for infrastructure repair.  “We’re going to be paying a great deal of attention to that,” Leet said.

Affordable Housing

Fischer is proposing a $2.5 million investment in the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

The allocation falls short of housing advocates plea for a $5 million investment, but councilman Bill Hollander, a staunch supporter of the trust fund, said he’s pleased with Fischer’s proposal, but not satisfied.

“The need is much greater than $2.5 million, but it’s a good down payment,” he said.

Since the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund’s inception in 2008, it’s helped finance the construction or rehabilitation of about 40 affordable housing units. Housing advocates say there is a need for nearly 60,000 affordable housing units.

To boost the annual allotment for the trust fund, Fischer suggested the council approve a one percent Louisville Gas and Electric franchise fee, which could generate about $2.5 million annually.

Other Proposals

Some of Fischer’s other proposed investments include more than $6 million for new computers and software for city government. He said such an investment is required to keep the city’s services “operating effectively.”

He’s also looking to spend $4 million for repairs to Slugger Field; $1 million for Louisville Zoo repairs; $1 million for efforts to reduce the city’s stock of vacant and abandoned properties; $950,000 for planning the next phase of Waterfront Park; $650,000 for the design of a Northeast Regional Library and $500,000 for an expansion of The Healing Place.

Council president David Yates, a Democrat representing District 25, said Fischer’s budget will likely be changed before it’s approved by the council. He didn’t specify what changes could be expected.

Yates said the city’s infrastructure needs far outweigh the budget supply, but the council will examine the proposal in the coming weeks to gauge the desires of each council member.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said.

He said combating crime takes more than adding police officers. He said it requires multifaceted efforts, including community support and providing opportunities for young people. Yates expressed little support for a one percent gas tax, which Fischer suggested as a means to generate support for the city’s affordable housing trust fund.

“I’ve always voted against the franchise fee,” Yates said.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a Republican representing District 11 and chair of the council’s minority GOP caucus, said it’s unclear even if a franchise fee could generate the revenue Fischer claims.

“It’s a non-starter to plan on using funds that we aren’t sure we can generate,” he said.
Kramer said the current fee’s structure comes as a burden on the city’s poorest residents, which he called “completely unacceptable.”

This story has been updated. 

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.