The Louisville Metro Council passed a budget for the upcoming fiscal year that avoids previously anticipated cuts, in part due to federal reimbursements for coronavirus response.
In April, Mayor Greg Fischer proposed a continuation budget, citing economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic. More recently, city officials said tax revenue came in higher than expected. The budget passed by the council assumes a general fund of $613 million.
Both the capital and operating budgets passed 24 to 1, with Barbara Shanklin (D-2) voting against each because she said they failed to fairly allocate funds to low-income areas. The new budget goes into effect on July 1. Earlier this week, the budget committee unanimously passed its amendments to the mayor’s budget, which remained largely unchanged Thursday.
Police operations made up the largest expenditure in the operations budget, as is typical. The council appropriated $190.6 million for the Louisville Metro Police Department, up slightly from the $189.9 million the body appropriated last year.
Allocations for police and other departments come from the general fund as well as other sources.
This is despite recent calls to defund the police and redirect dollars to other agencies, which have increased amid demands for racial justice in Louisville and across the country. Neither council members nor Fischer support such a move.
As Metro Council gaveled into session, WFPL News spoke with protesters advocating for racial justice across the street in Jefferson Square Park.
Gracie Lewis with the Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said she would like to see funds divested from law enforcement into education, housing, transportation and health care.
“I believe in re-imagining what the police department should really be about,” Lewis said. “I do not believe $190 million needs to be allocated toward the police department.”
Social worker Shawntee West addressed the council ahead of the vote, and criticized its decision to maintain LMPD’s budget. She described council members’ previous arguments that Louisville police are already underpaid compared to neighboring municipalities’ departments as an “excuse” not to cut funding.
“But we have no problem each year defunding the services that help families and children that I serve and that I work with,” she said. “We see fit to defund substance abuse treatment programs, housing assistance, medical care, childcare and a host of other things that keep people in a vicious cycle that keeps them engaged with the very police department that you are giving millions of dollars to each year.”
Allocations for other public safety agencies also stayed nearly flat or increased. The council voted to boost Louisville Fire’s budget nearly 9% to $64.8 million; to increase emergency services’ budget nearly 4% to $51.5 million; and to maintain corrections’ budget at about $56.6 million.
Budget chair Bill Hollander (D-9) said during a Democratic Caucus meeting earlier in the day that he had received complaints about the $775,900 cut to the Louisville Free Public Library’s operations budget. The council allocated about $22.3 million to the library, which Hollander said was based on library officials’ assurances that they could operate fully on the lower budget.
“The reason it’s less is because they didn’t spend that money last year, even though they were able to operate all of our libraries,” he said. “The money that’s appropriated for the library is adequate to operate all of our libraries in the same way they were operated this year and return all of the furloughed workers to their jobs.”
The budget for Youth Transitional Services, formerly Youth Detention Services, also decreased. Last year, city officials turned over control of the juvenile detention facility to the state as they grasped for savings. The budget went from $8.5 million to $2.9 million.
Federal CARES Act reimbursements contributed to increased budgets for certain departments, such as public health and wellness, whose operations allocations swelled to nearly twice its current level. But $42.3 million of the $78.1 million appropriated by the council will come from federal funds “for COVID-19 testing, tracing, monitoring and response.”
The budget for the Office of Resilience & Community Services grew more than 22% to $37.2 million, including $2.7 million which would be reimbursed through the CARES Act. In March, the body voted to shift that amount away from pension payments to COVID-19 relief.
Budgets for the economic development department and Develop Louisville, which oversees land development activities, are also up significantly compared to last year’s allocation.
Economic development’s budget increased nearly 44%, to $35.6 million, of which $21.2 million is from the CARES Act for a small business loan program. The same amount from the CARES Act was allocated to Develop Louisville for a two-part eviction prevention program; the department’s budget nearly doubled to $41.7 million.
Federal funding also contributed to a large increase in the budget for the Office of Management and Budget. The council said a combined $25.6 million of CARES Act funding would be used for direct coronavirus response and to cover 10% of costs for city workers involved in that response.
In a statement after the vote, Fischer thanked the council for their work on the budget. He praised the budget for including funding for services that support low-income families, and said he is still hoping for additional federal relief due to the pandemic. He has called for that sort of aid for months.
“Additional funding would allow us to make more investments to move us closer to the goal we share for the future – a compassionate city where every person from every neighborhood has the opportunity to reach their full potential,” he said in the statement.
Reporter Ryan Van Velzer contributed to this story.