Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer has released a $1.3 billion proposed budget for the coming year that he said is focused on increasing resources for public safety agencies and youth programming, as well as long-term investments in new facilities and attractions.
Fischer presented his budget plan for fiscal year 2023, which begins July 1, to Metro Council Thursday afternoon. It was the final budget address for the term-limited mayor who has led the city for more than a decade. Metro Council will debate and make changes to the proposed spending plan over the coming months.
During his budget address, Fischer said ensuring residents feel safe and reestablishing trust between police and the community is the “first and primary focus” of his proposal. Louisville has seen two consecutive years of record-breaking homicides, and there are no signs of slowing, Fischer said.
“For the upcoming fiscal year, I’m comfortable that we’ve proposed a reasonable budget that both responds to today’s needs and continues to position Louisville and its great people for success,” he said.
Fischer’s proposed budget increases funding for the Louisville Metro Police Department from $185 million last year to around $210 million, bucking calls from some activists to reallocate police dollars to social services. That figure includes funding for three LMPD recruit classes, and $6 million to acquire land and design a new police training facility in Jefferson County. The funding is part of a three-year plan to increase LMPD staffing by about 150 officers by 2025.
The budget also includes $3.7 million to expand the camera monitoring system at the city’s troubled downtown jail and increase the number of body scanners there. Fischer said the investments could help prevent more deaths and overdoses at the facility. Since November, eight people have died in custody.
Under the proposal, funding would continue at current levels for Louisville Metro Emergency Service’s 911 deflection pilot program, which provides a social service response to some mental health crises rather than sending a police officer. Funding for the city’s Group Violence Intervention initiative would also hold steady at around $500,000.
“This budget really puts together a comprehensive approach toward public safety,” Fischer said in a briefing for the press Thursday morning. “So, it’s not just law enforcement, it’s also the non-law enforcement aspects of intervention, prevention, community programs, education.”
New investments in Louisville’s young residents through a $3 million matching grant for the Evolve502 scholarship program, which funds scholarships to cover two-year college degrees or workforce training, are in the budget, too. So is more than $400,000 toward expanding hours and programming at the city’s community centers, on top of existing plans to spend $8.5 million in federal COVID relief on youth resources for 10- to 24-year-olds.
“Public safety also means giving our kids a safe place to be,” Fischer said.
Louisville Metro’s $715 million general fund, which is funded by tax dollars and used to finance the city’s day-to-day operations, makes up more than half its overall budget. Another $343 million is tied up in what’s called the capital budget. That is funded mostly through grants and borrowing for longer-term projects and expenses, like renovating or expanding city buildings and public parks.
The general fund budget grew by $57 million compared to last year, mainly due to increases in revenue from property and payroll taxes. But much of the new funding was eaten up by salary increases for employees and inflation in the prices of goods and services.
Many unionized city workers, including Metro Corrections employees and emergency services workers, received an 8% pay raise earlier this year. Despite that, Fischer said the city continues to struggle with hiring and retaining employees, with some departments’ vacancy rates reaching nearly 25%.
The proposed budget includes funding for a variety of capital projects, like the Louisville Zoo’s planned Kentucky Trails exhibit, Waterfront Park’s westward expansion and a new research complex in downtown for the University of Louisville’s Envirome Institute.
There’s also $1.4 million in the budget for a new burn building for the fire department. Some of those capital projects are being funded in the form of matching grants, meaning the organizations will have to come up with a similar amount of money through private donors.
With an eye to the future, Fischer said his proposed budget would set aside $10 million for the city’s “rainy day fund” and another $15 million to cover any unanticipated budget shortfalls. The city has received more than $500 million in federal aid during the pandemic, and he said having money in the bank will help provide stability when those funds run out.
Metro Council responds
After Fischer’s final budget address Thursday afternoon, Metro Council went into recess while some members held a press conference in City Hall to give their immediate reactions, though they hadn’t read the budget proposal yet.
District 17 Council Member Markus Winkler, who heads the Democratic Caucus, said the increase in revenue coming into the city’s coffers was a testament to the resilience of the local economy. He also praised Fischer for including funding for an LMPD training facility.
“I believe, and I also think others on Council believe, that those investments are critical to getting us back up to full strength where we need to be, attracting officers, and letting them know that we are making the investments that show we have their back,” Winkler said.
Republican Caucus leader Anthony Piagentini, who represents District 19 in far east Louisville, said he appreciated Fischer’s focus on infrastructure investments. He warned, however, that he would be looking to ensure the money is spread out across Jefferson County.
“This is a big city,” Piagentini said. “We need to make sure that each area, particularly the areas of growth, are being supported.”
Many of the council members who attended the press conference refused to criticize the proposed budget, saying they had yet to see the full document, which was released while Fischer spoke.
District 26 Democrat Brent Ackerson, however, chastised Fischer for what he saw as breaking a 2016 promise to residents to bring the city’s roads up to an “above average” rating. The proposed 2023 budget keeps funding for road paving steady at $22 million. Ackerson, who wasn’t present at the press conference, released a statement calling for that to be increased.
“It’s a shame to see our Mayor break a promise like this as he’s headed out the door,” he said. “It will be even more shameful if my Metro Council colleagues do not restore this important funding.”
Council will hold roughly 30 meetings on the recommended budget over the next two months. During that time, every city department head will appear before the Council to justify their budget requests.
That will kick off on May 9, when staff from the Office of Management and Budget will give an overview of Fischer’s proposal. There will also be two public hearings — on May 18 and June 2 — where residents can give their opinions on the budget. Details for participation are available here.
Metro Council will take a final vote on the budget on June 23.
This story was updated to include reaction from Metro Council members.