Despite concerns about an impending recession, the Louisville Metro Council unanimously passed a budget for next fiscal year that includes more spending on roads, public parks and youth programming.
The $1.3 billion spending plan approved Thursday night is the largest annual budget in the nearly two-decade history of Louisville’s merged city-county government. It’s substantially similar to the recommended budget presented by Mayor Greg Fischer back in April and has a heavy focus on public safety.
District 7 Council Member Paula McCraney, a Democrat, voted in favor of the spending plan, which includes $100,000 for homeless outreach in downtown Louisville and $220,000 for outreach in underserved areas, particularly those outside the Watterson Expressway. And council members tripled the budget for Goodwill Industries of Kentucky’s Another Way program, which provides a meal and $50 stipend to houseless residents in exchange for a day’s work.
McCraney said the budget is a reflection of the city’s top concerns.
“I often say to people, ‘If you show me your checkbook, I can tell you what your priorities are,’” McCraney said. “If you look closely at the budget you will recognize that we really took care of infrastructure, we care about safety, we care about the homeless and we care about the future indebtedness of this community.”
The Louisville Metro Police Department’s budget will increase by about $25 million, to reach $210 million. Funding for the city’s Group Violence Intervention program will hold steady at $500,000. Most of the larger police budget will go to paying for raises negotiated last year and expanding surveillance technology.
This is the second year in a row that Louisville officials bucked calls from some activist groups to reallocate police spending to social services.
The budget also includes new investments in Louisville’s youngest residents through a $3 million matching grant for the Evolve502 program, which funds scholarships to cover two-year college degrees or workforce training for some public school students. More than $400,000 will help expand hours and programming at the city’s community centers.
The city’s 2023 budget goes into effect on July 1st, and will be complemented by more than $300 million in federal COVID-19 relief city officials have disbursed over the past year. The most recent allocation of American Rescue Plan Act money, totaling about $80 million, was aimed at neighborhood-level projects such as library renovations, park improvements and increasing access to affordable child care.
After meeting with members of the public and city department heads, Metro Council’s Budget Committee made some tweaks to Fischer’s proposed budget on Tuesday, mostly focused on boosting public amenities:
- $33 million for road repaving and sidewalk repair, compared to Fischer’s $22 million
- $500,000 for traffic-calming measures
- $1 million for improvements to Jefferson Memorial Forest
- $350,000 to replace the roof at the Iroquois Amphitheater
Metro Council’s plan for increased spending was offset by slashing some newly proposed city employee and contractor positions, instead of relying on additional borrowing.
District 17 Council Member Markus Winkler, who leads the majority Democratic Caucus, said that, combined with the federal pandemic relief allocations, the city is poised to make “historic investments.”
“I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done here,” Winkler said. “I think we’ve done it in a very fiscally responsible way, keeping an eye toward future spending.”
The upcoming budget includes a line urging city departments heads to delay spending on new programs or positions until December, when the city’s — and the country’s — financial outlook might be clearer.
Some Republican council members, including District 19’s Anthony Piagentini, voiced concerns about inflation, the increasing cost of labor and a potential economic recession. Officials with Louisville’s Office of Management and Budget said last month those factors could contribute to budget shortfalls nearing $100 million in the coming years.
“We’re going to have to find more money,” said Metro’s Finance Director Monica Harmon in May. “It’s just that simple.”
Piagentini, who heads Metro Council’s Republican Caucus, reiterated his concerns in the days leading up to the final budget vote, saying the country is in “very precarious, funky financial times.” But on Thursday, Piagentini said some of his concerns were alleviated.
“I made no bones about my concerns of the future liability of this city and potential deficits,” he said. “I think we made some reasonable moves in protecting against ongoing annual costs [while] making record investments in infrastructure and deferred maintenance.”
If the city’s revenue growth slows, or the cost of doing business increases dramatically, Metro Council may consider budget cuts during mid-fiscal year adjustments in December.