Politics

A last-minute forage for funds will bolster the city’s surplus spending plan.

Hours before the Louisville Metro Council convened Thursday evening for its regular meeting, Republican Councilman Kelly Downard said he secured an additional $2.8 million for the surplus coffers.

The funds come from an untapped appropriation for road salt and excess Quality Charity Care Trust funds, which are allotted for indigent care at University of Louisville Hospital. The extra funds pushed the total surplus to more than $12 million.

The final plan — approved by a 25-1 vote — will allot about $7.8 million for capital projects, namely road and sidewalk repair. Nearly $2 million of those funds will be specifically set aside for paving neighborhood roads.

Also included in the spending plan will be a $500,000 allocation to help drug recovery facility The Healing Place expand its downtown location and $400,000 for the city’s SummerWorks youth employment program.

Other appropriations include $1 million for an expansion of the St. Matthews library, $500,000 for a Louisville Metro Police division roof repair, and $350,000 for the Louisville Urban League’s Project Rebound housing rehabilitation program.

The additional funds from Downard’s effort allowed a repair effort at the Louisville Zoo to be boosted from $250,000 to $500,000. The funds also allowed the initial road repair allotment to be boosted from about $5 million to the final $7.8 million.

The 14-11 vote to approve Downard’s proposal came after more than an hour of intense debate among council members. At issue for many was the source of the excess funding.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat who represents District 9 and chairs the council’s Democratic caucus, blasted the proposal but ultimately voted in favor of the final plan.

“I thought it was a bad business decision to take money and spend it based on a projection,” he said following the final vote.

Hollander said taking money from the city’s road salt coffers is premature, pointing to past snow events occurring in late March.

And, he said, using funds allotted for the Quality Charity Care Trust fund, which is filled by the city, is irresponsible. He said the excess funds are a result of success from Kynect, the state’s health care exchange currently “under attack” by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. The governor has proposed eliminating the exchange.

Councilman Brent Ackerson, a Democrat who represents District 26, called Hollander’s concerns “asinine.”

“To hold up other dollars that are out there, we shouldn’t,” Ackerson said.

Councilwoman Angela Leet, a Republican from District 7, praised Downard’s proposal as “good business.”

“Even if we have a snow event, we have a stockpile [of salt],” she said.

The city budgeted more than $2.3 million for road salt this year, but a relatively mellow winter led to about $1.3 million being spent for the ice-melting product, Downard said.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a Republican from District 11, said taking advantage of the excess funds from the city’s road salt budget and the Quality Charity Care Trust fund would be a proactive step for the council to take regarding road repair needs.

The city currently faces a nearly $112 million road deficit, according to information provided by the city’s Public Works department.

How to spend the surplus brought lengthy discussions during budget committee meetings in the weeks leading up to Thursday’s vote. Two conflicting proposals were initially introduced by council Democrats.

Ackerson wanted to send the entire surplus to capital infrastructure repair to fix roads in need. He repeatedly cautioned his colleagues that if the road repair deficit is neglected, the city would be in “a world of hurt financially later as a city.”

Alternatively, Councilwoman Marianne Butler’s initial proposal, which had support from Mayor Greg Fischer, would have sent the bulk of surplus funds to road repair, but it included some funding for social programming, such as The Healing Place, SummerWorks and housing rehab program OneWest — which eventually lost its allocation to the Urban League’s housing program.

The amendment to effectively mesh the two proposals came from Hollander during last week’s budget committee meeting.

Council members will begin the regular budget allocation process in the coming months.

In a statement after the vote, Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said the mayor would review the council’s spending plan.

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