Louisville Metro Council will finalize the 2023 fiscal year budget later this month. Before then, they’ll hold one last public hearing on the spending plan this week.
The $1.3 billion budget, which starts July 1, includes $25 million in additional funding for the Louisville Metro Police Department to fund officer raises and the expanded use of surveillance technology.
Also in the budget is $412,000 to expand hours and youth programming at community centers throughout Jefferson County, as well as $3 million to expand access to the Evolve 502 college scholarship program for public school students.
Mayor Greg Fischer presented his recommended budget to Metro Council last month. Amid two year of record-breaking levels of gun violence, Fischer said public safety was his top funding priority.
“Nothing else matters if our people are not safe and able to live and work comfortably throughout our city,” he said in April.
Metro Council is currently holding meetings with every city department, asking officials to justify their budget requests. They’re expected to vote on amendments to Fischer’s budget proposal on June 16.
Anyone interested in speaking at Thursday’s public hearing will have to sign up on Metro Council’s website Wednesday afternoon, between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. An online feedback form will also be available on the website through Friday.
Policing and public safety dominated public comment at Metro Council’s last hearing on May 18.
A number of residents showed up to speak in favor of funding for Louisville Metro’s Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods, or OSHN. The office, which uses community-based programs to curb gun violence and provide resources to victims, is expected to get nearly $3 million in additional funding compared to last year.
Aaron Williams, a small business owner in the Russell neighborhood, told Metro Council that he began serving on one of OSHN’s community mobilization teams after a close friend was shot and killed.
“OSHN has shown us that community mobilization is essential to long-term and sustainable change in our neighborhoods,” Williams said during the hearing. “We need this funding to help save lives and give our residents peace of mind to know that they are safe in their homes.”
Other residents voiced concerns about potential budget cuts for public safety organizations.
Elizabeth Wessels-Martin, CEO of the Center for Women and Families, told Metro Council at the time that some positions within her organization are at risk of being cut, including a children’s advocate and a crisis response advocate. She said Fischer’s recommended budget cut funding for those positions by around 60%.
“We now have nine domestic violence-related homicides this year, and in the entire year of 2021 we had 10,” Wessels-Martin said. “Unfortunately, I think we can all see where this is headed. I can’t even imagine how we will do the work with less staff.”
The Center for Women and Families is the only local service provider for victims of domestic violence in Jefferson County.
During the May 18 meeting, activists also spoke out about what they see as an unjustified expansion of the police department budget. Members of the 490 Project, a grassroots organization focused on police accountability and reform in Louisville, asked Metro Council to divert funding from policing toward social services. They say doing so would address the root causes of crime.
Rebecca Frederick, a District 9 resident, called on the Council to cut funding for LMPD’s growing use of surveillance technology, such as license plate readers and the gunshot detection system ShotSpotter.
“I came prepared tonight with a list of things for you to invest this money into instead of LMPD, but I think it’s pretty clear that the community already has plenty of services,” she said. “They are begging you for this money right here and they beg you for it every year.”
Despite calls last year for Metro Council to “defund the police,” they approved a budget that increased funding for the city’s public safety agencies. The Council is expected to take a final vote on the budget on June 23.