Politics

Funding requests from some Louisville groups working to support young people are being reduced or ignored in Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposed spending plan, and they say it’s hurting their ability to address spiking violence in the city.

Fischer presented his annual budget to the city’s 26-member Metro Council last week. And this week, the council’s budget committee began a public hearing process on the $822 million proposal.

Nearly three dozen representatives from community non-profits took to the microphone Wednesday evening to call for a piece of Fischer’s proposed $5.1 million pool of external agency funds, which are set aside to help groups providing a public service.

Representatives from the Plymouth Community Renewal Center in Russell, Big Brother Big Sisters of Kentuckiana and Project One, a non-profit focused on youth job placement, said Fischer’s proposal falls short.

Their requests come in a year shaping up to be the city’s most violent in recent history. Police report up to 40 percent more shootings this year compared with last year, which ended with the city’s highest homicide count in nearly four decades.

Fischer said he’s investing heavily in public safety. He’s looking to add officers, buy new cruisers and add more cameras across the city.

But some are concerned his proposed spending plan for youth programming, widely considered a key element in reducing violence, is falling short.

Through the end of April, Metro Police reported 150 shootings in the city. More than half of the victims are under 25 years old, according to police data.

Thomas Johnson is the vice chair of the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kentuckiana board of directors. He said Fischer is proposing a 40 percent cut in the group’s funding, which would reduce its program capacity “at a time when we need it most.”

“You cannot turn the TV news on these days without seeing some type of tragedy involving one of Louisville’s children,” he said.

Johnson said the group works to provide role models for young people. He said its work is “directly tied tied to the mayor’s plan” for the coming fiscal year, with goals of reducing crime by 3 percent and boosting educational attainment.

Johnson said the group submitted four requests for a total of $70,000. The group is set to receive $21,500 in the current proposal.

Other Youth Non-Profits Left Out

Funding recommendations for community non-profits are made by a panel of six appointees — three from Fischer and three from Metro Council President David Yates.

“The mayor accepts those recommendations without any changes,” said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Fischer’s office.

When asked if there is concern the proposed spending plan underfunds youth programming, Poynter said “unfortunately, there are a limited number of dollars.”

“The mayor relies on the grant committee to carefully consider each request and determine which groups are awarded these competitive grants,” he said.

There were no funding recommendations made for Project One, a group focused on providing young people with employment skills, and the Plymouth Community Renewal Center in Russell, which provides tutoring for younger residents and job programs for teens.

Markham French, executive director of the 99-year-old Plymouth Community Renewal Center, said his group made two requests for a total of $30,000.

French said the center’s summer tutoring program is beyond capacity with young people from West Louisville. Its teen employment service provides participants with a stipend for projects lasting up to 38 weeks and tracks their progress until they’re 18 years old, he said.

“Their projects impact 150 children and adults,” he said.

Charles King is founder of Project One, a 31-year-old non-profit focused on getting teens employed. He said the group looks to prevent academic and economic failure among disadvantaged youth.

King said Project One works specifically with teens who are 13 to 15 years old. The group’s work serves as a segue to the city’s much heralded SummerWorks program, to which Fischer is proposing a $600,000 allocation.

“We must do more to keep our kids safe, in school and living a productive life outside of trouble,” King said. “We want to be included in the Metro budget.”

King said Project One requested $45,000. He said staff at Project One are volunteers.

“We don’t have the money to pay them,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, a Democrat who represents District 3 in West Louisville, is pushing against the Mayor’s proposal and advocating for Project One and groups like it.

“I’d like Louisville Metro to start investing in people, not so much in clay and mortar,” she said. “We have to invest in children. Our youth are our most precious asset.”

Councilman David James, a Democrat in District 6, which includes Old Louisville, last week criticized Fischer’s spending proposal for neglecting community centers and youth programming.

James, a former police officer, said he’s pleased with Fischer’s push to invest more in police and public safety initiatives, but he’s stressed engaging young people is also a key to reducing violence in the city.

Councilman Kevin Kramer, a Republican from District 11 and chair of the council’s minority caucus, said it’s not uncommon for the council to add funds to external agencies.

“The real balance is to take a look at what are agencies doing that are fundamental to what we, as a city, need to have happen, and then making sure we are funding those agencies,” he said.

Councilman Bill Hollander, a Democrat from District 9 in Crescent Hill and Clifton, and chair of the majority caucus, agreed.

“To add to what’s been recommended seems perfectly appropriate to me if the council sees it as something we need to do,” he said.

The council is set to cast final votes on the budget during its June 23 meeting.

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