Economy

Metro Council members grasping for funds in the face of steep cuts have proposed turning over control of Youth Detention Services to the state for nearly $1.3 million in savings.

The move comes as council members attempt to minimize the cuts they would have to endure in terms of the funds they spend in their neighborhoods as well as to operate their offices.

The 11 members of the budget committee unanimously approved amended version’s of the operating and capital budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. Their amendments undid some of Mayor Greg Fischer’s proposals for cuts from earlier this year and cutting in other areas.

The full Metro Council will vote Tuesday, June 25, on the revised budget before sending it to Fischer.

The amended budget maintains funding for Youth Detention Services through the end of the year. After that, budget committee members want the state to take over, but what that would mean for the children in the downtown facility was not immediately clear.

Committee chairman Bill Hollander (D-9) specified that Metro Council intends to turn the function of Youth Detention Services over to the state. That’s a move Fischer backed away from in his formal budget proposal this spring, after suggesting it earlier in the year.

Any left over funds realized from this shift would be used to pay for ShotSpotter, a high-tech gunshot detection system used in neighborhoods west and south of downtown. It costs $400,000 a year, according to Fischer, who said that money could be used for police officers or a community center instead. Police officials tout the value of the technology, while some experts say it does not produce enough tangible benefits.

But the potential closing of the downtown facility and moving children outside the county would “be a great burden on the parents,” Endora Davis, assistant director of Youth Detention Services, told WFPL in March.

“We need to do it because our budget depends on it,” said Councilwoman Cindi Fowler (D-14).

She was a part of the bipartisan group of 15 council members who voted down a proposed increase to the the insurance premium tax this spring to fill a budget hole the mayor initially said would be $35 million in the coming fiscal year. In fact, the budget he presented to council in late April sought a bit more than $25 million in cuts. Fischer blames the gap on rising health care costs, and increased pension costs due to new projections from the state.

City officials say that gap will increase for years to come.

Fischer tweeted after Thursday’s votes that his team would review the changes and looked forward to next week’s action.

The projected savings from shifting responsibility for Youth Detention Services  to the state and other large cuts to departments including the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods and Economic Development could prevent some anticipated changes.

That includes maintaining current library hours and creating an opportunity for preserving the Middletown library, keeping weekly yard waste and recycling while eliminating wet-dry recycling in the Central Business District and reopening and funding maintenance of the Sun Valley and Algonquin pools in the summer of 2020.

The proposal also beefs up the funds council members spend on projects in their districts as well as their office’s operating budgets, compared to the mayor’s proposal. While Fischer wanted Neighborhood Development Funds to drop by $30,000 per district, the budget committee’s amendment only cuts $10,000 per district. The amendment also calls for increasing overall council offices’ operations spending by $130,000.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.