Economy Politics

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer sees pending cuts to the city’s budget as a series of potential trade-offs.

He said as much last week, at a press conference discussing proposed changes to offset a $35 million gap driven by rising employee pension and health care costs. One of his proposals was to reevaluate the contract for public safety tool ShotSpotter.

“What’s my trade-off? ShotSpotter costs $400,000 a year. For $400,000 a year we can have five police officers. So do you want ShotSpotter? Or do you want to reduce five police officers?” he said.

That money could also cover costs for a community center or an immunization clinic, he added.

“As we go through the entire process, these are the kind of decisions that we’re being forced to make,” Fischer said.

But with the Kentucky Derby around the corner and the details of next year’s budget unclear, there is additional scrutiny this year of Fischer’s entertaining bill, which records show has already topped $121,000.

Thirty-two Skye Terrace tickets for the Oaks and Derby ($76,042.60) and three nights of 10 deluxe king rooms at the Omni Hotel ($39,103.99) are the biggest expenditures so far this year.

Last year, Fischer’s administration spent $109,000 on the same number of tickets, as well as hotel rooms at the Omni, a photographer and gifts for guests.

Fischer’s spending on entertaining economic development prospects and other guests over Derby weekend has been a point of criticism for several years, particularly because his office does not disclose the full guest list. The Metro Council recently tried but failed to pass a measure that would force him to release the guest list.

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, the chief of the city’s economic development agency, Louisville Forward, said in an emailed statement that the funds used for entertaining were allocated and approved by the Council last summer.

“It is important, now more than ever, to invest in revenue-producing activities like Derby and other economic development work because it helps grow our economy and ultimately our tax base,” she said.

Wiederwohl added that no decision was yet made for funding this type of entertaining next year, “but everything is on the table.”

To get a better sense of what $121,000 means to Louisville’s general fund budget, which is $626 million this year, WFPL examined cuts of similar amounts that the mayor proposed in February. That was before he introduced a tax plan that ultimately failed to gain support in the Council.

Fischer listed 13 areas where cuts would be in the $100,000 to $200,000 range. They are:

  • Cutting 18 Parks and Recreation positions through attrition: $100,000
  • Eliminating support to Center for Neighborhoods: $100,000
  • Reducing support for the SummerWorks program: $100,000
  • Cutting two Human Resources positions through attrition: $100,000
  • Reducing support to the Kentucky Science Center: $100,000
  • Eliminating three suburban street sweeping cycles: $102,000
  • Cutting Louisville Metro Public Health & Wellness’ immunization program: $115,000
  • Reducing security and custodial services, and fewer new materials available at the new Northeast Regional Library: $125,500
  • Cutting two Office of Performance Improvement positions through layoffs and attrition: $130,000
  • Cutting one Economic Development position through attrition: $146,300
  • Eliminating Suburban Fire equipment for activities such as dive team and trench rescue: $162,000
  • Cutting funding for Office of Performance Improvement employee professional development training: $170,000
  • Closing four of the city’s 17 community centers: $180,000

Fischer will present a budget including the $35 million in cuts to Metro Council on April 25. Council members will have two months to work on and pass a budget ahead of the start of the next fiscal year on July 1.

At last week’s press conference, Fischer said the final cuts may not exactly match the February proposal, but “in broad strokes, it’ll be very similar.”

Top Heavy?

Some have suggested that cuts should focus on Fischer’s office, and the highest-paid city employees in any department, rather than front-line workers.

“If you’re going to make some cuts, I’ve seen more jobs added in the administrative side … and more people cut from the front line, where we really need the workers at,” said Robert Brown, who said he works at Youth Detention Services, at a public budget hearing in late February.

That came weeks after Fischer released his proposed cuts, including a $1 million reduction in the budget of the Mayor’s Office, Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Internal Audit in the next fiscal year. That would translate to cutting 15 jobs through layoffs and attrition, his proposal said.

Fischer’s office has 22 employees, whose average salary is about $76,633.89, according to data the city makes available online. Their annual salaries combined are about $1.7 million. His annual pay is $124,113.08. The highest-paid member of his staff is deputy mayor Ellen Hesen, whose salary is $145,532.40.

Salaries for the seven internal audit employees equal about $495,000, while those of the nine Office of Management and Budget staff top $905,000.

In nearby Lexington, which is also dealing with increased pension costs, senior city government staff will take an unpaid 12-day furlough, while the mayor has committed to paying back her portion because she cannot be furloughed.

A spokeswoman for Louisville Forward, Caitlin Bowling, said Fischer’s office is working to lessen the impact of the budget cuts on Louisville’s most vulnerable. She did not say whether furloughs or similar measures were under consideration.

“We’re just not prepared to talk about specifics of the budget at this point,” she said.

As city officials continue to seek savings in the budget, some proposals — such as a wage freeze for union workers —have failed.

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.