Metro Louisville

The leader of a Muhlenberg County town said the economic damage inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic will force city and county governments to make “impossible” budget choices.

Greenville Mayor Jan Yonts joined her Louisville counterpart, Greg Fischer, Thursday on a conference call with reporters, asking the U.S. Senate to pass a relief bill with economic aid for state and local governments.

Yonts said her county government is now operating on a $2.3 million dollar budget shortfall due to the economic damage caused by the coronavirus. She said a recent string of local drug overdose deaths, burglaries, and fatal fires show the need to maintain essential services.

“Yet, because of these budget shortfalls, we’re having to make difficult decisions about which services to cut,” Yonts said.

She pointed out that while much of the national attention has focused on the economic difficulties of large cities following the pandemic, rural towns and counties will also be devastated without increased federal support.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said the massive job losses following the coronavirus outbreak, coupled steep declines in business and tourism revenues, have turned a projected $19 million budget surplus into a $27 million deficit for the current fiscal year.

“So we’re looking at potentially having to lay off as many as 600 Metro government employees, and that would inevitably include some of our first responders and health care workers—people we’re obviously relying on now more than ever,” Fischer said.

Fischer, however, also said he’s noticed a shift in tone from some Congressional Republicans who previously opposed federal support for state and local governments, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Senator initially opposed the idea of such aid, suggesting states should be allowed to declare bankruptcy.

But McConnell has softened that rhetoric in several appearances this week, saying the Senate will “probably” pass another package containing aid for state and municipal governments.