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Council GOP Outlines Spending Priorities

Calling it a road map for real savings in the coming fiscal year, the Louisville Metro Council’s Republican caucus have presented Democrats with a list of their spending priorities for the city budget.Revenue projections show little or no growth as Metro Government faces a $22 million shortfall. Mayor Greg Fischer is expected to present the budget sometime next week and has acknowledged layoffs and other cost cutting measures are being considered.The GOP plan identifies certain agencies and areas that the 9-member caucus considers “mission critical” to the city such as the health and public safety departments, housing, library operations and attracting businesses.Instead of across the board reductions, council Republicans have recommended spending in certain areas be cut. Those areas include community centers, Brightside, the Downtown Development Corporation and external contracts with Greater Louisville Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce.Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, says they aren’t calling for slashes to any particular area by a certain percentage, but with limited resources the mayor and council must prioritize expenditures in tough economic times."We’re saying in the grand scheme of things that we should be recognizing that some areas we need to cut less severely than if we have to cut in other areas,” says Kramer. “If I have a choice between reducing all of my budgets by a given number, which means I’m going to take two ambulances off the street and I’m going to cut Waterfront Development Corporation by the same percentage, what we’re saying is in a tough time if you got to make the decision cut a little deeper in these other areas and avoid as much as you can those areas that are mission critical."The administration has already moved to consolidate the city’s business managers to save money, but has revealed little since that announcement.Council Democrats have not submitted a similar spending plan yet, but majority caucus leaders have met with Fischer's team and GOP leaders to discuss aspects of the budget. Democrats who have reviewed the Republican plan say it's too early to tell if a consensus can be reached."I see community centers that house Boys and Girls Club programs, offer senior programing and free lunches for children as necessary  at a time when people are hit hard," says Councilwoman Marianne Butler, D-15, who chairs the budget committee. "Those types of things are needed. Those facilities offer programs that would be very difficult for us to accept cutting."In addition to spending priorities, the 8-page summary also encourages funding a number of regional projects such a new recycling pilot program and purchasing the Quail Chase Golf Course to incorporate into the parks department.Butler called those regional projects "ambitious" and "expensive."The proposal also asks for a complete review of current Metro employee wages and benefits, citing the rising pension costs paid into the state system by the city. The minority caucus encourages Fischer to push state lawmakers for dramatic pension reform.Last year, the Kentucky Retirement System's Board of Trustees voted to increase benefits for public employees that added $6 million to the city’s 2011-12 fiscal budget. The change raised Metro Government's contribution to the pension program to $72 million annually."At some point I think it's appropriate for the council talk seriously about how we can reduce some of those costs in the budget," says Kramer.