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Mayor Greg Fischer's Proposed Cuts to Arts, Homeless Grants Criticized

Leaders from non-profit homeless and arts agencies are criticizing Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s decision to reduce the funding levels for their external agencies.When the Fischer administration first unveiled its $528 million spending proposal last month, the mayor's office highlighted a 21 percent increase to funding for community ministries.It also outlined how external agencies would receive more than $1 million in grants at continued levels from last year.Fischer's decision to fund external agencies comes from three panels made up of Metro Council members and mayoral appointees who recommend expenditures for community ministries and social service agencies.Those recommendations are in Fischer’s budget proposal without any changes, and citizens who sit on the panels sign agreements to keep the deliberations confidential.Natalie Harris, executive director of the Coalition of the Homeless, says the decision-making process is troubling because groups like hers cannot conference with Fischer's panels to make answer important questions."I definitely don’t think the process is transparent. There isn’t any way for that committee to ask questions of the groups or for them to answer any issues that might come up during the committee meetings. And there’s also not a process to go back to that committee before the announcements are made," she says.The mayor's office defends the practice, however, arguing it allows them to receive input from area experts to have honest discussions about a competitive grant application process."They also look at things such as are they in line with the Revenue Commission. So there are potentially sensitive pieces of information in their filings that need to be safeguarded," says mayoral spokesman Chris Poytner."But the bottom line is even though the deliberations that happen over the grant agreements are not discussed publicly, their recommendations are. And then those are given to the mayor, and the mayor every year he's accepted those changes without any changes because the expertise is with the committee."In Fischer's 2013-14 spending plan, the Coalition for the Homeless is slated to receive $25,000 in funding despite a request for over $100,000. The mayor’s proposal means the coalition could lose matching funds from other sources, and key services would be eliminated, according to Harris."We would lose a great portion of our federal funding, which pays for the database that maintains all the homeless people in the city," she says. "Also the single point of entry that allows people to come into the shelter system, and the application process that allows us to bring in $8.5 million to the city."At a council budget hearing last week, lawmakers voiced concern with the proposed cuts. Harris tells WFPL she expects council members will put additional money into the budget before the fiscal year begins.The panels also recommend funding for local arts groups such as Actor's Theatre and Louisville Orchestra, but also initiatives that fund supplemental arts educational programs.Fund for the Arts, for example, administers Every Child Arts Education Initiative which includes a flagship program called 5 x 5 that helps elementary schools provide live arts experiences every year for the first five years of a child’s formal education.The Fund currently has 66 Jefferson County elementary schools enrolled in the program, which involves several regional arts and cultural organizations.Last year, the Fund received $82,500 for Every Child but Fischer's budget proposes only $39,500 for this year. That's a fraction of the $150,000 the group requested."It’s not a number that we just pulled out of the air," says Fund for the Arts President and CEO Barbara Sexton Smith. "That is a number that is in line with the funding we received historically from Metro Louisville for Fund for the Arts education initiatives."Sexton Smith says the goal is to reach all 90 Jefferson County public elementary schools, but a trend of decreased funding puts the whole program in jeopardy.Every Child also funds "School's Out, Art's In" at city community centers during school breaks. The Fund began offering the program last summer at the request of Fischer's office."It was so successful the mayor’s office came back last November and requested the Fund for the Arts provide arts programming during the holiday break in December," says Sexton Smith. "And that was so successful that the mayor's office came back and requested that the Fund for the Arts put the programming together for spring break, and we did not hesitate."Asked if it's fair to ask groups to provide programs while at the same time proposing less funding for them, Poynter bypassed the budgetary question and says the mayor is simply asking all groups to make out-of-school initiatives a priority."That's where the studies show you can make the most difference," he says. "And so that's what this entire program does with the Every Child program through the Fund for the Arts."