Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer Proposes LG&E Fee to Fund 'Significant' Public Safety Increase
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is proposing a franchise fee on LG&E that will be passed on to customers in his new budget, which would be used to strengthen the police force and expand youth development programs.Fischer is putting in $6.8 million in additional revenue for law enforcement agencies and preventative measures in this spending plan.That's just part of the spending plan the mayor unveiled to the Metro Council on Thursday, which includes for infrastructure, park maintenance, and Metro Government facilities.The budget generates $4.8 million in new money that will go towards 96 additional police officers in the next fiscal year. That should be enough to replace expected retirements and departures while also putting two dozen additional officers on the street, according to Fischer's office.To pay for those increases Fischer is asking council members to create a 3 percent fee on LG&E for gas prices that would be passed on to customers. That would amount to about $20 a year more in utility bills for most households."The main issue here is for $20 a year for most families, you're going to see a significant increase in public safety," Fischer told WFPL. "So there's a direct correlation between the fee and what the community has said they wanted and Metro Council has said what they wanted. To us it's a deminutive amount."That additional spending also pays for hiring five crime analysts to assist Metro Police, nine employees in a Real Time Crime Center that will monitor cameras throughout the city, and a new prosecutor in the Commonwealth’s Attorney office to focus on narcotics.The Fischer administration argues that revenue source is a reasonable approach after calls for a more robust police were made due to theso-called mob violence in downtown Louisville."We thought it important that if we're going to continue this level of commitment we needed to come up with a revenue source," says Rowland."March 22 brought the issue to the forefront and you recall the council's Public Safety Committee held hearings. People were asking that we consider putting more police on the force and we think we’ve done that in a responsible way."Currently, 55 percent of the city's budget goes towards public safety departments, including Metro Police, fire, and EMS departments.
Fischer told WFPL that he "took the temperature" of council members and believes they are supportive of the fee hike. An ordinance with the LG&E fee will be introduced at Thursday's council meeting.Three years ago city lawmakers rejected a similar proposal by the mayor when he pushed the idea as a way to close a budget shortfall. The bipartisan opposition centered around the fact that Metro Government couldn't force a rate increase on residents living in smaller, unincorporated cities such as St. Matthews, Prospect and Shively.That problem remains in Fischer's latest proposal, which means if you reside in one of the cities outside the Urban Services District and outside the unincorporated areas the 3 percent franchise fee would not apply."We believe the difference here is that these monies are going to be spent on public safety and we believe a a majority of council members support the increase expenditures and this method of paying for it," says Rowland.Other highlights of Mayor Fischer's 2014-15 budget include:
- Allocating $2.2 million for youth development services, including expanded community center programming, restorative justice, Safe Neighborhoods staffing, and Gentleman's Academy.
- Continue paving, bikes lanes and street improvements at a rate of more than $6 million per year. Prior to last year, the city had been averaging $2.5 million on paving.
- Invests $30 million for ambulance, fire and police vehicle replacements and repairs to government facilities, including exterior repairs on the historic Metro Hall and fixing the crumbling concrete on the Belvedere.
- Allocate $581,000 to make Slugger Field compatible with professional soccer play.
- A $500,000 public/private partnership to buy 10 electric TARC buses serving downtown.
- Spending $3 million on deferred maintenance, general repairs, and infrastructure improvement including work at Waverly, Shawnee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Boone Square, Central and Shelby parks.
- Provides $400,000 in developing plans for the South Central Regional Library in the Okolona neighborhood.
Fischer's office says $300,000 of the revenue raised by the LG&E fee will go towards the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.