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Council Committee Needs More Time To Discuss Budget Surplus

Louisville City Hall
J. Tyler Franklin
Louisville City Hall

A Louisville Metro Council committee will spend Tuesday afternoon discussing how to spend the city's projected budget surplus.

Cost savings in a handful of city departments and higher-than-expected revenue gains in others are paving the way for a debate on who gets a hand in the projected $6.2 million surplus.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer made his request for how to allot the funds earlier this month. His wish is to spend just more than $2 million of the surplus on initiatives and programming that he claims will help improve public safety in the city.

“We are in the midst of a public health and safety crisis that requires our focused attention and resources,” he said in a news release issued last week.

The city's murder count is at a record high and shootings are surging, according to police data. Other crimes, including aggravated assault and property crimes are also up this year.

Fischer, along with Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad, wants to spend about $1.2 million of the surplus to fund overtime work for the city's police force. Those overtime hours will be used for patrols in neighborhoods most beset by violence, Conrad told the council's budget committee in a special meeting Friday.

Neighborhoods like Shelby Park, Smoketown, Shawnee, Park Hill, Russell and the Beecher Terrace housing complex experience more violent crime than others, he said.

The overtime hour patrols will be conducted in vehicles, on mounted patrol, by bicycle and foot -- "weather permitting," Conrad said.

"We would measure our success, essentially, by the reduction of violent crimes in those neighborhoods," he said.

Conrad's also looking to spend about $600,000 on the hiring of crime and gun analysts and purchase software that can scrape data from cell phones.

The city's office of safe and healthy neighborhoods is also slated to be a big beneficiary of the budget surplus under Fischer's proposed spending plan.

His plan, if approved as is, would send about $650,000 to the city department to fund new anti-violence programming and to hire a small team of citizens that would work as "interrupters." Their job would be to build relationships with people close to violence and, hopefully, prevent those people from committing acts of violence.

Rashaad Abdur-Rahman is the head of the office of safe and healthy neighborhoods and acknowledged that little spending proposed in Fischer's plan is directed at addressing the root causes of violence.

"These root causes, these long-term policies and dynamics that have really driven us to where we are today, aren't exactly sexy," he said. "It's a dramatic shift in thinking."

Fischer is also proposing an array of other spending targets in his surplus plan. For instance, he wants to allot some $665,000 to pay for additional expenses incurred in the city's jail as the result of a "high inmate count." He also wants to spend more than $100,000 on graffiti removal and about $160,000 to buy new trash cans for residents in the Metro services area.

The council's budget committee postponed acting on the surplus ordinance in a special meeting Friday, citing a lack of specificity on certain questions posed to city staffers.

For instance, Kelli Watson, the city's general counsel, failed to produce a job description for the role of chief equity officer, which the mayor's office would spend $115,000 to hire.

"I'm making stuff up," she said after offering some vague details about that role's responsibilities.

The council committee must approve the proposal in its entirety. They can make amendments to the proposal to shift the funding around, however.

They're scheduled to meet Tuesday evening.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.