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Mayor's Budget Proposal Stays Course, Focuses On Police, Roads

Greg Fischer

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is proposing an $839 million budget with a continued investment in public safety, affordable housing and infrastructure.

Fischer presented his annual spending plan to the Metro Council during their meeting Thursday.

The council is tasked with examining the proposed budget before casting final votes to approve a spending plan before the fiscal year ends in June.

The proposed spending plan includes some $603 million in the city's general fund, most of which is generated through occupational and property taxes, as well as license and permit fees, and other sources, child support administration fees, false-alarm fees and a commission from pay telephones places in the public rights-of-way.

The upcoming fiscal year's general fund is anticipated to be about 3 percent more than the current year, according to the budget document.

Fischer praised the budget as balanced "in more ways than one."

"This budget balances the need to honor our past commitments with the need to invest in our future," he said.

Public Safety

As in previous years, Fischer's proposal focuses a bulk of the spending on public safety.

Fischer suggests boosting the police department's budget by more than 10 percent. Such an increase would bring the department's annual budget to more than $182 million if approved by the council.

The police department routinely leads the budget allocations by Fischer. He said public safety "is our top priority."

Reports of violent crimes and drug overdoses are surging in Louisville. Last year ended with the city's all-time highest homicide tally, and this year is on track to surpass that total, police data show.

In his spending plan, Fischer wants to allocate $17 million in new revenue to the police department for hiring of police and civilian positions. He claims such an investment would grow the police force by 44 additional officers and added positions, like a crime scene technician and firearm analysts.

Fischer is also looking to spend some $4 million to purchase new police vehicles, ambulances and firetrucks.

And about $1.8 million is set aside for a potential effort to move police headquarters from its current location at Seventh and Jefferson streets in downtown Louisville. The building has faced a bevy of issues in recent years, from mold to faulty piping.

In a statement, police chief Steve Conrad praised the mayor's proposal.

“These investments — combined with significant recent investments in body cameras, gun detection technology and the Real Time Crime Center, among others — have helped transform LMPD into a modern crime-fighting agency," he said. "I look forward to sharing more details and information about the police budget with Metro Council in the coming weeks.”

Other public safety initiatives include spending for the hiring of additional prosecutors in the Commonwealth's Attorney's office and the County Attorney's office for work on violent and non-violent criminals. This would help reduce overcrowding in the city's jail while ensuring only violent criminals are off the street, Fischer said.

Fischer also suggests spending some $200,000 to hire additional staffers in the city's office of addiction services to combat what he considers the an "opioid scourge."

Affordable Housing

Fischer looks to continue his commitment to boosting the city's stock of affordable housing.

He's seeking two allocations totaling more than $14 million for developing and rehabilitating housing for low-income residents.

The Louisville Affordable Housing Trust fund is slated to get $2.5 million in funding, despite the group's plea for $10 million. And Fischer wants to double down on the Louisville CARES initiative by investing $12 million in the program's revolving loan pool.

Housing advocates estimate the city lacks needs thousands of additional affordable housing units to meet the demand.

Nearly 60,000 households here spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, and nearly 24,000 of those spend at least 50 percent of their income on housing, according to U.S. Census data.

Families that spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing are considered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to be cost-burdened. They may struggle to afford other necessities such as food, clothing and medical care.

Roads and Infrastructure

Road paving and sidewalk repair has been a contentious issue among the Metro Council in recent years.

The city is in a deep deficit when it comes to road paving.

During last year's budget discussions, the city's Public Works officials said that deficit is near $112 million. To stop it from growing, at least $15 million is needed annually.

Fischer's proposed $25 million allocation for street and sidewalk improvements seems to be what council members sought.

"It's exactly what we wanted," said Steve Haag, a spokesman for the council's minority caucus.

Fischer is also looking to spend some $500,000 on additional bike lanes, a proposal that's likely to get some push back from council members.

Other infrastructure projects touted by Fischer in his annual budget address include some $5.4 million for nearly 90 miles of fiber optic cable installation across the city.

This investment would expand on the Kentucky Wired program and serve as an incentive for private internet service providers to begin hooking up homes in western and south Louisville to ultra high-speed internet, said Grace Simrall, the head of the city's office of civic innovation.

Fischer also wants to begin investing in a long awaiting plan to construct a new library in northeast Louisville. And he's looking to spend nearly $2 million on city park improvements and repairs, including a new boat ramp at Shawnee Park.

Other Investments

Fischer wants to spend some $600,000 on tree planting across the city. Louisville officials have long lamented the rate at which trees are eradicated from neighborhoods and rights of way. The absence of trees is credited with a troublesome urban heat island effect and quality of life issues.

The city's arts master plan is also set for a $100,000 allocation if Fischer's budget is approved as it stands.

External agencies, like nonprofits and local community groups, will share some $8.4 million in proposed funding, according to the budget.

Council Reacts

The leaders of the Louisville Metro Council congregated following Fischer's address to brief reporters on their initial thoughts.

Council President David Yates, a Democrat, said the proposed spending plan "touched on" the city's most pressing issues, like crime, addiction, housing and infrastructure.

"The details of the investment are what we're really going to work through as a council and hammer out through the budget process," he said.

Yates said he's happy to hear Fischer is dedicated to boosting funding for the police department.

"Public safety is a top priority," he said.

Councilman Robin Engel, chair of the council's minority Republican caucus, isn't so focused on the number of officers on the police force, however. The topic has dominated council discussions in recent months.

"We're getting a little too wrapped up in numbers of officers," he said. "We're going to be focused on goals and objectives to solving crime in this community."

Councilman Bill Hollander, chair of the council's majority Democratic caucus, said he's happy to hear Fischer's proposal for added bicycle lanes across the city.

"It's more than just bike lanes, it's making our streets safer and I think we should continue to do that," he said.

And Hollander, who was instrumental in ushering in an ordinance last year requiring Fischer to present his plan a month early to the council, said he looks forward to the extra time to hash out the details of the spending plan.

"We want public input," he said. "We want to hear from you."

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.