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Residents Weigh In On City's Budget Woes, Mayor's Proposed Tax Hike

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Louisville taxpayers have a message for the Metro Council, which is considering a proposal to raise taxes or cut services to fill a projected budget gap: Figure it out.

Nearly 120 people addressed council members at two recent public hearings. Some were city workers, arguing for their jobs. Others used or provided services that could be slashed. But many others said raising taxes would hurt families and businesses.

Last month, Mayor Greg Fischer said a looming budget gap due to a growing pension obligation and rising health care costs for city workers would require action. He laid out budget cuts that would affect services and personnel. Then, he offered the alternative of raising the insurance premium tax, which the city can do without state approval.

Within the council and the public, there is disagreement over which is the best approach. But whatever happens, Louisville residents are asking for a solution that will cause the least harm.

The most likely outcome is a combination of cuts and a tax hike, said budget committee chairman Bill Hollander, of District 9.

"I think the predominant view was there needs to be some sort of balance, and that's really what I think most of us are hearing," he said.

People's explanations of why specific programs are important to them will help city leaders determine where to make changes, he said.

Many speakers at the public hearings hosted by the budget committee spoke of the direct benefits they receive from various city-provided or -funded services. And many said the services they offer would be hurt without financial support from the city.

Georgia Turner addressed the council members in supporters of 2NOT1, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that provides support to help fathers stay connected to their children. She does not want Metro Council to cut funding to organizations like hers.

"The support of Metro Council and Metro Government has been instrumental in allowing us to provide the service to families that many other people are not doing," said Turner, 2NOT1's executive director.

But raising taxes — the approach the Fischer administration is promoting — could put too much financial strain on senior citizens who live on fixed incomes, said Louisville resident Michael Urbancic. He said he felt officials are asking taxpayers to tighten their belts.

"In my view, the senior citizens of this community have done enough tightening of the belt," he said. "So here's my suggestion on how to address your budgetary shortfall: Do the job that you were elected to do."

Hollander, who is a sponsor of tax hike ordinance, said the budget committee will meet again on March 14, with the aim of passing the measure for consideration by the full council. He expects any amendments changing the rate of the tax hike would be added by then.

As for the final list of cuts, Hollander said that is up to Fischer and his team as well as the council.

"The mayor will present his budget address to the council on April 25, and we'll be working on that for two months," Hollander said. "We will then decide what services we won't have in the community."

Well before then, the city will know how much revenue it will be able to raise by increasing the insurance premium tax.

State law dictates that Metro Council must vote on the tax hike by March 21 to implement it by July, in order to provide the required 100 days' notice to the Department of Insurance.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.