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How Louisville's Budget Reduction Affects Vulnerable Residents

Metro Council Budget Vote June 25 2019

Louisville Metro Council approved a budget Tuesday that trims more than $25 million from the city’s budget starting July 1. The cuts span across city departments affecting public safety and services that residents rely on every day. Host Jean West joined Ryan Van Velzer, who was at the Metro Council meeting Tuesday night, to discuss a few different programs that affect some of the city's most vulnerable residents.

So on Tuesday night the Metro Council overwhelmingly approved the city’s largest budget cut since the Great Recession. Mayor Greg Fischer said the budget reflects the realities of the states increasing pension obligations. What can people expect to see less of?

One of the most dramatic cuts was the elimination of funding for Youth Detention Services. Louisville is the only city in the state that has its own jail for juveniles and it reduced the budget by about $1.3 million for those services. Under the budget, which the mayor still needs to sign, Youth Detention Services will run until the end of the year.

What will happen to the kids after that?

Well state officials said they don’t have the resources to take over Louisville’s operations and will likely disperse the kids throughout the state. About a dozen employees from Youth Detention Services were at the meeting ahead of the vote, including employee Ronnie Goforth who told the council how important it is that these kids stay close to their parents.

“If you want to reduce long-term crime among kids, every mental health professional I have ever worked with will tell you that a stable home life and parent involvement are critical to that goal," he said.

So the money saved from Youth Detention Services is supposed to be used to plug other holes in the budget. That includes maintaining current library hours and restoring the Middletown Library. But out on the street after the vote, I spoke with Library Union President Ashley Nichole Sims and she said the city will still see a reduction in library services, including limiting outreach to older adults. The city will also close one library.

“It’s kinds of bittersweet. We got more than was proposed, but the cuts are still there. We are losing Fern Creek, it seems like for good," Sims said. "I don’t really know where Fern Creek is in their plans.”

What other program were cut to help balance the budget and meet the city’s pension obligations?

Well there’s a program called the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund that helps low-income residents find places to live. For the last two years, that program has received about $10 million, but this year that budget will be cut in half. Realtor and advocate Walter Scott talked about the need for that program at the budget meeting:

“But [for] the families I work it meant everything," he said. "Finally to have their own home, a place they could afford, because affordable housing not only lifts people out of poverty, it lifts their spirits, it gives them peace, joy community. It lifts the whole community.”

And one more program the city will lose: it’s called the Living Room program and it helps provide services to adults in crisis. These are people with mental health and substance abuse issues, who are often on the streets, and sometimes picked up by police.

This program helps about 13 people every day and roughly 5,000 people every year. Next year’s budget eliminates funding for the entire program.  Mike Kolb spoke to Metro Council on behalf of the Living Room program and said it could end as soon as this week.

“So where will they go?" he asked. "In many cases our police will be called and they will go to our overcrowded jail, draining the resources of LMPD’s first division and district 4, or they will got our emergency rooms, or they will remain on the streets, and some may give up all together and end their own lives.”

One thing that I heard over and over again last night was that Louisville wants to be known as a compassionate city, but several people said that wasn’t reflected in the budget that passed last night.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the city pays $1.3 million for Youth Detention Services. The city reduced the budget for Youth Detention Services by this amount.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.