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Analysis Finds Louisville Government Is Pretty Efficient, But Budget Cuts Could Hurt Ranking

Butter Bridge by J. Tyler Franklin, Louisville Public Media-125054
Photo by J. Tyler Franklin

Louisville recently ranked 28th overall out of the 150 largest U.S. cities in an analysis of which cities use public funds well, according to personal finance site WalletHub. Analysts looked at a variety of factors to figure out which cities did the most for their citizens using the least dollars. But recent budget cuts could hurt the city's standing.

Just last week, Louisville’s Metro Council passed a budget with major cuts that went into effect on Monday. That could mean slower response times for issues such as potholes, which fall into the category of infrastructure. WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez said the problem wouldn't stop there.

"Quality of roads might suffer. So that's just simply the share of pavement in poor condition, that might do something to the average commute time," she said. "So all of those things are kind of a snowball effect."

Louisville already ranked poorly on infrastructure and pollution — 110th out of 150. The only category in which it did worse was health, ranking 122nd. But higher ratings in financial stability and education helped raise Louisville' s profile.

The city landed within the top 20 in terms of budget spending per capita, yet it was 91st in the country for its quality of city services.

WalletHub analysts used a weighted average system across six categories and 37 metrics to determine its rankings.

Gonzalez said that maintaining service levels despite cuts would be a way for Louisville to raise its ranking, but city officials were not able to ensure that in the current budget. They have warned that more budget cuts will be implemented in future years to offset Louisville’s growing pension obligation, and they may consider raising taxes to help.

Another Kentucky city, Lexington, ranked fifth overall because it provides more services with a smaller budget, Gonzalez said. She said smaller cities landed higher in the analysis because they may be less complex to run.

But for Louisville and other similar cities, maintaining services will be important for retaining and attracting residents, she said.

“When we're looking at relocation ideas, and we're looking at how fast cities are growing and able to bring in new people, new millennials ... you really do want your city to run efficiently, while still keeping taxes as low as you can,” Gonzalez said.

Plus, she acknowledged, the rankings are based on government operations. They didn't address the intangible factors that make people love or hate where they live.

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