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Fischer: Restaurant Tax ‘Relatively Easy’ Option For Covering Pension Obligation

Mayor Greg Fischer speaking at the Louisville 2019 Veteran's Day Parade
Mayor Greg Fischer speaking at the Louisville 2019 Veterans Day Parade

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said budget talks are already underway and will pick up in earnest in the new year. City leaders will again need to contend with a large pension bill that is expected to grow another $10 million in the fiscal year starting in July. The question is whether they will turn to cuts for a second year in a row, or successfully raise taxes instead.

The easiest option would be a 3% restaurant tax, which could cover most of the city's pension costs for the next few years, Fischer said in a year-end interview with WFPL. That move would require authorization by state legislators, which he said would be easy to do. It wouldn’t need a Constitutional amendment, and smaller cities already have the power to implement it.

"I pray for that," Fischer said. "And we'll, we'll see if that happens."

Short of that, he said the Metro Council may need to reconsider theinsurance premium tax they voted down last spring. Fischer said it’s the only real option they have for increasing taxes without state approval. And he said public backlash to cuts that resulted from that vote may encourage Council members to reevaluate.

When last year's budget talks took place, the Council had eight new members and it had been years since the city last needed cuts, Fischer said.

"Everybody's a year wiser. I think that's good in terms of both recognition of basic city services that people deserve. And then the methods to achieve those," he said.

A key point in the discussion will be figuring out which previously cut services and positions city leaders want to replace, and what new budget items they may want to add.

“Is there something that we can agree on that needs to be done differently that can impact more citizens?" he said. "And then if so, are there expenses that we can cut that we have now? Or if not, where can we find the revenue with that?”

The crunch has also affected Louisville's police department, which was forced to reorganize this fall as its number of officers dropped this year due to a budget-driven recruit class cancellation and higher-than-expected officer retirements and departures.

Fewer resources impact the department's ability to better prepare officers in some ways, Fischer said. For example, officers need continued training in de-escalation. The police recently started considering whether officers attempted de-escalation in internal use of force investigations. And this year, they offered new training.

Fischer said the department will continue to emphasize de-escalation training for new recruits and annually for all officers. But he said more is needed.

"Fortunately, there's a very active learning network, within the police chiefs and police departments, where we can identify areas where we need to work on, bring in national experts in those areas,” he said.

A recent analysis by a progressive nonprofit project called Local Progress found that Louisville has “significant room for improvement” in its use of force policies.

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

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