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Metro Council Votes To Shift Funds From Pension Payments To COVID-19 Relief

J. Tyler Franklin

Despite concerns and dissent from some members, the Louisville Metro Council voted Thursday night to shift $2.7 million previously earmarked for pension payments to make funds available for COVID-19 relief.

Twenty-three members voted yes, two voted no and one -- Brent Ackerson (D-26) -- voted present.

Ackerson said he opposed the legislation because there is now federal aid on the way and because the city continues to face fiscal problems.

Louisville is facing a rising pension bill that forced lawmakers to cut more than $25 million from this year's budget. Some of those cuts hit services that helped the city's most vulnerable residents.

Last year, a pension expert said using surplus funds -- such as the ones shifted in this vote -- was a smart way to offset the city's pension bill. City officials project Louisville will have to pay an additional $41 million toward pensions over the next three years.

The outlook for meeting this fiscal year's pension bill was positive, according to an assessment by the city's chief financial officer Daniel Frockt earlier this year. But as Ackerson pointed out, the council has not yet had a chance to hear from Frockt about how the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus will affect Louisville's budget future.

"How much money are we losing from this budget? How far behind are we going to be?" he said. "We're not the federal government, we can't just go and borrow an extra billion dollars. We've got to balance our budget."

But the majority of council members came together to pass the ordinance, which would allow Metro's Office of Resilience & Community Services to reimburse external agency partners that provide food and housing assistance to those affected by coronavirus.

David Yates (D-25) was a sponsor of the ordinance, along with 21 others.

"What gave me confidence is that we are going to piecemeal this out in small increments, so we can decide where it goes and how much to who," he said. "But it's only going to be done if necessary."

He clarified that passage of the ordinance did not mean council would be spending the money, it meant the body would be making it available.

The ordinance states that the money is intended to be used "as a fund of last resort," to be accessed when other funding sources are insufficient. The money will be distributed as reimbursements evaluated on a weekly basis by a three-person panel comprised of a representative of the mayor, Metro Council president David James (D-6) or someone he designates, and a representative from Metro United Way.

The legislation was fast-tracked this week because it was an emergency ordinance, meaning it was not heard in committee.

Separately, Mayor Greg Fischer on Wednesday announced a community fund through which households could get $1,000 payments to relieve coronavirus-caused hardship. The One Louisville: COVID-19 Response Fund had raised $3.6 million from donors and will also be used to give grants to community organizations helping those affected.

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

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