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Louisville mayor proposes steep budget cuts to two environmental agencies

A broad grassy field is shown, with a red barn and other farming buildings in the distance.
Wikimedia Commons
Both local organizations are part of long-standing, nationwide networks that help support agriculture and protect natural resources.

Mayor Craig Greenberg wants to drop almost all Louisville Metro Government funding for two decades-old organizations that offer free soil tests, 4-H youth programs and other services.

Leaders of Jefferson County’s conservation district and its cooperative extension say Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg’s proposed city budget would effectively eliminate their organizations, which provide soil testing, educational programs and other support to local residents.

Greenberg’s recommended budget for the 2024-2025 fiscal year would cut $83,200 from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and drop $305,000 from the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension. That would leave each group with just $30,000 apiece in city funding.

“Basically, the conservation district — if this reduction is allowed to take place by Metro Council — will exist in name only,” said Austin Clark, one of seven supervisors elected to lead the district. “We’ll be an elected board without an office, without staff, without programming. And $30,000, I guess, to try and figure something out.”

Louisville Metro Council will decide on a final budget for the city. The mayor unveiled his proposal, including the steep cuts to these two offices, late last week.

“You could say that we were completely blindsided,” Clark said.

So was Catherine Shake, chair of the extension district board for Jefferson County, who said Greenberg’s recommended cut to the cooperative extension “came out of nowhere.”

“The cut to $30,000 will basically mean there will not be an extension office in Jefferson County,” she said.

The local conservation district was set up in 1944, and the cooperative extension dates back to 1913. They’re part of nationwide networks that the federal government established decades ago to support local agriculture and protect natural resources.

“My husband and I have a family farm and we desperately need a working extension office,” Shake said, adding that she has benefited from agricultural resources offered by the conservation district as well.

The cooperative extension also manages several community gardens and offers 4-H Youth Development programs that more than 4,000 young people in Louisville participate in, Shake said. She doesn’t think they could still do 4-H if they lose most of their city funds.

Greenberg addressed his proposed cuts to external agencies like the cooperative extension and conservation district in a statement sent to LPM News.

“The people of our city elected me on the promise to lead Louisville in a new direction, toward a safer, stronger, and healthier future for everyone. I took a new approach to crafting the city’s budget so we can make investments to achieve meaningful progress on our priorities of public safety, homelessness, education, new, quality homes and more,” he said. “I am committed to looking at our budget with fresh eyes and new perspectives each year and listening to our community about what is needed to achieve these goals for Louisville.”

Greenberg’s budget boosts the total funding — a figure that includes significant federal grant money — for Louisville Parks and Recreation, Office of Sustainability and Air Pollution Control District, all of which include environmental protection as part of their mission.

Cooperative extension and conservation district leaders told LPM their respective organizations stretch their already-tight budgets to provide as many programs as they can.

The conservation district offers financial and technical assistance that has helped farmers and other residents pay for affordable, environmentally friendly improvements to their land, such as setting up native plant gardens or “high tunnels” for growing vegetables.

Federal and state funding supports some of that work, but Sarah Beth Sammons, a supervisor for the conservation district, said the district office couldn’t stay open and most of the programs it provides couldn’t continue if Louisville Metro’s contribution drops to $30,000.

The conservation district and cooperative extension jointly offer free soil tests for local residents, who can get their land checked for the presence of lead or for nutrients, so they can figure out how much fertilizer they need.

Sammons said soil testing is the top thing people ask for help with when they see district members at community events.

“I live in Shelby Park, and I tested my soil in the front yard and I had lead in it,” Sammons said. “So I know that there’s definitely some vegetable crops and things that I wouldn’t grow in the front yard.”

But Sammons and Shake said the soil testing program would go away if the Metro Council approves Greenberg’s proposed budget cuts.

They also said conservation districts and cooperative extensions in other counties receive direct support from taxes, but Jefferson County’s offices are largely dependent on funding allocated by Metro Government.

They told LPM they’re advocating for the city to preserve their funding.

“It solidifies in me that not enough people know about the importance of the conservation district and that we need to get our name out there more into the community so that people can take advantage of our programs,” Sammons said. “Hopefully they don’t go away.”

Metro Council will review the city budget and consider adjustments over the next couple of months.

Morgan is LPM's health & environment reporter. Email Morgan at mwatkins@lpm.org.

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