Leaders in the Louisville Metro Council have yet to review the details, but lawmakers are praising Mayor Greg Fischer for being collaborative in drafting his first budget and are generally supportive of the plan. The mayor addressed city lawmakers Thursday, saying he cobbled together savings from one-time measures to close a $22.5 million shortfall.
“I know this budget isn’t going to please everybody, in fact there are things about it that don’t please me,” says Fischer.
The bulk of the $712 million spending proposal goes to public safety departments, which take up 57 percent of local tax dollars. Despite serious concerns and a daunting economic outlook, however, the administration was able to avoid major layoffs and any tax increases while reopening libraries on Sunday and maintaining basic city services.
During the address, Fischer highlighted other key investments such as allocating $540,000 to untangle the intersection of Broadway and 18th Street, another $988,000 for bike lanes and pedestrian paths along River Road, and $4.9 million to non-profit organizations such as arts groups and community ministries.
Asked if that was enough for external agencies, Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, vice chair of the Budget Committee, says funding was lower than what’s needed but the city is working within its means. The council may have different spending priorities, but the vocal GOP lawmaker joined others in praising Fischer for being more cooperative compared to his predecessor.
“Are we going to agree on everything, probably not, but I’m going to tell you something, he lays it out on the table, asks for our opinion and accepts our options most of the time and sometimes doesn’t. And that’s his job as the mayor,” says Downard. “But things have changed and I believe that we’re going to get through this process much better.”
In previous years, the council has put in additional funding to the mayor’s budget based upon their own projections, but Fischer said he will “discourage that sort of creativity” as revenue remains flat.
Despite economic challenges, Fischer’s budget allocates $100,000 a piece to creating four new city offices, namely the Director of Sustainability to pursue energy efficiency, Director of Innovation to strengthen the local economy, Director of Military Affairs to coordinate a pending expansion at Fort Knox, and a Director of Globalization to promote business growth among the city’s international community.
“I know some of you will question spending money on an economic development staff in tough times,” Fischer told the council. “But these are the times you must invest.”
Council President Jim King, D-10, says lawmakers share Fischer’s goal in keeping the city moving forward during tough times, but added council members could see things differently.
“A $700 million budget means one percent is $7 million. So there can be a big swing just based on a one percent difference. I don’t think we’ll find that we have that level of a difference this year, but we are going to review the numbers ourselves and then draw our own conclusions,” he says.
The budget hearings have already been scheduled and will question every department, beginning June 2 with a review of the Department of Public Health and Wellness. Officials with the Fischer administration will present their overview of revenue projects and city operations to the panel on June 6.
“This budget is going to be a challenging one as Metro Government continues to face a slowly recovering economy,” says Budget Committee Chair Marianne Butler, D-15. “I can assure the public there will be a thorough review of what the Mayor has proposed and how taxpayer dollars will be spent in the coming year.”
Public comment on the budget has been scheduled as a special hearing will be held June 16.