May 26, 2016. The Courier-Journal.
Mayor Greg Fischer unveiled his budget plan Thursday, devoting $2.5 million toward the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which has been woefully underfunded since its inception eight years ago.
“It is the largest investment in the fund’s history in our city,” Fischer said in an interview.
Fischer’s $822 million spending plan makes several other key investments without raising any taxes or fees. It dedicates $23.5 million for street paving and other road repairs, and proposes significant allotments to Metro Police in response to a spike in violent crime.
The affordable-housing decision comes after months of lobbying and protests by Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together, or CLOUT, to address a 60,000-unit shortage in affordable housing for working families.
Beverly Duncan, CLOUT’s co-president, said the mayor’s allotment represents a welcome down payment but falls short of the $5 million that the faith-based group and other community organizers had sought.
“We are glad, certainly, but we will ask Metro Council to go back and find the other $2.5 million,” she said.
Fischer suggested ahead of his budget address to the Metro Council that council members could look to the LG&E gas fee, which expired at the end of March, to adequately fill the trust fund. A 2 percent franchise fee would generate $2.5 million a year, Fischer’s office said.
“It’s an option if they want to pursue it, and I think all options should be on the table,” he said.
But Councilman Bill Hollander, chairman of the council’s majority Democratic caucus, said his members remain concerned about the gas fee’s fairness. He said the fee cannot be applied to customers who live in smaller suburban cities and disproportionately impacts poorer areas.
“It’s one of the reasons we are contemplating different fees to be spread more evenly among all rate payers,” said Hollander, D-9th District.
As for the road improvement proposal, Fischer said it represents an extension of the city’s “fix-it first” strategy called for in the Move Louisville transportation plan. It includes $3 million for sidewalks and $500,000 for new bike lanes.
City leaders said infrastructure spending will become a larger priority in future budgets to tackle $600 million in deferred maintenance. Besides roads, that deficit includes improvements at the zoo, parks and other city-owned buildings and facilities.
Combating the surge in violent crime is also on Fischer’s priority list, and the city budget spends most of its dollars — 58 percent — on its public safety agencies. The mayor acknowledged Thursday that the spikes in homicides and gunshot victims are a “significant problem.”
His budget reallocates $640,000 to Metro Police for officer overtime in neighborhoods with the most violence. It also proposes doling out $300,000 to expand the police department’s video surveillance system to all eight divisions, with an emphasis on high crime areas.
Fischer said the investments will allow the city to hire 122 new officers, which the mayor’s office said is the largest recruit class in a single fiscal year. But after attrition, Fischer officials said that the cumulative addition to the police force would be about 37 officers.
Councilman David James, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the police measures are a step in the right direction but that he still plans to file an amendment calling for more funding for police overtime.
“Police recruits don’t hit the street until a year from now, so that 122 new officers number is confusing” said James, D-6th. ” … Our chief responsibility in metro government is the safety of our citizens and we have a whole bunch of citizens who are not safe right now and who don’t feel safe right now.”
Other highlights from Fischer’s budget include $600,000 for the SummerWorks jobs program aimed at teens; $500,000 more for the Healing Place’s capital campaign to expand its services; $100,000 to tackle graffiti and litter; $1 million to return more vacant and abandoned properties for productive use; $100,000 for a cool-roof incentive program to combat the city’s urban heat island; and $5.1 million for local arts groups and non-profit organizations.
Those general fund expenditures are in addition to a number of capital projects such as $950,000 for the fourth phase of Waterfront Park; $100,000 to plan for the “re-imagined Broadway project from the Highlands to Shawnee neighborhood; $650,000 to design a new Northeast Regional Library; and $4 million for upgrades at Louisville Slugger Field.
Council members will review the mayor’s budget in a series of committee hearings through the month of June.
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