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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer focused on the future in his annual State of the City address, and called for Kentucky's legislature to help out with two initiatives to aid the city's budget woes.
Fischer touched on three key areas in his State of the City Address Thursday afternoon -- jobs and economic development, city government, and how city leaders are planning for the future. He called for the state legislature to amend Kentucky's constitution to allow cities and counties to impose a sales tax of up to one percent to pay for local projects for a specific period of time, and asked for reform of pension costs that have been taking larger bites out of the city's budget.
Regarding jobs and economic development, the mayor said, "We're particularly focused on attracting higher-paying jobs, jobs that are going to keep our best and brightest people here in Louisville."
He said workers have to have the technical skills to compete in the 21st Century. He mentioned computer coding and sales training programs that have been developed within the last six months.
Fischer said the city and the state are also developing large tracts of land in west Louisville, hoping to attract businesses there.
The city's summer jobs program is another priority.
"You've got to give the kid a chance!" Fischer said.
He also asked local businesses to hire young people for the summer or to make a donation -- $2,500, he said, will sponsor a young person in a summer job. The goal is to hire 800 young people over the summer.
When it comes to city government, Fischer pointed out that it has reduced unscheduled overtime by about 18 percent, and has placed workers who cannot do their regular jobs because of injuries into lighter duty, allowing them to return to work. That has saved nearly 9,000 lost hours and nearly $125,000 since the program began in August.
The mayor also mentioned his push to reclaim abandoned properties and get them back on the market, and to move as many services to the Internet as quickly as possible. "We want to be easy to do business with," he said, pointing out the introduction of a new mobile app for 311 service requests, online applications to file taxes, get permits, and track crime.
Louisville's website was recently named the best metro website.
Looking ahead, Mayor Fischer said the city's strategic plan is to build around five major objectives -- delivering excellent city services, dealing with budget issues, taking job creation to the next level, investing in people and neighborhoods, and creating plans for a "vibrant future."
Working to achieve those goals, the mayor said, means tackling such projects as establishing at least 1500 new and rehabilitated affordable housing units by 2018, diverting 90 percent of the waste from landfills within 30 years, and increasing recycling by 25 percent in three years.
"I've turned into a city government nerd," the mayor said. "I never thought I would be excited about sewer systems and water supplies, and now I am!"
The mayor also called for Louisville to become one of the nation's safer large cities, announcing a goal of reducing crimes such as assault, murder, rape, and theft by three percent a year. He praised Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad for his accomplishments in his first year on the job.
In considering the longer view of how the community should advance, the mayor touted his Vision Louisville initiative. It's looking at issues such as using Louisville strong medical resources to position the city as a leader in aging care and health research, how the NuLu concept could spread to other neighborhoods, encouraging an expansion of tourism, and continuing cooperation with the city of Lexington to promote economic development.
Mayor Fischer said the local option sales tax -- which would only take effect if voters approve it -- would generate $90 million a year. He said that money could fund a project on the scale of Waterfront Park every year. Any such project, the mayor said, would be detailed and subject to community debate before it was voted upon. He mentioned roads, infrastructure, parks, and public transportation as possible projects the money would go for.
"This is the ultimate Democracy-driven tool," the mayor said, "to help us compete with cities like Austin, Denver, Oklahoma City, and other places that already have this option and are investing more nimbly and more often than we are in their quality of place."
Yesterday, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear endorsed the local option sales tax, but it's not yet clear whether the legislature will take up the issue this year.
Fischer also called for reform of the state pension system, saying pensions are taking an ever-increasing percentage of the city budget. When Metro Government was formed, he says, six percent of the general budget was spent on pensions. Today it's 15 percent.
"Please, talk to your state senators, state representatives, and give them the courage to have fundamental reform of our pension problem." He says it's become more difficult to provide city services because of the pension problem.
The mayor says the city has made great progress on its budget deficit, bringing it down from $25 million to about $13 million to $14 million. It's a problem he says didn't come about in two years and won't be solved in that time, either.
The mayor also says the city is "getting things done and taking care of business," mentioning the upcoming construction of the Ohio River Bridges as just one example.
He also praised the adding of three new regional libraries, including the Southwest Regional library, which he said will be a grand addition to that part of town.
Fischer said he's enjoying his capacity to make proclamations about Louisville, whether it's a day to wear red to honor U of L or how compassionate the city is. The mayor closed his address by encouraging people to talk up the city and its advantages at any opportunity.
Mayor Fischer has continued to make use of social media. A staff member tweeted the address live on Twitter, and the full address was to be posted on Facebook afterward.
The State of the City was held at the African American Heritage Center, which Fischer praised as an excellent venue for business meetings and other gatherings.