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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Mayor Greg Fischer’s $750 million budget plan calls for more spending on public safety, including additional police officers and crime analysts – a move that would be funded in part through an increase in Louisville Gas & Electric Co. costs for some customers.
Fischer is proposing a new franchise agreement with the utility that would raise gas bills by 3 percent annually, generating $4.8 million for the city. The increase – an estimated $20 a year per customer – would apply only to residents and businesses within the old Urban Services District and unincorporated parts of Jefferson County, said Steve Rowland, the city’s chief financial officer.
The money raised would go towards hiring 24 new police officers; staff 14 employees in a “Real Time Crime Center,” which will monitor security cameras and analyze crime data; add a prosecutor in the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office specializing in heroin and narcotics; boost programming at community centers; and expand the Department of Corrections home-incarceration program.
In all, the increased public safety costs come to $6.8 million, according to the mayor’s office and would need general fund dollars to fill the gap the franchise fee wouldn’t cover.
“I do not make this decision lightly. But it is the best way, at a minimal cost to most families, to pay for public safety improvements in a sustainable way,” Fischer said in prepared remarks.
Fischer released details of his spending plan for the 2015 fiscal year to the Metro Council Thursday. It is his first budget proposal since a wave of youth violence at Waterfront Park and downtown occurred on March 22.
“I think March 22 brought the issue to the fore,” Rowland said, noting that the council’s public safety committee has met several times since then.
“People were asking that we consider putting more police on the force, and we think we’ve done that in a responsible way,” Rowland said.
"There is a general consensus in the community that additional officers are needed and the Mayor's proposed budget does support that. We're all excited about the opportunity to hire additional officers," said LMPD Police Chief Steve Conrad.
The Metro Council would need to approve the new franchise fee. Fischer had previously proposed the fee as a way to raise new revenue in 2011, but the council turned back the plan. The difference this year is that the money would be reserved for policing and public safety.
The measure failed three years ago due, in part, to questions about its fairness. The fee wouldn’t have applied to customers in the more than 80 independent cities left intact following the merger of the old City of Louisville and Jefferson County governments in 2003.
Rowland said those large exemptions – for small cities such as St. Matthews and Jeffersontown – would remain. That’s because “the city is the jurisdiction that grants franchise fees,” he said.
But Council President Jim King, a Democrat and Republican council member Kelly Downard both said in interviews that they are continuing to research how the fee is distributed.
King said he wants to know whether the city can charge LG&E a flat fee that becomes part of their overall rate schedule – affecting all customers – or whether the fee can only be applied to gas customers who live in the old city limits and unincorporated areas.
“We think it should be part of the overall rate,” King said.
The franchise fee is a city initiative and a pass-through cost directly to ratepayers, said LG&E spokeswoman Chris Whelan.
"The city can only implement a franchise fee in an area over which they have jurisdiction," she said.
Fischer's plan to spend $581,000 to renovate Slugger Field for a pro soccer team received loud applause in his remarks before the Metro Council.
A locally-based group is finalizing a deal to bring a United Soccer Leagues team to Louisville, and managing investor Wayne Estopinal said in an interview that an announcement is expected in the next two weeks.
"It looks highly probable," he said.
Other highlights of Fischer's budget proposal:
- $3 million in repairs and improvements to parks across the city.
- $9.8 million, the city's maximum, for debt service payments on the KFC Yum! Center.
- $400,000 to advance planning of a new Okolona library.
- $1 million in sidewalk repairs.
- $30 million to replace police, fire and emergency vehicles, as well as repairing Metro Hall and concrete at the Belvedere.