Louisville Mayor's budget funds police positions, combats addiction
In unveiling his first spending plan since Louisville ended 2016 with a record number of homicides, Fischer said public safety is his 'top priority.'
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Mayor Greg Fischer has proposed an $839.5 million budget that provides more money to the Louisville Metro Police Department and expands the city’s effort to tackle drug addiction.
More than half of Metro government’s general fund spending would go toward public safety initiatives, such as hiring 112 police recruits and sending more “violence interrupters” into neighborhoods plagued by shootings.
In unveiling his first spending plan since Louisville ended 2016 with a record number of homicides, Fischer said Thursday that public safety is his “top priority.”
He seeks a 9 percent increase in LMPD’s budget, to nearly $194 million. After factoring in retirement and other staff losses through attrition, the mayor’s office expects the department would gain 55 more positions, including 44 officers, over the same time last year.
The additions would bring the police force's staff to 1,293 sworn officers, Fischer's office said -- the highest level since the merger of Louisville and Jefferson County governments,
The budget also includes $1.8 million for a new headquarters for the police department,which now uses a building at Seventh and Jefferson streets where mold and water leaks prompted a state investigation last year. The money would help renovate a building that LMPD plans to lease in the central business district.
In a statement, LMPD Chief Steve Conrad said he was pleased that the budget includes "significant levels of investment" in his department.
“We look at crime in a couple different ways,” Fischer told reporters during a budget briefing. “One is, you know, getting the bad guys off the street, but then also having preventative and intervention measures so that we make sure people have the capacity to not go down a life of crime.”
The city’s Department of Public Health and Wellness would get $30.9 million -- a 33 percent increase earmarked largely to hire contract workers for anti-violence initiatives and use $200,000 to add staff in the Office of Addiction Services.
Metro Corrections, which has seen a record level of inmate overcrowding, would hire 15 officers under Fischer's proposal. The department’s overall budget, however, would be reduced by 7.5 percent.
As a result of recent property tax assessments and growth in occupational licensing taxes, the budget anticipates $23 million in new revenue. LMPD would receive the bulk of that money – about $17.5 million.
Fischer presented his budget about a month earlier than in past years. The Metro Council, which voted last year to have Fischer submit his plan in April, will begin deliberations in early May and has scheduled two public hearings.
Those forums are meant to seek broad comments on the budget. Outside agencies, such as religious groups and nonprofit organizations that lobby for city funds, have dominated the budget process in some years.
“People have noted over the last several years that the external agencies had pretty much just taken up the public hearing, and I think we wanted to get away from that,” said Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the council’s majority Democratic caucus.
The council’s Republican members are largely supportive of the amount earmarked for infrastructure improvements and public safety, said Steve Haag, the GOP caucus spokesman. But he said they want to “see a plan and see what the expectations for results are.”
He cited an example of funds set aside last year for overtime.
“We gave money for overtime and then it was gone almost as quickly as it was given—and so what are we doing to fix those problems?” he said.
Fischer’s spending plan includes $730.9 million in operating funds for Metro government departments and agencies and 108.5 million for capital projects and debt payments.
It sets aside $2.5 million for the city’s affordable housing trust fund, which aids households that earn less than half of the Louisville area’s median income, and $12 million for the Louisville CARES loan fund for developers building housing for low-income residents.
Fischer also has proposed spending $5.4 million on a partnership with Kentucky Wired, which is adding fiber optic cable across Jefferson County. As part of the budget, workers would also lay cable west of downtown, along Broadway and north into the Portland neighborhood -- areas not originally included in Kentucky Wired’s plan, said Grace Simrall, the city’s Chief of Civic Innovation.
By working with Kentucky Wired, she said, the city is paying less than the $15 million it would cost to add cable on its own.
The budget increases fees that restaurants pay for city inspections and adds one cent to the cost of commercial and industrial building permits, said Daniel Frockt, Metro government’s chief financial officer. In all, he said, those fee increases amount to about $500,000.
The capital budget includes $9.5 million for a regional library in the Lyndon area. The building is being designed, and Fischer said a $4.1 million matching grant from the state will help move the project toward construction.
Frockt said the budget also sets aside $250,000 related to a site for a possible stadium in Butchertown for the Louisville City FC professional soccer team. The money could be used to extend options on 40 acres and conduct environmental studies on the property.
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