Louisville Skyline

WDRB File

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Residents in unincorporated parts of Louisville Metro could form new cities under a bill that cleared a state legislative committee on Wednesday.

An amended version of House Bill 314 removed a proposal to limit the terms of Louisville’s mayor and made other changes to Metro government operations. But it kept parts that would make it easier for existing suburban cities to bring in new territory and new cities to be created.

That led to a spirited debate about whether the bill amounts to a “war on Louisville,” the outcome of merged government and whether existing measures like service districts ought to be used before changing state law. Ultimately the measure passed the House Local Government Committee on a 13-5 vote and now heads to the full House.

The bill’s sponsors — Republican state representatives from Louisville — said changing the law is necessary to give residents services that small cities provide while easing the burden on agencies like Louisville Metro Police that cover all of Jefferson County.

Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, told the House Local Government Committee that cities like Jeffersontown, Middletown and Anchorage, which have their own police departments, benefit all of Louisville Metro by letting Louisville police cover other areas. People living in Okolona, Fern Creek and Pleasure Ridge Park, for example, should have that same access, he said.

“They need to have the city services that we have in the East End — if they want it,” Nemes said.

It would take 6,000 people and 75% of those living in the proposed boundaries to petition the Metro Council for a new city. If those thresholds are met, the council automatically would have to approve the new city, according to the bill.

Existing cities could annex neighboring areas if 75% of the residents there ask for it. 

Nemes and other supporters said the legislation simply lets residents form new cities — a choice that is available to nearly every other resident of Kentucky. The 2003 merger of the old City of Louisville and Jefferson County ended that ability, said Bonnie Jung, the mayor of Douglass Hills and the president of the Jefferson County League of Cities.  

“We've had two decades to see how merger has evolved,” she said. “It's been very beneficial in many ways, but unfortunately disappointing for many residents of the unincorporated Jefferson County area. Many feel that they are ignored because the amount of property taxes do not reflect the services that they receive.”

But opponents of the bill — including top Democrats on the Louisville Metro Council and Democratic state representatives from Louisville — argued that changing state law isn’t the right move and predicted the loss of key tax revenue if more and bigger cities are allowed.   

“It is a war on Louisville,” said Rep. Jeff Donohue, D-Fairdale, who said the bill would only benefit certain unincorporated areas. His southwestern Jefferson County district, he said, doesn’t have the resources or infrastructure or desire “to make this thing work.”

Metro Council President David James and council members Bill Hollander and Pat Mulvihill urged lawmakers to kill the bill, saying there are already mechanisms in place to let residents in unincorporated areas create "service districts." 

“So the idea that you have to have new cities? I'm not sure you do need them at this point, given that there are alternatives that really haven't … been used or have come into being,” since merger, Mulvihill said.

Hollander, who chairs the council’s budget committee, told lawmakers that Metro government relies on a variety of revenues that include insurance premium taxes paid by residents of the old City of Louisville and those living in unincorporated areas. Those taxes represent $70 million in the city’s current budget, he said.

Allowing new cities to be created would reduce that revenue stream and threaten Metro government’s ability to provide countywide services,” Hollander said. He also said the city stands to see reduced federal funds that are allotted based on population.

“Most importantly though, I hope the General Assembly will allow Louisville to have a broad discussion about this before fundamentally changing the nature of our consolidated local government,” he said.

Nemes argued that the bill would leave decisions up to Louisvillians.

“Leave the question to Louisville. But in order to do that, the statute has to be changed,” he said. “That's all we're asking for. Let Louisvillians decide.”

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