LMPD :: Louisville Metro Police Department

Mayor Greg Fischer's $502 million budget helps libraries, includes furloughs


Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer presented a budget Thursday that would spend millions of dollars to expand libraries, improve public safety and hire high-paid directors to lure new business to town while freezing pay for non-union workers and requiring others to take furloughs.

The mayor's proposed budget doesn't raise taxes or fees.

Fischer told Metro Council members Thursday they're not going to like everything in his $502 million budget, but that it will help the city grow into "one of the most vibrant, entrepreneurial and compassionate" communities in the world.

"In fact, there are things about it that don't please me," Fischer said during 25-minute address to the council. But, he added, "the only way we can improve the city's revenue without raising taxes is to grow the tax base."

The spending plan pays for opening seven library branches on Sundays, hires four economic development directors at about $100,000 each, and pays for fire and police recruit classes despite revenue growth projected at just 1.4 percent.

Fischer said he was able to present a balanced budget that includes those investments by using cash from one-time sources and by cutting costs elsewhere.

That cost-cutting includes instituting a hiring freeze, not providing a raise for non-union employees, requiring a one-week furlough for employees making more than $70,000 a year, and asking for a voluntary furlough day from those making less than $70,000.

"I know some of you will question spending money on economic development staff in tough times," Fischer said. "But ... I'm looking and planning ahead for the next decade."

Fischer also wants to invest $1.4 million in libraries -- restoring Sunday hours at a cost of $250,000, beginning the design of the Southwest Regional Library in Valley Station for $500,000, and renovating the Western Library branch for $400,000. His budget also buys new furniture at the Fairdale branch for $250,000.

There are investments in education elsewhere in Fischer's budget: $250,000 for a paramedic training academy; $300,000 for training programs for existing employees throughout government; and $300,000 for tuition reimbursement.

"We know a well-trained workforce can help us better serve the community without increasing staff," the mayor said.

Better libraries

Louisville Free Public Library Director Craig Buthod applauded reopening library branches on Sundays, saying children were particularly hurt by the closures, which happened in December 2008 as part of Mayor Jerry Abramson's plan to reconcile a budget deficit.

"People (were) rattling the doors on Sundays when we were closed," Buthod said.

EMS Director Dr. Neal Richmond said the new paramedic academy will allow his agency to recruit and train locally, whichi will result in a more diverse corps.

"There's a shortage of paramedics and we've always been in a position to bring in people certified elsewhere," Richmond said. "The only way to ensure a really well-trained, diverse group of candidates is to train them here from the very beginning."

Employee furloughs

Fischer also is asking unionized employees to voluntarily take at least one furlough day, or more if they want.

Anissa Brady, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2629, said she's not sure how many of her members will agree to Fischer's request.

"We'd like to see no furloughs, but ... I think some workers will if it prevents layoffs," Brady said.

Fischer's budget also hires 15 new trash collectors -- a move that he said will save $355,000 by reducing overtime.

"That's a no-brainer," Fischer said.

Public safety takes up 57 percent of the budget, including a police budget of $148.4 million and a fire budget of $49 million. There will be20 new cadets for police and 30 for fire.

"This is a huge commitment of resources, but nothing we do is more important," Fischer said of public safety spending.

Fischer would invest in public safety in other ways, including $500,000 for a new alert system that will notify citizens of emergency situations by text, phone or email.

The recent plant explosions and an ethanol leak in Rubbertown "really made us understand our responsibility of notification," Fischer said.

Spending detailed

The city budget is actually $712 million -- a figure that includes federal and state money that must be spent in specific ways. The general fund portion of the budget pays for most city services and employee salaries.

"This is a ... spending plan that will directly affect every one of our 5,500 employees and our 740,000 residents," Fischer said.

Other aspects of the budget include:

$4.9 million provided to nonprofit agencies that provide social services for the poor.

$1 million to add bike and pedestrian paths to River Road, which Fischer called the "No. 1 priority of the biking community."

$800,000 to synchronize traffic lights on major suburban roads: Dixie Highway, Preston Highway, Hurstbourne Parkway, Bardstown and Shelbyville roads.

$100,000 to the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund, matched with private funding.

$100,000 for a summer-jobs program for teens, to be matched with private donations.

The Metro Council's Budget Committee will begin holding hearings on the spending plan next week, and will ask questions of every metro department over three weeks before passing a final spending plan on June 23.

The council traditionally has added millions of dollars in additional revenue to the budget and spent most of it on social programs.

Council members on board

"I don't think we'll find that level of difference this year, but we will take our own look," Metro Council President Jim King, D-10th District, said.

When asked if the mayor's idea to spend more than $400,000 on new department directors was a good one, Republican Kelly Downard, R-16th, said he's willing to defer to the mayor.

"He's running the ship, and he thinks he needs those people to complete his mission," Downard said.

On increased library funding, Councilman Ken Fleming, R-7th, said that's proof the mayor has listened to the council: "It's been a priority of ours for years."

The administration had to close a $22.5 million deficit in putting together the budget by using $3.5 million in cash seized by police during drug and other kinds of investigations; $3 million for the sale of surplus property; finding $2.8 million in one-time health care savings; and $1 million by laying off about 20 business managers during a reorganization.

Fischer warned the city's nonprofits and Metro Council members that next year's budget will have "fundamental changes" that might include cuts in funding they have come to rely on.

"We got through this year," Fischer said. "But I regret to inform you that this budget was hammered together with more stopgaps than solutions. I don't like delivering bad news, but I owe it to you to be honest and give you as much time as possible to start working on your Plan B for next year."