City sues the state over money marked for Waterfront Botanical Gardens

Waterfront Botanical Garden is being built on a former landfill. | Courtesy of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government

The city of Louisville is suing the state of Kentucky after the General Assembly earmarked Jefferson County’s portion of the state mineral severance revenue for the Waterfront Botanical Gardens, according to a news release from Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.

The lawsuit filed by Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell in Franklin Circuit Court argues that the General Assembly violated the state constitution and “singled out Jefferson County and discriminated against it by attempting to restrict its use” of the mineral severance revenue, the release states.

The mineral severance revenue is part of a state revenue-sharing program where counties receive a portion of the money collected through the taxing of extracted minerals, including limestone.

It’s unclear how much money that will amount to in the next fiscal year, starting July 1, but, according to the city, Louisville Metro Council budgeted $430,000 in revenues from mineral taxes for this fiscal year.

If the city is successful with its lawsuit, then the money would be redirected through the regular appropriation process, giving city leaders control over where the funding goes. In the past, city leaders decided where the funds were spent and invested them in public safety, environmental protection, public transportation, health, libraries, educational facilities and social services for the poor, elderly and individuals with disabilities, among other areas, according to the release.

Mayor Greg Fischer | Photo by Joe Sonka

Although the city has gone to the lengths of suing the state, city officials said in the release that the lawsuit is not a signal that they are against the $63 million Waterfront Botanical Gardens project.

“We have many pressing needs, and we don’t need Frankfort overriding local control of precious tax dollars,” Mayor Greg Fischer said in the release. “The people of Louisville and their elected leaders know best how to get the maximum return on investments in our city — the economic boom we are seeing is proof of that. Singling out our city for this kind of earmark is wrong.”

Metro Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9, echoed Fischer’s comments in the release.

“The Waterfront Botanical Gardens is in my district, and I support it. But people elected in Louisville should decide how tax receipts owed to Louisville are spent,” Hollander said. “I am glad that Louisville is contesting this very bad precedent.”

The Waterfront Botanical Gardens is a 23.5-acre project already under construction along River Road.

The first phase of the project, which is slated to open in spring 2019, will include the Graeser Family Education Center sponsored by Nancy and Emil Graeser; education gardens including an edible garden, water filtration garden, pollinator garden and natives garden; a woodlands garden pathway connecting the site to Beargrass Creek; a driveway; and 75 parking spaces.

Nonprofit Botanica continues to raise money to fund the full project and has raised $7.8 million toward its initial $10 million goal.