Mayor Fischer’s proposed budget focuses heavily on public safety, LMPD

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer unveiled his proposed 2017-2018 budget for Metro Government on Thursday, and it focuses heavily on public safety at a time when homicides in the city have reached an all-time high.

The general fund operating budget proposed by the mayor amounts to $593 million, including $23 million in new revenue. Fischer says over three-quarters of this new revenue is earmarked for investments in the Louisville Metro Police Department, which will result in 44 net new officers since last year’s budget — 16 new LMPD officers next year on top of the 28 new officers added late last year — and 11 other positions ranging from crime scene technicians to firearms analysts.

The mayor’s proposed budget usually is released in late-May, but a Metro Council ordinance passed last year moved up the deadline to late-April so council members and the public have more time to understand the budget and debate its merits.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday morning, Fischer said his budget reflected the economic momentum of the city, while remaining balanced and free of any tax increases. Though murders and drug overdoses are now at record highs, Fischer said the city is “going through a great renaissance” at the moment, with over $10 billion in capital construction.

“Businesses are investing in Louisville like they never have been before,” said Fischer. “And you have to take a look at this in the broad national perspective as well… unfortunately we’re not the only city having these types of (violent crime and drug) problems, it’s happening throughout our country right now. But businesses are voting with their dollars, and their dollars are at an all-time high, in terms of investing in Louisville.”

During his budget address to Metro Council Thursday afternoon, Fischer reiterated that public safety is a top priority. Of the proposal to fund additional police, he said, “This will bring LMPD’s projected average strength to 1,293 the new fiscal year, the largest number of sworn officers serving our citizens since merger.”

Other public safety investments in the budget include the hiring of an additional prosecutor in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office to focus on violent criminals and a new arraignment court prosecutor in the County Attorney’s Office to efficiently resolve the cases of low-level, nonviolent offenders — the latter of which is intended to free up space at the overcrowded Metro Corrections facility for violent offenders.

Metro Corrections officials have called for a new prison facility to replace or enhance their current outdated and overcrowded space, but the proposed budget does not include funding for such a project — though it does devote $500,000 for repairs to the jail, a slight increase from the $455,000 in last year’s budget. Funding also is included for the hiring of 60 corrections officers.

The proposed budget does include $1.8 million to move LMPD’s outdated downtown headquarters, though Fischer says an exact location has not yet been chosen. Another $1.5 million goes toward relocating the backup 911 center, while the same amount will be dedicated to starting a renovation of the Louisville Fire Department headquarters, which also will receive funding for 30 new recruits.

Citing the city’s long-term approach to reducing root-causes of crime, Fischer also touted the inclusion of $1 million in his budget for the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods and the expansion of its Cure Violence program. Defending such investment, Fischer told the council in his address Thursday that “history shows that we’re not going to solve violent crime by just locking people up after they make a bad decision. We have to find ways to help them make better choices – choices that keep crime from happening at all.”

LMPD Chief Steve Conrad, who has faced criticism due to the rapidly rising murder rate, released a statement praising the increased investment in police.

“I am pleased that Mayor Fischer’s proposed budget includes significant levels of investment in LMPD, including new officers, new support staff and a much-needed new headquarters,” stated Conrad. “These investments — combined with significant recent investments in body cameras, gun detection technology and the Real Time Crime Center, among others — have helped transform LMPD into a modern crime-fighting agency. I look forward to sharing more details and information about the police budget with Metro Council in the coming weeks.”

In a press conference after the mayor’s budget address — featuring council leadership from both parties — Metro Council President David Yates, D-25, told reporters that he and his colleagues are satisfied that Fischer’s budget includes funding for additional officers, though “what that final number will be will have to work through the budget process.”

Councilman Kevin Kramer, R-11, the vice chair of the budget committee, noted that additional LMPD overtime pay granted by the council last year was not spent wisely, but “this year we’re hopeful that when the police department comes back over, there will be a more specific plan, a clear indication of what they’re going to do with any increases in revenue.” Councilman Robin Engel, the chair of the Republican Caucus, added that strategy and results are money important than the specific number of new officers, as “we’re going to look at what are the goals and objectives on money that we invest in the police department, and what are we getting for it.”

Addiction Treatment Funding

Though Louisville also is facing a rapidly escalating opioid epidemic — with record high fatal and non-fatal overdoses, and long waiting lists for addiction treatment — the proposed budget only includes a small increase toward tackling the problem. An additional $200,000 would go toward hiring additional staff and support in the Metro Office of Addiction Services, but unlike last year’s budget — in which an additional $500,000 was steered towards The Healing Place — there are no extra funds devoted to addiction treatment services or organizations.

In his budget briefing, Fischer stated that “there’s obviously a real crisis going on around the country right now with heroin and opioids, so we’re putting more money into addiction services, in that area.” In his budget address to council, he noted that drugs are a “major contributing factor to violent crime” in Louisville, saying that the new staff hired will “work with our partners at the Volunteers of America, which is expanding its addiction and recovery services to serve more people. Through this partnership, we’ll triple our efforts to help people fight and beat addiction, so they can live longer, better, healthier lives — and our streets can be safer.”

The section of Fischer’s budget detailing funding for external agencies shows $35,000 budgeted to go to The Healing Place for a shelter and recovery program. It also lists five different payments towards Volunteers of America projects totaling $375,600, though none specifically mentions treatment for drug addiction.

Councilwoman Angela Leet, R-7, told IL she was not pleased with the lack of additional funding for addiction treatment services. Considering that access to opioid addiction treatment in the city is notoriously inadequate, she said that “to not make it a more significant priority is shocking, to me. And unacceptable, quote frankly.” Leet adds that she is hopeful that Metro Council will add more funds devoted to expanding access to treatment in the budget before it is passed in June.

Asked if he is satisfied with the amount of funding in the proposed budget for addiction treatment, Council President Yates said “It’s not just funding with tax dollars, it’s a partnership we’ve forged with community leaders throughout the city.”

“We are lucky enough here in Louisville that we have great partners,” said Yates. “Volunteers of America have stepped up this year and have additional treatment, with so many other partners. So I think we’re able to really multiply those dollars by working with the private and not-for-profit market.”

Paving and Affordable Housing

Whereas Metro Council in recent years has inserted additional money for paving and road repairs beyond what was in Fischer’s proposed budget, this year the mayor’s budget appears to have beaten them to the punch. A total of $25 million is devoted to such paving and street improvements, slightly more than what was allocated last year.

For the second-consecutive year, Fischer’s proposed budget devotes $2.5 million to the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, in addition to $12 million to the Louisville CARES program — the same amount it received two years ago — that is devoted to workforce housing. Despite a promise by Metro Council nine years ago to provide the Affordable Housing Trust Fund with $10 million annually, only $100,000 in total local funds had been allocated before last year.

Councilman Bill Hollander, D-9 — one of the leading voices for increased affordable housing funding on the council — said he “was glad to see very significant funding recommended for affordable housing, for the third straight year, and very happy to see the recognition that better housing is critical to keeping communities safe. I will be working over the next few weeks to ensure that the funds are allocated in a way which helps all low-income families, including our most vulnerable residents.”

Christie McCravy, executive director of the Louisville Affordable Housing Trust Fund, said the organization was happy to receive the funding it did after years of receiving no city dollars, but they had asked for $10 million. She added that LAHTF has already used $2.35 million of the funds they received last year to create and preserve 326 affordable housing units.

“Any monies set aside for affordable housing is much appreciated, and although we would like more, we will work to ensure that the neediest in our community are served as best as possible,” said McCravy.

In a press release, CLOUT objected to LAHTF receiving far less than Louisville CARES in the budget, calling on Metro Council to allocate $10 million for affordable housing.

“Louisville CARES has no track record of helping families making less than $45,000, and the Trust Fund does. Why doesn’t this budget invest in what works?” asked Beverly Duncan, chair of CLOUT’s Affordable Housing Committee. “Especially as federal housing grants are in jeopardy, we need to fund housing for the people that need it the most.”

Town Halls for Public Input?

Councilman Hollander again praised the ordinance passed last year that required the mayor’s budget proposal to arrive four weeks earlier, saying this extra time will give the public more time to provide their input to the council. Yates added that such feedback may take place in a formal setting in the near future, saying “I think we’ll schedule a couple of large town hall meeting to be able to have that public input and discussion, which I think will benefit everyone.”

Below is a list of some of the significant projects the mayor highlighted in his proposed budget:

  • Beginning construction on the new Northeast Regional Library
  • $5.4 million to work with Kentucky Wired to lay fiber optic cable, which the city will lease to private service providers
  • $1.7 million for Metro Parks upgrades and maintenance
  • $100,000 to Dare to Care food bank
  • $100,000 to implement the community’s arts master plan, Imagine Greater Louisville
  • $600,000 to plant trees
  • $500,000 for new bike lanes
  • $5.1 million in grants to non-profits, arts groups and other external agencies
  • $1 million for Louisville Zoo capital and maintenance needs
  • $250,000 towards planning for a new soccer stadium
  • $4 million for new police cars, ambulances, firetrucks and equipment

This story will be updated.