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Analysis - The Louisville Budget saves pools and a library, but here's where it will hurt

(Excerpt from an article from The Courier-Journal printed 2019-06-26 )

2019-07 July

By Darcy Costello

Louisville Metro Council members avoided some controversial cuts as they passed the city budget on Tuesday night, but that doesn't mean their spending plan will be painless.


To cover funding of the Middletown library, opening two pools next summer and keeping weekly yard waste and recycling collection, among other shifts, the Louisville Metro Council's budget makes changes that could have lasting effects on the city's most poor, most marginalized communities and on public safety.


"Some we'll feel immediately, some we'll feel a few years down the line," Councilman Markus Winkler, D-17th District, said of the cuts.


"When you're not intervening in mental health, or in drug rehabilitation services, or in violence interruption, those are things that we will feel," said Winkler, who was a co-sponsor of a tax hike ordinance that could've allowed the city to avoid some of the cuts.


The budget ordinance passed 24-1 Tuesday night with many changes from Mayor Greg Fischer's original budget proposal. Fischer has said he will not veto the plan because the city needs the "certainty" of a budget, but still raised concerns.


"The numbers balance," he told the Courier Journal on Thursday, "but the next question is what the human cost is."


The revised plan strips money from the Living Room, a diversion program to help people with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems, as well as much of the money Louisville has typically sent to nonprofits and the city's Cure Violence "interrupter" program, meant to curb violence by treating it like a disease.


Additionally, public safety is still getting hit, despite some council members' statements that the budget could be cut without hurting operations like police, fire and EMS.


The city is expected to lose a firehouse on Grade Lane by the airport that the union doubts will ever reopen and an ambulance from Louisville Metro EMS. The city also will likely see a net decrease in police officers on the street this time next year, thanks to a canceled recruit class and anticipated officer departures.


And, importantly, the council's budget shifts operation of the city's youth detention center from Louisville Metro to the state, even though the state has said it cannot operate a detention center near Jefferson County.


That means Louisville youths facing charges, who are predominantly black, will likely be shipped to one of six other detention centers across the state, some of which are more than 100 miles away.


Sending those juveniles outside the county – and away from their support systems –probably won't be a recipe for positive change, said Councilwoman Nicole George, D-21st District, who also voted for the tax hike and is a former social worker.


With children, positive behavior changes happen when "we're able to capitalize on assets — and not pluck a kid up from their home and home life and move them out to another place and hope for the best," she said.


Council members also stripped money from the "interrupter" program, to eliminate the three sites run by No More Red Dots and the YMCA, which came under scrutiny in recent months.

City officials including police Chief Steve Conrad had praised the model, which in Louisville was trained on hot spot neighborhoods including Russell, Shawnee and Portland, as a proactive way of stopping crime. 

Rashaad Abdur-Rahman, the city official charged with overseeing the office that managed Cure Violence, wrote in a recent opinion piece that the "interrupter" intervention and prevention model is "necessary to create the safe and healthy communities that we all deserve."

Asked if the council's revised budget was equitable, Councilman Bill Hollander, a 9th District Democrat who also is the budget chairman, said: "I think we had to make difficult choices."


Though Fischer indicated he wouldn't veto the budget ordinance, he did air some concerns with the Metro Council's changes in a statement after Tuesday night's vote.


For one, he said council members kept library hours the same by closing Youth Detention Services, "before we can work out a solution with the state to keep our most vulnerable youth near their families and their schools."


Moving operations to the state was an option in Fischer's original list of cuts in February as he campaigned for a tax hike. But he dropped it from his April budget proposal, largely because of "concerns about the impact on children and equity challenges," a spokeswoman said.


"Nobody wants to be in the youth detention center. But the question is, if they are, how important is it for them to keep the connection to their families, their schools together?" Fischer said Thursday. "The city decided a long time ago that's important." Noting he wants "what's best for the kids and best for the families," Fischer said his team had been in talks with the state about transferring responsibility but wanted more time.


Saying he wants "what's best for the kids and best for the families," Fischer said his team had been in talks with the state about transferring responsibility but wanted more time. His budget expected talks to continue through the end of the fiscal year in June 2020.


Fischer also noted after the budget vote that the council funded the Middletown library and increased their own discretionary funds in part by making "deep cuts" to violence prevention efforts and by cutting offices that work to create economic development and to make government more efficient. Fischer has said equity was a major factor in his budget proposal, which cut zero community centers, kept most Neighborhood Places running and proposed closing libraries near other branches.


"They were just moving small amounts of money here at the end," Fischer said Wednesday. "When you put money in suburban street sweeping, suburban fire or Middletown library, you took it away from Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods. It made a difficult situation even worse.


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