Metro Council Priority Will Be City Budget, Now And Into 2020 Monday, Dec 9 2019 

Metro Council will hold its last meeting of 2019 on Thursday, and President David James (D-6) says the key issue now and headed into next year will be the city’s budget.

The council will consider an ordinance that recommends deploying most of a $4 million surplus from the last fiscal year to create a pension payment fund and to move up a police recruit class.

As the city’s required pension payments continue to rise over the next several years, questions of where and how to distribute funds will be points of scrutiny for public officials.

James said there are a number of categories of legislation that will come up on Thursday, and “probably the most important is the budget conversation will be taking place at the next council meeting about the surplus funds … in the mid-year adjustment. I think that’ll be a good part of the part of the conversation.”

Metro Council approved more than $25 million in cuts to this fiscal year’s budget, driven largely by the pension shortfall. That came about after the state’s pension board changed the assumptions for Kentucky’s retirement plan, and the city’s bill outpaced revenue.

Here are some of the key items James said Metro Council will consider in its meeting Thursday, which is open to the public at City Hall and will be streamed online.

Budget-Driven Cuts Contribute To Large LMPD Surplus Thursday, Dec 5 2019 

Police park outside Occupy ICE Protest SiteNearly six months after citywide budget cuts, Metro government leaders shared insight into how the Louisville Metro Police Department ended up with a surplus of more than $2.6 million last year.

A key factor was the cancellation of a recruit class in June, which was done in anticipation of the cuts, according to the city’s Chief Financial Officer Daniel Frockt. He and police Chief Steve Conrad addressed the Metro Council’s public safety committee on Wednesday afternoon.

On Thursday, the budget committee will consider an ordinance determining how an unexpected $4 million surplus from the last fiscal year — which includes the LMPD’s excess — will be allocated across Metro Government.

Frockt said about a third of the LMPD surplus came from sources like special events, including a one-time payment for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup, which took place at Churchill Downs.

But eliminating the planned June recruit class saved the department $460,000 in personnel costs, he said.

“The reason that you have the greatest savings from the cancellation of the June class is that you have 12 months that you’re not paying the recruits,” Frockt said.

Another nearly $1.3 million wasn’t spent on expenditures such as ammunition, first aid supplies, training, education and professional services, Frockt said. Major Paul Humphrey, commander of LMPD’s training division, elaborated that money allocated for those line items related to the recruit class that did not happen was redistributed to other departments or not spent.

The Metro Council appropriated $179.4 million from the city’s $626 million general fund in the 2018-2019 fiscal year budget.

Conrad said that 86 officers had resigned this year by the end of November, which is higher than anticipated. That was the deadline for retirement in order for some officers to receive certain pension benefits. The shortfall of officers this year, which is also due to some officers leaving for better-paying departments in the area, forced LMPD to reorganize this fall.

And, unlike other years, there was one fewer recruit class to make up for the losses.

“That class would have graduated this month, they would have gone through four months of field training, and we would have had somewhere between, you know, 35 and 40 new officers on the street that won’t be there,” he said.

The budget ordinance under consideration Thursday recommends allocating $300,000 to shift a recruit class from June of next year up to May. LMPD is also scheduled to start a class in February.

That “would give us an opportunity to hire up to a total of 96 recruits between the two classes, but the ones hired in February don’t graduate until August, and aren’t going to be in a position to help us on their own until almost the end of 2020,” Conrad said.

Meanwhile, both homicides and shootings are up this year compared to 2018. He said there were 88 homicides through Dec. 4, 2019, compared to 73 by that date last year. As of Monday, there were about 17 more shootings this year than last for an increase of about 6.5 percent, he said.

Asked whether that could be a result of fewer officers and resources for the department, Conrad said he could not directly link those factors to the rate of crimes.

“But I absolutely do know that what the police do, matters,” he said. “More officers, in my personal opinion, would lead to fewer, fewer crimes and in particular, fewer violent crimes.”

This year’s budget cuts were a result of a pension bill for city employees that is expected to continue increasing at about $10 million a year for the next several years. Some lawmakers and city leaders have said more tax revenue would be a preferable alternative to further cuts.

Louisville Metro Could Soon Be More Friendly To LGBT Business Owners Friday, Nov 22 2019 

When Louisville Metro requests bids for government contracts, it already makes an effort with women-, minority- and disabled-owned businesses. And soon lawmakers could consider expanding that opportunity to businesses owned and run by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Metro Council could soon consider a change to its ordinance that codifies how it solicits bids from minority groups. The proposal, entered this week, seeks to include certified LGBT businesses in its efforts.

Cyndi Masters, the CEO and founder of digital agency DBS Interactive and a member of Louisville’s gay and lesbian chamber of commerce, said the change in language is validating. And she said it will be good for the city.

“It’s really smart, it’s really smart,” Masters said. “There’s a lot of loyalty from these marginalized communities, so when you include me, I’m pretty loyal to you. Especially if you included me before it was popular.”

Right now Louisville dedicates a small percentage of its business spending, which is known as procurement, to companies owned by women, minorities and disabled people. The new ordinance would specifically encourage proposals from LGBT-owned businesses, and would include dedicated outreach to those owners.

Jonathan Lovitz of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which is the body that certifies LGBT businesses, said they add about $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy each year. So he said inviting them to the table makes good business sense.

“One of the problems and the reason that supplier diversity programs like this were established was because of the historic biases and discriminatory practices that so many communities felt… too often, the contract went to the golfing buddy of the procurement officer,” he said.

Lovitz said more and more cities are codifying efforts to contract with LGBT business owners. Just this year, Los Angeles, Chicago and Tampa have taken this kind of step. He said Louisville doing the same could send a message to the rest of Kentucky.

Although the city is known for its LGBTQ-friendliness, the same is not necessarily true of the state. Case in point: In 2017, the California attorney general banned state-funded travel to Kentucky over a law he said could lead to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Lovitz said that if Louisville adopts this ordinance change, it would signal an embrace of America’s diverse economic future. And with Democrat Andy Beshear taking office as governor next month, Lovitz sees more opportunities.

“We are very excited at the NGLCC to work with the new governor, as we have with governors across the country in adding not just LGBT- but disability- and veteran-owned businesses, who are usually the three categories left out of state procurement,” he said.

Louisville’s ordinance already covers businesses owned by disabled people, including a goal of spending half a percent of its procurement budget with them. But the ordinance still refers to that group as “handicapped.” The proposal filed this week seeks to update that language to say “disabled,” instead.

For business owner Cyndi Masters, who is also disabled, it’s an overdue change.

“Thank God. Thank God,” she said. “What an archaic word.”

She previously registered her business with the gay and lesbian chamber, as well as Disability:IN, which certifies disabled-owned businesses.

“Handicapped, it just has a negative connotation. It’s a belittling word,” she said.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green (D-1) introduced the ordinance this week. She said it’s common sense, and good for Louisville.

“We want to send a message that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is good business practice to be welcome to all businesses, no matter who they’re owned by,” she said.

The Community Affairs Committee will most likely consider the ordinance in December, following the Thanksgiving break.

After A Year-Long Fight, Metro Council Approves Food Truck Regulations Thursday, Oct 24 2019 

Food trucksThe Metro Council ended a year-long fight Thursday evening when it voted to pass an ordinance that strengthened some proposed regulations on food trucks and other mobile vendors, while loosening others.

Food truck owners protested earlier versions of the ordinance, one of which got sent back to the public works committee in August for further refinement.

Council members voted 22 to 0 to approve the measure.

The accepted legislation did away with measures including a restriction on noise produced by generators and restrictions on how much of a block could be reserved for commercial vending downtown. It expanded the requirement for reporting all criminal convictions in the preceding five years to include all employees who engage in vending and peddling.

“I really think this represents something where nobody got everything they wanted, but it is a good balance between the interested parties,” said Markus Winkler (D-17).

Last year, Metro Council repealed an ordinance that restricted where food trucks could operate based on their proximity to brick and mortar restaurants following a lawsuit from two local food truck owners. Earlier this year, Metro Government and the owners entered a consent decree that ended the lawsuit. It said Metro could not treat food truck vendors differently than other commercial vehicles.

Metro Council Approves Fee Hike For Struggling Public Golf Courses Thursday, Oct 10 2019 

The Louisville Metro Council voted Thursday to increase fees for public golf courses, most of which have failed to break even or make a profit in recent years. The ordinance had more than 15 sponsors, an indication of broad support across most of the council.

The measure raises base daily fees by $5 across the city’s 10 public courses.

It also allows the golf pros who manage the city-owned courses to adjust rates up or down in response to factors including weather and low demand, a process called dynamic pricing. They may also choose to close courses from December to February, except for Seneca, Vettiner, Iroquois and Quail Chase.

The ordinance also includes new quarterly reporting and transparency requirements.  The contracts for golf pros are currently opaque, according to the Courier Journal.

Lead sponsor Cindi Fowler (D-14), addressing a question from a Parks and Sustainability Committee meeting last week, said that she has signatures of support from more than 5,000 Louisville golfers who would be willing to pay the additional $5 a day.

“I think it’s so important that we try to do what we can to keep things as normal as possible in this budget crisis that we’re in,” she said.

The fiscal sustainability of the golf courses is key to their survival as Louisville faces an increasing employee pension burden, which could result in additional budget cuts in the future.

Council members voted 22 to 1 to pass the ordinance. Bill Hollander (D-9) voted against the measure. He is the sponsor of another ordinance that would let Metro contract with outside agencies to manage the courses. The city is requesting proposals from such vendors through Oct. 15.

Metro Council Could Raise Fees To Save Unprofitable Public Golf Courses Thursday, Oct 10 2019 

Most of Louisville’s 10 public golf courses are losing money. That’s why some of them were at risk of closure as city leaders considered cost-saving measures for this year’s budget. Now, officials are considering two options to keep the courses open.

The first, a plan to allow public golf courses to raise greens fees and adjust pricing based on demand, will likely face a Metro Council vote Thursday evening. That’s despite a deadline next week for a request for proposals from outside management companies that the mayor’s office put out in September.

The ordinance suggests raising daily fees by $5.

With employee pension costs expected to continue rising for several years, officials are looking for new sources of revenue in general. And raising fees could be one way to keep golf courses open.

At a recent Parks and Sustainability Committee meeting, chair Cindi Fowler (D-14) said she wants to keep golf in Louisville as close to the same as it is now.

“The green fees alone will raise $1 million,” Fowler said, calling it a conservative estimate. She said finding savings in maintenance costs could also help make up some of the losses.

A third-party report shared in August by the Louisville Parks and Sustainability Department showed that six of the city’s 10 public golf courses failed to break even or make a profit in fiscal year 2018. It said the courses lost more than $2 million that year.

081519 Louisville Parks and Recreation Presentation JUNE 7 Copy Copy (Text)

When asked by council member Bill Hollander (D-9) whether anyone has analyzed how higher rates would impact rates of play, Fowler said she did not know what the effect would be. Hollander is the sponsor of a different ordinance that would allow Metro to contract with outside management companies.

Jay Karen, the CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association, said the proposed changes are reasonable.

“It makes fundamental sense as a business to do that,” he said. “If they haven’t been doing it, then they’ve been missing out probably on revenue for years.”

He also said if the city decides to enter contracts with outside management firms, those companies could implement higher fees and dynamic pricing, just like what Fowler’s ordinance proposes.

“That’s what a lot of management companies do, that’s the expertise they’re hired for. So it’s just a matter of do they want to maintain full control or turn it over to a company that makes its living running golf courses,” Karen said.

The deadline for outside management companies to submit proposals to Louisville Metro is Oct. 15, 2019.

Under Budget Pressure, Metro Council Approves Property Tax Hike And Property Dispute Settlement Friday, Aug 23 2019 

As expected, property taxes will go up for Louisville homeowners this year, following a vote by the Metro Council on Thursday. That decision preceded a vote during the same session that committed the city to paying out a settlement over a bad public property deal.

With Louisville facing increased — and increasing — budget pressures, costs to taxpayers are likely to continue rising. And some Metro Council members are calling for more oversight.

Some of those higher costs will come in the form of moves like the property tax hike, a measure Mayor Greg Fischer’s office said his budget depended on to be balanced this year.

That will mean a $2.30 increase for a $100,000 house in Jefferson County, and an additional $3.90 for the same house in the Urban Services District. The change is expected to bring in another crucial $1.2 million for the city this year.

Mayor Greg Fischer accounted for that money in his budget proposal for this fiscal year, which cut more than $25 million compared to what was needed to maintain previous service and staffing levels. He said cuts would have been greater if property taxes weren’t raised to this level. Higher employee pension and healthcare costs drove the budget cuts, and are expected to continue rising in coming years.

But council members remain concerned about the cost of poorly-managed property deals to the city and taxpayers .

In a vote to declare the property at 814 Vine St. in Paristowne Point as surplus, Metro Council cleared the way for the city to pay a $150,000 settlement to a would-be developer of the land, which was previously promised to another group. The funds will come from carryover from the fiscal year 2019 budget of Louisville Forward, the city’s economic development agency, which struck the deal.

It’s the latest in a number of recent surplus properties that some Council members have criticized as costing the city, either directly through legal action or through lost revenue when properties were sold at discounts.

Councilman Anthony Piagentini (R-19) blamed Louisville Forward for improperly making a deal when there was already a lease for the property in place.

“We need to correct it and we need to take the leadership on oversight related to this department and what they’re doing so we have more visibility and more comfort to defend these decisions to our constituents,” he said.

He said the state’s economic development agency is subject to more oversight, and that Louisville Forward should get the same treatment.

Metro Council Members Call For More Protections In City-Owned Surplus Property Sales Sunday, Aug 18 2019 

Take three seemingly-disparate projects: the Louisville Urban League’s track and field complex, the Urban Government Center redevelopment and two historic buildings on Bardstown Road. All of them share a key detail: the land or buildings were owned by the city, but city officials say they aren’t needed for government use.

Declaring the properties “surplus” allows Louisville Metro to sell them cheap. That could mean pricing them below their assessed value, or selling them for a dollar. Often that low price is considered a subsidy for potential developments seen as worthwhile to the city and community.

But with Louisville’s budget shrinking, some Metro Council members are scrutinizing how the city sells these surplus properties. They say some deals have cost the city — either because they’re over-discounted, or because promised developments haven’t panned out.

Some have called for Louisville Forward and the Jefferson County Attorney’s office — which negotiate and write the deals — to write in more or different protections for the city. And one council member says the deal-making process should be overhauled.

Brent Ackerson (D-26) is critical of the expectation that Metro Council should simply rubber-stamp deals made by the mayor’s office.

“These are assets that belong to the city, these are assets that can affect our budgets,” he said. “The more we give away things, the question is, what are we getting in return for that? Because we’re not Daddy Warbucks, you know. The city runs on a tight budget.”

City services and staff were hit hard this fiscal year, as growing pension and employee healthcare costs forced officials to pass a budget that was more than $25 million below what the city needed to maintain last year’s levels.

Ackerson said council members should be involved in surplus sales earlier in the process. At present, Metro Council has the power to deny a deal by declining to approve the surplus status for a property. But it cannot as a body influence the sale price of a property, nor what is written in the contract. The only place the council can make changes is to the resolution authorizing a property to be designated as surplus.

And Ackerson said he isn’t satisfied with how little input the council has in the current deal-making process. He would like representatives from the Mayor’s office or Louisville Forward to formally discuss potential sales with council members before committing to the projects.

“They might need to come to us in advance and say, ‘Here’s what we’re talking about. Can you support this if we strike this deal? If not, what is it that you’re looking for?'” he said.

That way, he said council may have the ability to tweak terms of an agreement to make it acceptable, rather than having to vote to pass or kill it after the details are already decided.

Knowing about potential sales earlier in the process could help prevent costly mistakes, in Ackerson’s view. He offered the example of 814 Vine Street, which has been held up in committee because the city promised the land to two groups.

Now, if council approves the surplus designation for the property, which is part of the Urban Government center, Louisville Metro will pay a $150,000 settlement to The Marian Group. That developer planned to build shotgun homes on the vacant lot. At the same time, the Paristown Preservation Trust, which leased the land for parking in 2017, will pay $500,000 to The Marian Group and purchase the land from Metro for a dollar.

“I’m not accusing anyone of doing something wrong. But there’s the potential that wrong can be done,” Ackerson said. “In order to avoid the potential, we need mechanisms in place that allow the branch of this government being the Metro Council to question things.”

‘Evolving’ Economic Development Processes

Caitlin Bowling, a spokeswoman for economic development agency Louisville Forward, said her team works regularly with Metro Council members to apprise them of their work and to hear their feedback and concerns.

“We’re continuing to communicate with Metro Council about their expectations, because that’s something that has been evolving, as have our processes with developments and any surplus resolutions,” she said.

The biggest procedural change is some deals now contain provisions that would give Louisville Metro the first right of refusal to purchase a property if it isn’t developed as planned, she said. The Urban League deal, which the city is backing with a $10 million bond, includes this disclaimer:

If the Project is not developed within five (5) years from the date of title transfer of the Property from Metro to Developer, Developer agrees that the Property will revert back to Metro.

James Peden (R-23) said at a recent Metro Council meeting that development agreements for surplus property sales should include a standard line to give Louisville the right of first refusal for repurchasing a property at the price it sold it for under certain conditions.

“If whatever you’re doing doesn’t work out, if you try to flip it, whatever it is, we have the right to buy back for whatever it is you bought it from us — whether it’s that dollar, that symbolic dollar that we sometimes charge, or a few thousand dollars more,” he said.

The much-criticized sale of two Bardstown Road buildings included no such protection. Those properties were sold for a second time last month, for $1.12 million. The city sold them at a discount for $425,000 in late 2016 with the hope they would be turned into a Sterling Beer brewery.

Councilman Brandon Coan (D-8), who represents the district where the historic properties are located, said council members learned from that experience. He said they want the city to have the opportunity to repurchase properties for the original price so that “someone else doesn’t promise us something, fail to deliver and they get to keep the property.”

This Bardstown Road project didn’t include a development agreement; Louisville Forward only writes these agreements for sales in which the city is investing in the project, such as the Louisville Urban League’s planned track and field complex in the Russell neighborhood. A development agreement is a type of contract that dictates the terms of certain city property sales, and includes details including how the property would be developed and what might happen if that fails.

Bowling, with Louisville Forward, could not say whether right of refusal clauses would become standard in surplus sales. She said each deal is different.

Metro Council Passes Ordinance To Crack Down On Panhandling And Jaywalking Thursday, Aug 8 2019 

The Louisville Metro Council has passed an ordinance that would fine pedestrians — including panhandlers and jaywalkers. It was billed as a public safety measure and was supported by council members who say it is designed to prevent pedestrian fatalities on busy roads.

The new rule passed Thursday night limits the permissible reasons pedestrians may approach vehicles in intersections, defines where it is safe to cross roads on foot, and prohibits individuals from lingering on medians.

Groups including some labor union leaders and the American Civil Liberties Union initially criticized the ordinance for potentially infringing free speech rights. But after the vote on an amended version of the ordinance, the ACLU tweeted that Louisvillians’ First Amendment rights would not be affected while on sidewalks.

Others say it could unduly punish those who travel on foot.

District 9 councilman Bill Hollander, who voted against the measure, said his constituents in neighborhoods like Clifton and Crescent Hill frequently cross roads away from intersections. The ordinance includes jaywalking among infractions that could carry fines of $25 to $250.

 “I know, in my district, that happens every single night, every night, every hour. I’ve had people tell me there is no other place they can safely cross, except not at an intersection. I’ve had people in wheelchairs,” Hollander said.

The ordinance passed easily with a 17 to 7 vote.

Sun Valley pool reopens despite budget deficit Monday, Jul 15 2019 

Young swimmers enjoy Sun Valley's swimming pool for the first time this summer.

Louisville’s budget concerns haven’t kept all of the city pools closed this summer. The Sun Valley pool at the Sun Valley Community Center officially reopened on Monday, as Louisville Metro Councilwoman Cindi Fowler (D-14) allocated $40,000 of discretionary funds and landed donations from companies around the city to help make the pool operable once again. […]