Mayor Fischer's Budget Address - May 26, 2011

We have all heard a story about a mother whose children couldn’t understand why she always said “no.” So one week, she cashed her paycheck and took home the entire amount in one dollar bills.

That stack of dollar bills really impressed the kids. They were convinced that they were rich! They could buy whatever they wanted.

But then she helped them take out the amount that went for that week’s worth of rent.

And the groceries.

And the gas for the car.

Soon, even a child could see, that when Mom said “no” – she wasn’t offering a personal opinion. She was just relaying the facts.

I tell you this story about a family, because five months into my administration I believe more than ever what I said at my inaugural address: that we are one city, one community, and – most importantly – one family.

from Portland to PRP to Prospect…

from Shawnee to Shively to St. Matthews …

from Rubbertown to Butchertown to Berrytown…

We’re united with the same basic desires. We want to feel safe in our neighborhood and want to feel confident that we can make a living so our opportunities grow along with our dreams.

Now like any family, we don’t always agree. Especially when it comes to money.

Most of us know – from experiences in our own kitchens – that people don’t disagree over money because they’re greedy or don’t love each other.

Sometimes they bicker because one of them thinks that the car needs new tires and the other thinks the kids need new shoes – or braces – and the simple truth is: They’re both right. And yet, decisions have to be made.

So today, I’m announcing the decisions we’ve made in preparing a budget for Louisville for this next fiscal year.

This is a $712 million spending plan that will directly affect every one of our 5,500 employees and our 740,000 residents.

We held five budget hearings in locations around the city. We heard from citizens, vendors, metro council members and unions. I received hundreds of suggestions from metro employees. People on Facebook and Twitter have chimed in too! And we’ve incorporated some of those ideas into this spending plan.

I know that this budget isn’t going to please everyone; in fact there are things about it that don’t please me. So let’s start with the good news, which falls into four categories.

First, there will be no tax increases.

Second, we are going to invest in the economic development of our community… it’s all about jobs, jobs jobs.

You know, a family budget isn’t the same as a business budget.

But even families invest in their own job opportunities. Mom doesn’t go to a job interview in sweat pants, just to save money on the clothing budget. And even if it costs 50 to 100 bucks to fill up the tank, Dad doesn’t just let the car run out of gas – not if that gas is what gets him to work each day.

We all know that the ONLY way we can improve the city’s revenue, without raising taxes, is to grow the tax base.

To that end, I’m hiring four directors who are going to grow our economic development efforts and results.

-- A director of innovation to help Louisville grow jobs, particularly in the areas of lifelong wellness and aging industries; next-generation manufacturing, logistics, and food and beverage services.

-- We’re going to fund a director for Globalization – which has currently been run by a volunteer -- to foster the sort of international savvy we need to compete in the shrinking world.

-- We need a director of military affairs to help us make sure the expansion of Fort Knox pays off in defense industry jobs located right here in the metro area, rather than miles or states away.

-- And we need to hire a director of sustainability. … to make us one of the most environmentally-friendly cities in the world, attracting new green industries and … as an added bonus… helping us save money on energy efficiencies.

I know some of you will question spending money on economic development staff in tough times. But these are exactly the times when you MUST invest in economic development – I’m looking and planning ahead for the next decade.

The third piece of good news is that we are able to largely maintain our workforce. This means we will have the same number of police, firefighters and paramedics. This is a huge commitment of resources, but nothing we do is more important. About six out of every ten dollars you pay in taxes goes directly to public safety.

We’re not cutting basic services. In fact, we’re going to continue to improve them and become even more efficient. We’ll be increasing our training budget by $300,000 to improve our efficiency. We know a well-trained workforce can help us better serve the community without increasing staff.

Some of our public safety statistics illustrate the importance of training. If you compare us to 8 peer cities – cities like Nashville, Cincinnati, and St. Louis – you’ll find that we have fewer violent crimes, per capita. When it comes to crime, we’re a safe city.

We’re going to fund new recruit classes for both fire and police, so that we can replace retiring officers. We’re even going to provide seed money to start a paramedic academy, because we know the academy approach works.

We will actually hire MORE trash collectors, because it cost less to hire new people than it does to pay extensive overtime. We’re going to hire 15 people AND save $355,000!

One other thing about our workforce: It is a personal priority of mine to continue the Tuition Assistance program. As you know, the community has set a goal of earning 55,000 more college degrees by the year 2020.

If we’re asking private employers to encourage employees to go to school, we must show leadership by encouraging our own employees.

And that brings me to the fourth and final piece of good news:

We’re going to CONTINUE making Louisville a nicer place to live and work.

One of my administration’s themes is that life-long learning leads directly to job creation. Under this budget, I will re-open libraries on Sundays, when working people and students can use them. Cathy Snell mentioned this at our hearing at the Southwest Government Center, and she was right.

Additionally, this budget includes money to design the new Southwest branch in Valley Station, to furnish the new Fairdale branch and renovate the historic Western branch in the Russell neighborhood.

Another theme of my administration has been to make Louisville a healthier city. We have to build and improve sidewalks so people have safe places to walk or jog or wait for the bus. That’s why my budget includes nearly $1 million to add bike and pedestrian paths to River Road – the #1 priority of the biking community.

We’re also contributing to a bike lane and sidewalk program on LaGrange Road, near Bowen Elementary School. Tom Armstrong and Andy Murphy were two of the people who mentioned to me, in our public hearings, how important bike lanes are to the development of the city.

We have to be able to alert our residents when there is a threat to their safety – whether it’s an industrial accident or an approaching tornado. That’s why we’ve budgeted $500,000 for a new citywide system to text, phone or email warnings – whatever method residents prefer. That’s what the people in Rubbertown, and elsewhere, deserve.

A growing city can’t just limp along, forever putting off needed construction and improvements. That’s why this budget calls for straightening the troublesome Broadway and 18th Street intersection and stabilizing Broad Run Road in Southeast Louisville. This budget includes $870,000 to synchronize traffic lights on major suburban roads -- Dixie, Preston, Hurstbourne, Bardstown and Shelbyville.

We’ll also be making a $100,000 match to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, leveraging that with a one-to-one private match, because we know that a great city must have affordable housing.

Also, you all heard the exciting news this week about Sheppard Square. The project will have a value of $157 million over the next decade. Our budget includes $1.6 million to help integrate that new development into the surrounding neighborhood. That will not only make the area a better place to live, but will “set the table” for the private businesses that settle into any healthy neighborhood.

On some of these issues, sure, we could try to “live with” the status quo. But if we want to be a dynamic city that attracts dynamic people, we have to be solving problems and moving forward, not just working around them.

And that brings me to the not-so-great news.

This budget, as good as it is, does not solve our underlying problem. Our expenses, particularly when it comes to labor, fuel costs, health costs and retirement programs, are growing faster than our income, and this budget doesn’t fundamentally change that.

Yes, we got through this year. But I regret to inform you that this budget was hammered together with more stopgaps than solutions.

Let me give you a few examples:

We closed the projected shortfall by:

-- Requiring employees who make more than $70,000 to take a week of unpaid furlough. That will include me. We’re all in this together.

-- Asking for voluntary furloughs from all other employees. I was touched that several employees suggested that very thing in emails to me a couple of months ago. Some said that they’d rather lose a week’s pay than see a coworker lose their job. Tom Pifer, Ruth Maurer, Tom Louderback and Richard Everett, I appreciate your suggestions and your concern for the city.

-- Freezing salaries – except in cases where union contracts prohibit it. We also expect a hiring freeze for most personnel to last throughout the year.

-- In addition to these savings, we’re also balancing the budget by using $3.5 million that was seized during drug investigations or otherwise forfeited to police.

-- We have also found a one-time $2.8 million savings in health-care costs.

-- We will be saving $1 million by making government operations more streamlined, including consolidating business management. That ensures that every dollar is being tracked.

-- And we will revamp the city’s cellphone policy, consolidating plans when appropriate and reducing the number of cellphones assigned to employees.

This budget will hold us in place – and it is the right budget, I believe, for this year. We can’t turn the whole ship around all at once.

But we must turn it around.

We know perfectly well that we can’t go on forever, asking our employees to take weeks off without pay and relying on confiscated drug money to pay for our trash pickup. That is not a budget that anyone can be proud of.

As I’ve already stated, my goal for Louisville is that we become a place were problems are solved, not just worked around or pushed off into the future.

So I will advise you now, that as soon as this budget is put to bed, my team will be working on the next one—and in it, we’re going to make fundamental changes. As I look ahead to the next budget, we still have the same structural problem I mentioned before and it must be solved. So I need some help.

Union leaders, thank you for your help in this budget – and I’m going to be coming back to you. I need your help even more.

Arts groups, community associations – any non-governmental agency that has traditionally relied on Metro support – I will be coming to you. You all do wonderful work for this city.

It pains me to tell you this, but if forced to choose between funding the police and fire departments or your type of independent organizations, we have to choose public safety. I don’t like delivering this 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.

Metro Council, I’m going to be coming to you. I appreciate your cooperation on the capital infrastructure swap in this budget and I think you know, as well as I do, that we need to talk about those funds and the neighborhood development money for next year.

Most families don’t like the budget choices they have to make. They don’t want to tell their daughter that she can’t go to soccer camp this year. They don’t like griping at the love-of-their-life for spending too much at the grocery store.

I understand that. I didn’t run for public office because I take pleasure in furloughing employees or not giving raises.

My team began deliberating over this document in February.

We know these aren’t just numbers on a page; they represent people’s paychecks, and the sidewalks in their neighborhood. These numbers represent the training of the person who shows up at the door when you call 911 and whether or not the intersection you drive through every day is safe or not.

Given the reality of where we are, this budget represents the best we can do this year. Most importantly, it puts us in a place where we can grow while we work through these tough times.

And grow we must, or every budget from here on will be continued cutting. So it’s important that we streamline where we can and invest where we must.

Doing so will allow us to become what we all know we can be: one of the most vibrant, entrepreneurial and compassionate cites in the world.