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Each year, in this space, I give my first take on the mayor’s recommended new budget. Due to the financial uncertainty and impact of COVID-19, Mayor Greg Fischer presented a continuation budget to Metro Council last week, which means no service level changes, no new programs, no cost of living adjustment for non-union personnel, no new positions, no furloughs, no layoffs and the continuation of approved contracts (including labor union requirements) and all current benefits. The forestry division within Develop Louisville has been transferred to the Department of Parks & Recreation – it’s a minor detail – otherwise, the entire governmental organization is just about the same as last year. What I'd give for more to rate and analyze!
That leaves only the capital budget, which for the purpose of this column, my observations are limited to the projects recommended for funding. (Notwithstanding, it is clear that a structural change is necessary to build this city and a future for ourselves. We have gotten to the point where operating expenses consume all general fund revenue and the capital budget is more than 99.9% debt financing and grants.)
The mayor’s capital budget is like a box of chocolates. All I really wanted was funding ($60,000) to conduct a detailed traffic analysis of removing the Bardstown Road peak hours lane lights, a top recommendation for implementation of the Bardstown Road Safety Study. We didn’t get it. (Although, we will.) I was surprised to learn, however, that instead the budget includes $2.5 million for intelligent traffic signal synchronization along the corridor (from Broadway to the Snyder Freeway) to support congestion mitigation and future bus rapid transit. This is a good thing that complements our other planned improvements. The other sweet morsel to District 8 in the budget is a pair of investments in Cherokee Park: $300,000 to repair and restore the historic Gaulbert Pavilion in the Big Rock area; and some portion of $200,000 allotted for Olmsted Parks hiking trails to repair the 4.8-mile Cherokee Trail that loops the park. (This funding leverages a $300,000 commitment from the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.)
Other than diminished levels of ordinary paving, sidewalk repair and public works miscellany, the only additional D8 CapEx is Council discretionary funding in the total combined amount of $69,000, the bulk of which I expect to spend on enhanced Bardstown Road and sidewalk lighting, another top priority due to the high occurrence of nighttime crashes and pedestrian strikes. (Our engineering firm’s lighting improvement plan is coming soon.) New street trees and/or delineator posts to reduce curb radii are also distinct possibilities. I will publish our office budgets in June.
Outside District 8, I am happy to see funding for conversion of at least eight one-way streets in downtown Louisville to two-way traffic flow, construction of 10 more miles of the Louisville Loop and the creation and preservation of affordable housing and homeownership across the city. By contrast, I am concerned to see $435,000 for demolition (“or relocation,” which is interesting) of the historic Odd Fellows Building, part of the Omni Hotel complex. Not only is the structure under consideration for individual landmark status (a public hearing originally scheduled for April 16 has been postponed) but, also, city law prohibits the issuance of a wrecking permit for a historic building until a redevelopment plan has been approved and new construction permits have been issued. We are nowhere close to that and, in the meantime, we have too many hungry mouths to feed. This can wait another year, or forever. Similarly, funding a Preston Highway Corridor Master Plan ($150,000) and upgrading central business district street lights to LED ($1.25 million) are worthy causes but why continue to ignore the Highlands’ well-documented and paid for needs in these areas? (The CBD lighting did not go through a study other than an inspection of the condition of the poles.)
Jo-buu… I good to you, I stand up for you. If you no help me now… I do it myself.
A full schedule of Budget committee meetings, a link to budget documents, a form to comment on the budget and instructions for speaking at virtual public hearings are available at the Metro Council Clerk’s page. The capital plan comprises pages 186 - 208 of the Recommended Executive Budget.
For breaking news and information, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you have a question or comment, please call me at: (502) 574-1108 or email: [email protected] (and copy [email protected]). If you have a service request, please call Metro 311 or visit Metro 311 online. Visit the District 8 Strategic Plan page here.