LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The $65 million Mayor Greg Fischer wants to cut out of the city’s budget to offset pension obligations has caused outrage among public safety departments.
The public safety sector takes one of the biggest hits in the mayor’s list of proposed cuts.
The Corrections Department would have to give over one of its work release centers to a privatized company in these proposed cuts. The union said there’s no way that will happen.
“If somebody wants to come privatize my members and try to take jobs away from my members, all I can say is -- see you in court,” union leader Tracy Dotson said.
Dotson says privatizing is a breach of the union’s contract with the city.
“The litigation that’s going to come from the Fraternal Order of Police is going to be substantial,” Dotson said. “That’s not going to be how the city saves money with corrections.”
Dotson says turning over the Community Corrections Facility on Chestnut Street, and its 400 inmates, to a private company will expose inmates to corruption, sexual abuse, violence and more.
“The more inmates they have, the more money they make,” Dotson said. “They have absolutely zero incentive to, number one, let people out and see that justice is served or anything of that nature.”
Making such drastic cuts to essential departments, Dotson says, may just be a political move.
Metro Councilman Brent Ackerson agrees -- and he has been crunching the numbers.
“We’ve been able to peel back the layers of the onion and determine this is really not a pension crisis issue," Ackerson said. "And this is not something that I think realistically we can blame on Frankfort at this point.”
Most of the budget shortfall is on the city and its spending, according to Ackerson.
The councilman said out of the $65 million Fischer says the city needs, $35 million is what is needed for this upcoming fiscal year.
Of that $35 million, only $9.7 million is for pension. Another $10 million of that is due to the fact the city over-estimated the revenue that would come in. The last $15 million is from subsidizing city employees’ healthcare, all according to Ackerson.
“Your government has got to get leaner,” Ackerson said. “It is a problem that we should’ve seen and we’re going to see again in the future.”
The councilman prepared a chart that shows (columns from left to right) the department and their 2019 fiscal year budget, what a 10-percent cut to that budget would be, the mayor’s proposed cut and what percentage the mayor’s cut is.
“If you step back and look at this as across the board 10-percent, that would be your starting point,” Ackerson explained. “You can shift down. A 10-percent reduction to all departments would give us roughly $67.5 million. We need $35 million. So now, all the sudden, you say we don’t need to cut 10-percent. In fact, some departments potentially don’t need to be cut at all.”
As an example, Ackerson points out roughly $18.5 million would be taken from LMPD with his 10-percent cuts -- and that’s more than the mayor’s $7.9 million.
But, Ackerson clarified to say if you subtract that $18.5 million from his total $67.5 million, you’d still be left with roughly $50 million to cover the budget shortfall. He says that shows the flexibility we are working with.
Ackerson added if cuts need to be made, they should not include the front-line first responders, but rather management positions.
Also, he recommended cutting certain departments and programs that aren’t necessary at the moment and that are redundant. Ackerson wants to consolidate departments and trim from spending he says has gotten out of hand.
“It’s time to hit the reset button,” Ackerson said. “What we need to be talking about as a community is -- why do we need this tax which only continues the problem and the path that we’re on? Versus using this reason to consolidate services.”
The tax increase, Ackerson says, was presented as a 100-percent insurance tax increase. He brought up the fact that raising taxes, along with upcoming MSD and LG&E rate increases, would be difficult for the average person to handle.
Ackerson said it’s spending that needs to be controlled, rather than throwing more money at the problem.
“This tax is going to be nothing more than a credit card to people who are already not earning enough,” Ackerson said. “Wages aren’t going up. This would be one more burden, knowing there’s more burdens to come.”
Ackerson said the six-week deadline is also an issue, stating this should have been discussed a year ago.
“What we have to do in the next six weeks is put out this information and get the people to these options,” Ackerman said, adding Metro Council needs to asses the affects of the cuts they could make, even looking at a slower tax increase.
“But to rush this at this point, is a knee-jerk reaction,” Ackerson said. “It’s almost like the nuclear option, when we need to be stepping back and using the power of the pen. It’s prioritizing cuts in certain services that we can afford. If we have to cut some library hours, that is something that just has to happen versus taking more officers off the street.”
The mayor’s office declined to comment on the proposed cuts.