LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The local fire union wants to know why a multi-million dollar surplus, found by Metro government from last year's budget, can't be used to reverse cuts made this year.
The city found an extra $4 million in an audit of the last fiscal year, which ended this past June. Now, it’s up to Metro Council to decide where that money will go.
“We’re cut to the bones and we’re sawing through bone and we’re starting to lose limbs and if we don’t have those to function, we can’t provide the service that the community deserves,” International Association of Fire Fighters 345 President Brian O’Neill said.
Just four days after an entire LFD Engine Company was shut down, O'Neill says there was a deadly fire within their alarm district.
“Rather than having eight firefighters on two pieces of equipment, you now only have four firefighters on one piece of equipment that is much slower, much less maneuverable, so it arrived on the scene much later in the game,” O’Neill said. “The crews that responded did a fantastic job with what they had, but they were very frustrated and angry because if they had more people on the scene sooner, then they might have been able to do more.”
A $1.7 million cut eliminated 15 positions, Engine 11, and Truck 7 at Rubel and Winter Avenue in the Highlands. They were replaced by a two-in-one, called a quint.
In order for the quint to perform its two functions, it needs the proper staffing, which O’Neill said it doesn’t have.
“You’re now waiting for another piece of equipment from further away to fill-in whichever is left out,” O’Neill said.
O’Neill said if the company was restored starting January 1, 2020, it would cost the city $850,000 for the rest of the year.
Another option O’Neill mentioned would be to add two more fire fighters to the quint, bringing the total to six. Three would operate the water and hose and the other three would operate the hook and ladder.
The equipment is there, O’Neill said the fire fighters aren’t.
“We’ve suffered staffing cuts two years in a row now and about this time of the year, suddenly the money that we were cut in staffing is found,” O’Neill said. “This year, once again, we lost an entire fire company that was shut down. That’s five less firefighters every day that are out there protecting the community and keeping their fellow fire fighters safe.”
The city found the $4 million surplus this week. It comes from higher than expected property taxes, which were collected from public service agencies like LG&E, as well as non-recurring capital gains and lower than projected spending in some departments.
“Using non-recurring money from the previous year to hire people in the current year, it’s just not a prudent thing to do,” District 9 Councilman Bill Hollander said.
Hollander added he would love to restore the services that were cut across the city, but it’s important to remember these funds come from the last fiscal year.
“That is a very volatile revenue source. We are down this year from where we were last year,” Hollander said. “Where we’ll end up at the end of the year? I don’t know.”
As the Budget Committee Chairman, Hollander said they hope to use $2.7 million of the surplus and spread it out over three years to help offset the rising pension obligation.
“It’s really a small help,” Hollander said. “We know that the pension costs are going up by probably $12 million next year, so to save $900,000 of that is a small piece, but anything will help. It’s the kind of thing you would do in your personal finances if you knew you had expenses coming and I think the city should be doing it too.”
The city also wants to use $300,000 to move up a 2020 LMPD recruiting class from June to May, getting more officers on the streets quicker. Another million of the surplus would go toward city’s “Rainy Day Fund.”
O’Neill said he understands this is a one-time flow of cash and funding the company would be a recurring expense. He said it points to a larger budgeting question.
“Two years in a row, they found money that they say they couldn’t budget,” O’Neill said. “I think that’s indicative of the fact that you could budget a little bit more carefully and put priority on Public Safety and find the money to make sure we keep the public safe.”
The proposal will be filed Monday according to Hollander and the council will decide on it December 12.