LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The Louisville Metro Council on Thursday allowed a 2 percent fee on natural gas that was a cornerstone of Mayor Greg Fischer's push to expand public safety.
The measure, which the council approved 12-10, grants Fischer the authority to enact up to a 2 percent franchise fee on Louisville Gas and Electric's gas customers. The mayor has called the fee critical to pay for new police officers, upgraded community centers and more.
Democratic leaders shelved the initial proposal, which would've allowed a 3 percent fee, because it didn't have enough support among their members. Despite criticism from a major business group, West Louisville residents and some members of his own party, Fischer praised the Council's vote.
"This is a great day for public safety in Louisville," Fischer said in a statement late Thursday.
LG&E gas customers would pay about $12 to $18 a year instead of about $24 under the amended ordinance, according to data provided by Metro Council Democrats.
Fischer's budget recommendations include about $6.8 million in additional public safety spending, including the hiring of 24 police officers beyond the typical level to replace retiring officers.
Public emails and phone calls to Metro Council overwhelmingly opposed the fee. There were 379 comments in opposition and four who supported it, according to documents provided by staff.
The issue pitted the interests of West Louisville residents, who said they couldn't afford to pay the fee, against Metro Police officers, who said they needed the help the new money would provide.
"I think it's bad because it's always going to be for poor people," said Mary Fouray, one of four community members to speak against the fee during Thursday's Metro Council meeting. "It's poor people who have to pay this.
But the Fraternal Order of Police and a Metro Police detective said they need new officers, especially the 15 planned for downtown.
"If I have to pay a fee, then public safety is a worthwhile thing to do that for," said Dave Mutchler, the Fraternal Order of Police president.
Republicans said Council members should find the money elsewhere in the budget. Fischer's administration fired back, saying that all of Louisville's new revenue had already been committed, a statement that Republicans criticized.
"That's ridiculous," Councilman Jerry Miller said. "There's no new money for what we need, but there sure is money for what the mayor wants."
Greater Louisville, Inc., sent emails to its business members last week urging them to oppose the increase.
Only LG&E gas customers in the old City of Louisville and unincorporated areas of Jefferson County will pay the fee. Suburban utility users are exempt because those cities have their own franchise agreements with LG&E.
Fischer's budget includes funding to hire civilians to monitor surveillance cameras, a new prosecutor for heroin cases, and to maintain a small police outpost inside the Kentucky International Convention Center downtown.
"I'm willing to give up a cup of coffee every month to pay for protection for my city, my whole city," said Vicki Aubrey Welch, the Council's Democratic Caucus chairwoman.
Democrats Brent Ackerson, Attica Scott and David Yates joined with seven Republicans in opposition. Republican Kelly Downard and 11 Democrats supported the measure.
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