From hotel workers to ex-offenders and domestic partnerships
to Complete Streets — not to mention a budget presentation from the mayor
— the City-County Council tackled a wide variety
of business Monday night.
The council signified its unified support for a Complete
Streets ordinance, passing it on to the mayor with a 28-0 vote. The measure institutionalizes
a process that requires planners of new
infrastructure projects to consider the needs of all users of
the city's streets— from cars
and buses to cyclists and wheelchair users — and file a written explanation in cases
that don't meet the needs of all users.
Councilors divided along party lines when they failed to
override a mayoral veto of the so-called Freedom to Work ordinance. Republicans
continued to insist they've seen no evidence of blacklisting
practices that hotel workers have testified prevents workers employed by
temporary agencies from moving into permanent jobs in Downtown hotels.
But five Republicans joined with Democrats to pass an
ordinance to define "domestic partnerships" and provide benefits to
city and county employees in such partnerships.
Councilor Benjamin Hunter, a Republican representing District
21 on the city's Southeastside, said that although his
individual morals might not align with the concept of domestic partnership,
"I can't cast my morals into law nor can I judge others."
Hunter said several considerations guided his decision to
support the ordinance, including the benefits children of such relationships
stand to gain, the equity gained in not choosing favorites in benefit
distribution and the potential economic benefits the city stands to gain by
promoting itself as a welcoming, equitable municipality.
Mayor Greg Ballard at a news conference Monday
afternoon said he remained undecided on the issue.
The proposed $1.1 billion budget included a planned
appropriation of $595 million to the city-county general fund, the portion of
the budget that officials can allocate to address priority needs. This
represents a 4.6 percent increase over 2012, a reflection of increases in
health care, pensions and fixed costs.
The remaining portion of the budget is supported by dedicated
funds, such as transportation funds or grants, which cannot be diverted from their
Even with the boost to the general fund appropriation,
officials project a $65 million gap between projected revenue and expenses.
The mayor outlined several strategies for closing the gap,
including a planned savings of $5.5 million gained by forgoing planned raises
for police officers and firefighters.
"My administration has history of supporting police officers
and firefighters," Ballard said, noting that he had granted cumulative
salary increases totaling 14 percent since 2008.
" Unfortunately we're not in a position to
provide an additional 3 percent this year."
In response to a question about his decision to award
$150,000 in raises to key members of his staff earlier this year, Ballard said
his decision reflected a desire to keep money-saving talent.
"Talent is what saved this city $800 million when we
were reworked the sewers. Talent is what puts $300 million to $400 million of infrastructure
on the streets," he said. "I could save $20,000 on a salary and hire
somebody, but then the citizens don't save the $800 million ... and we don't do
all these other creative things like getting the pools fixed ... we're under
budget on all that."
Overall, the proposed budget would increase the general funds for the
police and fire departments by $9.8 million and $4 million,
Other cost-saving strategies include elimination of the
local homestead credit, which would save $8.1 million and only affect homes not
already taxed at the 1 percent rate cap dictated by state law. Killing the
subsidy would increase local taxes on affected homes
by an average of $24 per year.
For the councilors, as well as the heads of several agencies
within city-county government who gathered at the council chambers, Ballard's
budget presentation Monday night offered their first peek at his fiscal plans
This marked a departure from years past in which agency
financial officers engaged in more collaborative planning efforts prior to the
unveiling of the mayor's initial budget proposal.
"We're introducing today probably not with the same
level of communication we've had in the past, but that's largely due to the
timing of the information we got from the state and our new technology
system," said Ryan Vaughn, the mayor's chief of staff.
The council is required to pass the budget by the end of
October, leaving plenty of time for in-depth discussions about its final shape,
As a result of the challenges Vaughn mentioned, Controller Jeff Spalding
Jeff Spaldingsaid his department "definitely had to scramble over the
last couple weeks to get an introduced budget together and we've missed some of
the back and forth exchange we normally would have."
Future budget exercises should benefit from updates to the
city's budgeting process, Spalding said, adding, "I do expect this process
to actually get better for departments and agencies going forward."
Councilors did not have time to digest the mayor's proposal
for detailed feedback, but in a news conference following the
presentation said they were worried about the public safety implications and
would be watching to make sure that public safety would not be cut to a point
that would jeopardize the city's ability to qualify for public safety grants.
Greater analysis and debate will unfold over the upcoming
weeks as the council's various committees dig into the details of the mayor's