A year ago, in his first State of the City address, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called for a new economic development vision for Louisville, saying the city has lost too many jobs the last decade while competitor cities have grown. “Louisville needs to act more boldly and take more risks,” he suggested.
Today, in his second such address, there was considerably less optimism, as he delivered the bad news that the city is projecting a $12 million deficit in the current fiscal year ending June 30, and a $20-30 million deficit in next fiscal year. "I didn't become a public servant because I get a kick out of delivering bad news to anyone," said the mayor. "If you have a deep-seated need to be loved and admired every day, you don't need to be mayor, you need to work in a pet shop."
Fischer reminded his audience at the Downtown Rotary Club that Kentucky law requires the city to operate under a balanced budget, and that this will require metro government to find millions of dollars to cut; to eliminate a projected $2.5 million in overspending each month. “We have a significant financial challenge staring right at us,” he said.
In today speech, Fischer said the city had, indeed, taken bold steps over the past year; proving itself a community that dared to be great. But at the same time, he warned that looming fiscal problems – decades in the making – threatened to hamper Louisville’s future if not addressed now.
Noting that “we have to look at everything,” Fischer said tough questions need to be asked about personnel costs, including benefits and overtime, and funding of non-government agencies that do good work but are not part of the city’s core mission.
The mayor stressed that he “…did not become a public servant to serve as an ‘enabler,’ someone who helps our city limp along, ‘making do,’and kickng the can down the street, while our financial foundation crumbles."
Despite the financial challenges, the city is making progress on many projects. Last year, Fischer said that Louisville stood at a point where people must decide if they were content to live in a nice, but average city – or if the city dared to become a true national leader, in everything from economic development and advanced manufacturing to local food culture and compassion initiatives.
“I’m pleased to say that the answer has come back, in so many ways, yes! Yes, we are willing to be great!” he said today.
From the launch of the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement, a cooperative economic development with Lexington made in partnership with The Brookings Institution, to the prestigious Bloomberg Grant that will finance an innovation delivery team, Louisville is “known as the kind of place where leaders are thinking and working not just on today’s challenges, but those of the future as well,” he said. The announcement last week that Business Facilities magazine had named the Ford investment as the #1 economic development deal in the nation in 2011  was evidence of that, he said.
The city’s Economic Development Department  is also being reorganized to better focus resources on innovation, global outreach, entrepreneurship, sustainability  and advanced planning for the city.
And in ways both big and small – from smart phone apps  that allow citizens to report potholes to better hours for the library – the city is meeting the rising expectations of accountability and accessibility, he said.
The mayor noted that he had five goals for 2012, but focused mostly about the urgent need to solve the budget problem. The four other goals are:
1) To deliver excellent city services. “Even as we make cuts, we remain dedicated to being the best municipal government in the United States,” he said, noting the plan to improve efficiencies.
2) Take job creation to the next level. “We did amazing work in 2011 – as the Ford deal epitomized…. But … our work is not done,” he said.
3) Invest in our people and our neighborhoods, fostering an excellent “quality of place.” “We must celebrate inclusion - where every citizen has a chance to win!” he said.
4) Create plans for a vibrant future. The economic development department will begin planning a comprehensive 25-year “city vision” in 2012.
WDRB’s Bill Francis reports:
Learn more: Mayor’s 2011 Year End Report to the Citizens  (3Pp. .pdf)
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