Thethird meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Local Government was held on Wednesday, August 25, 2004, at 10:00 AM, in Room 101 of the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Kentucky. Senator Alice Kerr, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Alice Kerr, Co-Chair; Representative Steve Riggs, Co-Chair; Senators Walter Blevins, Charlie Borders, Tom Buford, Julie Denton, and Elizabeth Tori; Representatives John Adams, Adrian Arnold, Scott Brinkman, James Comer, Ron Crimm, Mike Denham, Derrick Graham, Jimmy Higdon, Roger Thomas, and Ken Upchurch.
Guests: Representative Larry Clark; Representative Rocky Adkins; Representative Tim Feeley; Mayor Jerry Abramson, Deputy Mayor Larry Hayes, Jim McGovern, Ron Wolf, and David Morris, Louisville Metro Government; Vince Guenthner, Louisville Water Company; Skip Miller, Louisville Regional Airport Authority; Kirsten Morell, United Parcel Post; Violet Clark, Kentucky State Fair Board; Bert May, Kentucky League of Cities; John Cooper, Georgetown-Scott County Chamber of Commerce; and Gay Dwyer, Kentucky Retail Federation.
LRC Staff: Jamie Franklin, Donna Gaines, Mark Mitchell, Joe Pinczewski-Lee, Rebecca Mullins, Leslie Caudill, Jay Hartz, Tim Firkins, Donna Holiday, Scott Jones, Bryan Sunderland, Louis Pierce, and Cheryl Walters.
Representative Riggs welcomed everyone and announced that the Committee was meeting in conjunction with the Interim Joint Committee on Economic Development and Tourism. He then turned the meeting over to Senator Katie Stine. Senator Stein asked the secretary to call the roll for that committee. Upon completion of their committee administrative business, Senator Stine then turned the meeting back over to Representative Riggs.
Representative Riggs stated that the reason for meeting in Louisville was to see how Metro Louisville was doing since the City of Louisville and Jefferson County merged 19 months ago. He introduced Mayor Jerry Abramson of Louisville Metro to address the Committees regarding the status of Louisville Metro, economic activities within the area, and the importance of having the Commonwealth as an economic development partner.
Mayor Abramson told the committees that the legislature's passage of a 2000 law allowing Jefferson County to vote on merger of its city and county governments is helping the new metro government reap rewards. He noted that there are 6,800 employees in the merged government. Mayor Abramson added that the police departments were merged in the first two weeks of the merger. He noted that Indianapolis, Indiana is hoping to follow their lead. Indianapolis had merged before them, but has not yet merged its police departments. He said the merger has brought more efficient and cost efficient government to the citizens of Jefferson County.
Mayor Abramson stated that a lot has been done in 19 months but there is still a lot to do for years to come. He noted that with one voice and a single agenda, government is more accountable. Mayor Abramson mentioned that because of the merger, Louisville Metro acquired a new health department director from Atlanta, Georgia; a new director of the Louisville Metro EMS, who was the deputy medical director for the New York City Fire Department and a veteran of 9/11; and a new corrections director, who was the #2 corrections person from Illinois. He said in each instance, these people took the jobs in Louisville because they saw it as an opportunity to be part of an exciting new community.
Mayor Abramson told the committees that a regional emergency communication center has been proposed to improve communication between former city and county police, firefighters, and emergency medical service (EMS) and public safety personnel. He said Louisville Metro, like other communities, learned a lot about poor communication between agencies after 9/11. Louisville Metro is a true regional center and as such, effective communications between all of these entities is crucial.
Mayor Abramson stated that the state's "Buck for Brains" program helped to create a medical research center which is conducting cutting edge research and also brings high paying jobs and top researchers into the community. He explained that the state's tourism tax credits helped create the new Frazier Historical Arms Museum. Mayor Abramson mentioned that the tax credits and new bonding authority has also helped to fund a new Marriott, which is under construction downtown. When it is finished next spring, more than 600 new beds will be available for visitors and convention goers in the downtown area. He then mentioned the revitalization of the downtown's arts and entertainment area with the recent opening of "4th Street Live."
Mayor Abramson pointed out that thousands of jobs are being created throughout the community, because of these state economic development incentives, including 1,500 new jobs to be added with the expansion of Citigroup's Louisville credit card operation. Also, he pointed out that not only is downtown benefiting, but 2,300 new jobs have been created in the east end of the county.
Representative Eddie Ballard, Co-Chair of the Economic Development Committee, told Mayor Abramson that he was proud to be in Louisville Metro and that he would like to thank them for their generous hospitality.
Representative Carolyn Belcher of the Economic Development Committee, commented that she was glad to be in Mayor Abramson's community and was pleased to hear his report. She noted that she has always been a proponent of metro government and that Louisville Metro seemed to be streamlined and successful.
Representative Tanya Pullin of the Economic Development Committee, asked how many people were in Louisville Metro and where did Louisville rank in relation to other cities in the United States. Mayor Abramson said there are approximately 700,000 people in the merged government area itself. He noted that when the city and county merged in January, 2003, Louisville went from being the 65th largest community to the 16th in the U.S., being larger than the city populations of Atlanta and Boston.
Senator Dick Roeding of the Economic Development Committee, complimented Mayor Abramson on his dedication to a regional approach to draw business and opportunity to Louisville. He said the counties he represents in Northern Kentucky have used the same regional approach to attract development.
Representative Dottie Sims of the Economic Development Committee, asked Mayor Abramson if there was a city council or commission. Mayor Abramson replied that there is a 26-member metro council.
Senator Boswell of the Economic Development Committee, asked if the merger has made a difference in regards to federal funding. Mayor Abramson answered that Louisville Metro has not lost any money from the federal government. Senator Boswell noted that the city of Owensboro defeated merger but the perception may be changing.
Senator Roeding asked if Louisville Metro has experienced any savings since the merger. Mayor Abramson stated that it is hard to say. He noted that Louisville Metro is selling excess property, but they are also using that money for other needs like merging of communication systems. Mayor Abramson said there are a lot of start-up costs for the new government, but efficiency and effective government should bring savings later or at least more money to maintain current services and improve the quality of life in their community.
Representative Bob DeWeese of the Economic Development Committee, re-emphasized the Mayor's gratitude to the legislature for making this merger possible. He thanked the members of the General Assembly.
Representative Adams congratulated Mayor Abramson on being able to combine Louisville and Jefferson County. He said he was proud that Louisville Metro was the 16th largest city in the United States.
Representative Tom McKee of the Economic Development Committee, commented that Mayor Abramson had given a very informative report. He asked what were still the areas of concern regarding the merger. Mayor Abramson said doing away with arbitrary city-county lines is a mindset that residents and government leaders must develop for consolidated government to be successful. He added that police merger is taking time to develop and the whole cultural identity of city versus county will take time to overcome. Representative McKee stated that he thought as we move forward, we may see some merger in rural areas.
Senator Damon Thayer of the Economic Development Committee, asked if Louisville Metro has been able to cut taxes. Mayor Abramson replied not yet because of start-up costs being covered by increased efficiencies. He noted that Metro Louisville is also going to have to issue some bonds to cover infrastructure maintenance needs which have been overlooked in the past.
Senator Charlie Borders of the Economic Development Committee, commended Mayor Abramson for doing an admirable job. He said it is very appropriate that the two committees are here in this economic engine-driven area because we need to learn more about how Louisville Metro does things because the success of Louisville Metro helps our entire state. Senator Borders added that we need to think as a "whole" state.
The committees recessed to take a bus tour of economic development initiatives in Louisville Metro, which included the Kentucky Center for the Arts, Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Museum, Natural History and Science Center and Frazier Arms Museum.
The committees reconvened for a working lunch, which included an informational presentation by Mr. Skip Miller, Executive Director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority and Ms. Kirsten Morell, Public Affairs Manager of United Parcel Post.
There being no further business, the meeting was adjourned at 1:30 p.m.