Lexington council leaves mayor's line-item vetoes intact

Council refuses to override line-item cuts that save $889,612

bfortune@herald-leader.comJuly 8, 2011 Updated 17 hours ago

Mayor Jim Gray says he is "unshakably optimistic" about approval.

DAVID PERRY | STAFF

At its meeting Thursday, Lexington's Urban County Council declined to override any of Mayor Jim Gray's vetoes totaling $889,612 in cuts from the fiscal 2012 budget.

Only one of Gray's three line-item vetoes came up for a vote, and the council voted 11-4 not to override it.

After the vote, Gray thanked council members for their support and for being fiscally responsible. "I have never seen in the private sector a budget so carefully prepared," he said.

Gray said later that the vote was not about winning vetoes — "it is about a city winning its future."

"There is still a rocky road ahead, with plenty of challenges in front of us," he said. "Our city, just like cities across the country, had the headwinds of a really tough economy finally hit our government."

Gray said he was confident his administration and the council could work together to restore Lexington to financial health, and "then this city will come out on the other side of this really tough recession stronger and better. And that's a big deal. So thank you all very much."

Gray's vetoes were the first successful vetoes of line items in the budget in the history of the city's merged government, mayoral spokeswoman Susan Straub said. Mayor Foster Pettit vetoed $400,000 of spending in 1974, but his vetoes were overridden by the council.

After the council approved a $274 million budget in June, Gray vetoed four construction projects that were to be paid for with a $400,000 bond. The cost to the city would have been $90,000 a year for five years in debt service on the bond.

He vetoed seven jobs in the city's government communications division to save $485,000. He also vetoed more than $314,000 in city funding to 26 partner agencies, including social service agencies such as Chrysalis House, Hope Center and Moveable Feast Lexington, as well as arts and economic development agencies.

The only veto the council tried to override Thursday night was the 10 percent cut to partner agencies, 16 of them social service agencies.

The motion to override was made by council member Kevin Stinnett, who said the social service agencies provide help to some of Lexington's neediest citizens. Stinnett said to balance the city budget on the backs of "people who need us the most" was wrong, and he could not support that action.

An override requires nine votes from the council's 15 members. Only Stinnett, Steve Kay, Ed Lane and Jay McChord voted to override Gray's veto.

Several council members voiced concern at Vice Mayor Linda Gorton's comment that more than 10 of the partner agencies intended to use city money to give raises to their employees. Gorton said that she was working to get the list of these agencies, but that her information came from a reliable source within the administration. She said use of the money to give raises would be inappropriate because many city employees have not had a raise in a couple of years.

McChord said that was the first he had heard of the proposed raises; he asked the mayor to share the list of agencies giving raises to their staffs when it was available. McChord also said he wanted the agencies to come before the council to explain why they wanted to give raises. "That may have cost them the vote tonight," he said.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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