Council considers $1.5 million in increases to Mayor Jim Gray's $313 million budget

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comMay 27, 2014 

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Lexington Mayor Jim Gray spoke after winning the mayoral primary on May 20.

PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON | STAFF — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

  • Budget highlights

    The Urban County Council is considering $1.5 million in additional funding.

    Some of those changes include:

    ■ $174,500 to accelerate the hiring of 15 additional correctional officers

    ■ $8,350 for additional weather radios

    ■ $100,000 for fire station location analysis

    ■ $85,000 for tree remediation

    ■ $20,000 for study for new splash pad

    ■ $460,180 for funding for 12 additional social service programs

    ■ $67,220 for debt payments for an additional $1 million in borrowing for the purchase of development rights

The Urban County Council is considering more than $1.5 million in increases to Mayor Jim Gray's $313 million general fund budget, including an additional $460,000 for social service programs and an additional $1 million for the purchase of development rights program.

In April, Mayor Jim Gray proposed a $313 million general fund budget that the council is reviewing. The budget included money for 15 new police officers, raises for city employees and more than $8 million for a new senior citizens center.

On Tuesday, the five Urban County Council budget committees opted to keep much of Gray's proposal intact.

The council won't make final decisions on what to fund for several more weeks. The council typically approves in June the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Much of the discussion Tuesday centered on giving additional money to social service programs and whether to fund a $100,000 study on fire station location.

Gray's budget proposed $2.3 million for 31 social service programs. An Urban County Council social service budget committee recommended Tuesday funding an additional 12 social service programs, which will cost $460,180.

The city has revised the way it awards grants to social service programs over the past several years in order to make it more transparent and fair. This year, a committee scored the grant applications and ranked them. Thirty-one agencies made the cut and received partial funding out of a total of more than 70 social service programs that applied.

Urban County Councilman Chris Ford, who chaired the social service budget committee, said the budget committee recommended that 12 additional programs be funded through surplus funds.

Councilwoman Shevawn Akers, who is also on the social service budget committee, said the 12 agencies that received funding were among 19 that came to the social service budget committee to plead their case. Akers said the committee opted to fund the 12 programs because many are partner agencies to government agencies or provide services that are valuable to the government.

For example, the staff for the Children's Advocacy Center interviews children who might have been abused, and that service is instrumental to the prosecution of crimes. Tuesday's proposal recommended funding the group at $70,000.

But several council members expressed reservations about giving additional funding outside of the funding formula set up by the committee that scored the original grant applications.

"I think we have to be careful on how we approach this," Councilman Ed Lane said. "Is this equitable and fair?"

Councilman Kevin Stinnett said he is also concerned that the council wants to use surplus funds to fund social service programs that could be a reoccurring cost.

Akers said the ranking system for social service grants still needs to be tweaked. An agency that was ranked second overall last year did not receive funding in the mayor's budget because it was ranked too low this year.

Akers said the agency submitted a similar application this year. That shows that there are still some issues that need to be addressed in how social service agency grant applications are ranked, she said.

Stinnett said the amount of money the council gives to social service agencies should be increased to roughly 1 percent of the general fund budget, which would be a little more than $3 million.

The public safety budget committee also recommended spending $100,000 for an analysis of fire station locations. Lane told the council Tuesday that no fire station has been closed since the city and county merged in 1974. But fire stations continue to be built.

Councilwoman Peggy Henson, who chairs the city's public safety committee, said there are five fire stations within one mile of each other in the city's downtown. But one of those fire stations probably takes the majority of the calls. Lane also showed the council a breakdown of response times and how they have varied over the past several years. Utility costs per fire station also vary widely.

Lane said the city will spend $1.3 billion on fire and emergency services over the next 20 years. Adding more stations will greatly increase those costs in coming years.

Lane argued that spending $100,000 could help the city save millions in coming years.

Other members of council said they were concerned the city would be spending money on a consultant when the study could be done internally. Two previous studies have come to similar conclusions on locations of new fire stations, fire officials told the council Tuesday.

But Lane and Henson argued that an independent analysis is important because that analysis should be based solely on data, not on a political agenda.

Also on Tuesday, a budget committee recommended increasing the amount of money spent on the purchase of development rights program from the mayor's proposal of $1 million to $2 million.

Gray's budget included $1 million in borrowing for the purchase of development rights, which is designed to protect Fayette County's rural landscape from development. The additional $1 million in borrowing would mean an increase of $67,220 in debt payments, Councilman Harry Clarke said.

Clarke said the council increased the amount of money spent on the purchase of development rights program last year as well.

Other changes to Gray's budget the council is considering include an additional $85,000 to replace or take down hazardous trees. Gray's budget included $40,000 for tree remediation. The council's recommendation is to increase it to $125,000. Also being considered is $20,000 for a study on a splash pad, possibly in the city's East End.

A final tally of the proposed changes to the budget will be circulated to all council members in the coming week. In addition, council member requests for their individual districts are due by Friday. Next week, the city will also get updated revenue projections for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The council will begin discussing changes to the budget the middle of June.

Beth Musgrave: (859) 231-3205. Twitter: @HLCityhall.

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