After more than seven hours of debate, council approves several changes to proposed $313 million budget

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comJune 10, 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

  • Not in the budget

    Some programs didn't get funded Tuesday, but that could change in October when the council discusses how to spend any surplus funds. Here's a look at programs that did not get funding:

    • $250,000 for the YMCA at Hamburg ($47,000 was budgeted.)

    • $85,000 for computer system for the city's pools to help detect fraud

    • $20,000 for study for splash pad for east end in Lexington

    • $100,000 to study fire station locations

Social service programs will receive an additional $690,000 in city funds according to changes approved by the Urban County Council on Tuesday.

After more than seven hours of debate, the council ultimately approved a little more than $800,000 in changes to a more than $313 million general fund budget proposed by Mayor Jim Gray in April.

The council also approved a little more than $26.1 million in borrowing for projects that include $8 million for a new senior citizens center and $195,000 for renovations to Kentucky Theatre, which is owned by the city.

The council votes on Tuesday were preliminary. The council will give final approval to the proposed changes to the budget later this month. The budget is for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said Tuesday that weeks of meetings and seven hours of debate Tuesday have helped the council.

"I believe it has resulted in a very good budget," said Gorton, who has been on the council for almost 16 years.

Councilman Kevin Stinnett agreed.

"This has been one of the smoother budgets that we've had," Stinnett said.

Jamie Emmons, Gray's chief of staff, said the administration will have to look at all of the changes the council made Tuesday before it could comment on whether Gray would veto anything.

The council left intact key components of Gray's proposed budget, including a 2 percent pay raise for most city employees and money for 15 new police officers and 15 new corrections officers. The proposed budget is about 5 percent higher than the current budget of $301 million.

The council has been working through Gray's budget over the past two months. The council made few changes overall and much of the discussion has centered on the city's process for awarding grants to social service agencies.

Gray had proposed about $2.59 million for 31 social service programs. The city has a rating system for grant applications for social service agencies wanting city funds. More than 40 volunteers ranked more than 70 applications this year.

But many agencies complained about the process, saying that it favored larger organizations that could afford professional grant writers. Some agencies that have long received city funding did not under this year's ranking system.

After much back and forth discussion, the council ultimately voted Tuesday to add an additional $690,460 for social service programs, bringing the total to a little more than $3.1 million. That's about 1 percent of the city's general fund budget. That means 56 social service programs will now receive funding in the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.

The mayor's budget funded 31 programs that received the highest score under the criteria. The council's budget funded the next 14 social service programs with the highest scores.

The Nest, the YMCA Black Achievers program and Big Brothers/Big Sisters were among the agencies that initially did not make the cut, but would receive funding under the council's budget proposal.

Chief Administrative Officer Sally Hamilton said the city is working on changes to the ranking process for social service agencies and will return to the council in October with some possible modifications.

Beth Mills, commissioner of social services, said the process has been tweaked since it began several years ago. Until Gray was elected in 2010, "the same 12 to 18 agencies would get funded every year," she said. The city had no process to rank applications for funding, Mills said.

Other key changes the council made Tuesday include an additional $1 million in bonding for the purchases under the development rights program, which helps protect rural farmland. That would require an additional $67,360 for debt payments and legal and other expenses for the program. That brings the total amount spent on the purchase of the development rights program to $2 million.

The council also set aside $47,000 for a new YMCA building at Hamburg. Many on the council wanted to give the YMCA $300,000. But the council had no additional money to give the YMCA.

However, the YMCA can return to the city in October when the council discusses how it will spend any surplus funds left over from the fiscal year that ends June 30th.

Gray's budget had included $100,000 cash for the renovation of the concession stand at the Kentucky Theatre. Instead, the council voted to use bond money and add an additional $95,000 for that renovation.

Gray had proposed using $25 million in bond money for projects. The council added a little more than $1.1 million — about $1 million for the purchase of development rights program and $195,000 for the renovations to the Kentucky Theatre.

The council also voted to set aside $2 million from state road money designated for cities for additional paving. Gray's budget included $3 million cash for paving. That means there will be at least $5 million for paving in the upcoming fiscal year if the council's proposal is approved.

In addition, the council approved more than $226, 585 for new bicycle lane striping and intersection and maintenance improvements for biking from the state road money.

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

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