Mayor Jim Newberry presented a grim picture of Lexington's finances Tuesday, yet remained optimistic about the city's short-term future during his State of the Merged Government address. "The next two years may well prove to be the most challenging, and yet the most productive two-year period in Lexington's 234-year history," Newberry said.
The city is facing very difficult financial challenges, but it also has an "unparalleled opportunity" to showcase Lexington to the world during the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and to repair the city's infrastructure using money from a potential federal bailout to state and local governments, Newberry said.
He outlined Lexington's three most pressing challenges in the next two years: Balancing the city's budget, which has a projected $27 million shortfall in the next fiscal year; implementing projects from the federal stimulus package; and preparing for the equestrian games, which are just 20 months away.
The two tax items Newberry mentioned in his speech were the proposed storm-water fee, which the Urban County Council is currently considering, and rolling back the city's garbage tax, which has produced a surplus.
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Newberry plans to appoint a mayoral commission to determine spending priorities and to oversee spending of the potential stimulus money.
Newberry also discussed five items from the Destination 2040 community visioning project that he would like to implement:
■ Establishing a "Bluegrass Diamond" with the seven counties adjacent to Fayette to address issues of mutual concern;
■ Adopting a secure electronic medical records system;
■ Funding the bike trail system;
■ Increasing funding to the arts
■ Making Lexington an environmental leader.
Speech attendees said that Newberry framed his address in such a way that it was uplifting despite the financial difficulties the city is facing. "It gave me a lot of hope," said Bob Quick, president and CEO of Commerce Lexington. "Lexington is going to get through this."