Vice Mayor Jim Gray said on Tuesday that the city should halt plans for a new government center, saying the current economic climate makes it a bad time to start a major construction project.
While the project was well-intended when the city began considering it two years ago, today is a different economy, Gray said. "A lot of people are struggling. A lot of businesses are struggling."
He said no business would initiate this kind of undertaking in today's economy.
Council member reaction to Gray's remarks was mixed at Tuesday's work session.
Seventh District Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie favored holding off until the 2011 fiscal year to go forward with design plans. Crosbie said it would be "irresponsible" to spend money at this point on a new building.
However, 12th District Councilman Ed Lane said the city should go forward with basic planning, pointing out, "This would not be pulling the trigger on construction."
When the recession ends, Lane said, the city will then be in a position "where we could move forward a little bit faster."
City employees work in buildings scattered throughout downtown. Consolidating the work force into a modern building would bring efficiency to government operations. A consultant's study indicated it would be cheaper to build a new building than continue pouring money into maintaining the current Lexington-Fayette Government Center on East Main Street, housed in the former Lafayette Hotel.
However, halting the design process would not be a savings because a $1 million bond to pay for a consulting firm to plan the center was sold in January, 6th District Councilman Kevin Stinnett reminded the council.
"It has to be used for what we sold it for," Stinnett said later. "Otherwise we have to go back to the bond holder and ask for it back. Or we don't have to use it. It can sit there, and we pay interest on it."
As part of the planning stages for a new city hall, the city government issued a request almost a year ago for proposals from firms that wanted to oversee the site selection process. From about a dozen responses, the field has been narrowed to three firms. On Wednesday, the selection committee will meet to review proposals from the three.
While delaying the project until the next budget cycle might make sense, Councilman Jay McChord said, "It is very easy to lose sight that the current building hemorrhages $50,000 to $60,000 a month" in energy and maintenance costs and inefficiencies.
Mayor Jim Newberry reminded council members that if city government offices stay put, "we cannot do so at no cost."
About $30 million in repairs and upgrades are needed on the Government Center, including the deteriorating parking garage, which is closed to the public because of safety concerns.
"As you evaluate that, keep in mind the cost of doing nothing, in the way of a new building, is not zero," Newberry said.