The Lexington Urban County Council approved a $323 million budget Thursday that includes 4 percent raises for most city employees, nearly $58 million in borrowing and $3 million for social service programs.
The council voted 11-1 to approve the budget. Council member Jennifer Mossotti voted "no."
Thursday's vote came after months of deliberation over Mayor Jim Gray's budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The council ultimately made few changes. Some of the tweaks included increasing city employee raises from 3 percent to 4 percent and increasing the minimum wage for city employees from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.20.
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Those pay raises should take effect July 1 if Gray does not veto any of the changes council made.
On Tuesday, Gray declined to say if he would exercise his line-item veto power. He has 10 days to issue a veto. It takes nine members of council to override a veto.
During Thursday's meeting, council member Richard Moloney asked Gray if he planned to veto the raises for city employees. Gray declined to answer, repeating that he wanted to carefully consider all the changes the council made.
Included in the budget is borrowing for several downtown projects, including $22 million to renovate the former county courthouse on Main Street. A consultant's report showed that it would cost more than $38 million, including financing and design costs, to stabilize the courthouse. Built in 1900, it has been vacant for nearly three years and in disrepair for decades. If the city moves quickly, it could take advantage of a $15 million tax credit program to cover part of the cost.
The council also kept $10 million for Town Branch Commons, a proposed 2-mile system of "pocket parks" that would connect the city's downtown to its trail system. Gray has said that the city is hoping to receive a $13 million federal grant to pay for the park's infrastructure. The remaining $50 million needed for the project would be raised privately, Gray has said.
Mossotti said Thursday she had concerns about the viability of both the courthouse and Town Branch projects. Mossotti, a real estate agent, noted the amount of vacant downtown office space and questioned whether the courthouse could attract tenants who could cover the costs of rehabbing and operating the building.
Mossotti said she supports the downtown park but said the city needs to maintain the parks it already has.
Council member Ed Lane, who also works in commercial real estate, agreed with Mossotti about the courthouse. Lane said there is little rentable space in the building, and many of the architectural details that made the building unique were removed during a renovation in the 1960s. Lane sponsored a resolution that would require the administration to provide the council with a detailed business plan before the $22 million could be spent. That resolution died 10-2, with only Lane and Mossotti voting in favor.
Other members of council spoke in favor of the courthouse renovation. Jennifer Scutchfield said there are very few historic commercial buildings left downtown. The city has repeatedly delayed maintenance on the building, and the bill is now due, she said.
"If we had done something 10 years ago, the cost would have been $12 or $14 million," Scutchfield said. "This is a piece of history ... We don't have 100-year-old buildings in this city anymore."
The budget also includes money for about 34 new positions, including 10 police officers; $250,0000 for a parks master plan; $150,000 to help move Peoples Bank; and $50,000 for a preservation study for the Pope Villa, a Benjamin Henry Latrobe-designed home near the University of Kentucky.
The council previously approved $10 million in spending from a projected surplus for the current fiscal year. Gary wants to use $750,000 for further study on building or acquiring a new government center. Other proposed spending from the surplus includes $5 million for police vehicles and fire trucks and $200,000 for beautification before the 2015 Breeders' Cup.
The council removed $600,000 for body cameras for police officers after police staff said that video storage is costly.
The proposed budget is a more than a $10 million increase from this fiscal year's general fund budget of $313 million. It includes more than $58 million in borrowing, up from the current fiscal year's bonding of $33.4 million.