Two of the three floors of the parking garage attached to Lexington's City Hall have been closed for years because of structural problems.
Now, the city is seeking money from a $7 million surplus to shore up the garage that has only 35 usable parking spaces on the first floor.
The Urban County Council will begin discussions Thursday on how to allocate the $7 million in surplus funds from the fiscal year that ended June 30. The total surplus was more than $19.5 million. The council agreed last week to set aside most of that money in different reserve accounts, including more than $2.3 million for the city's rainy day fund. That fund is now at $29.7 million.
But the council has three times the amount of requests than it has money to spend.
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According to a list provided to the Urban County Council, Mayor Jim Gray's administration and the 15-member council have submitted $23 million in funding requests for capital projects, youth programs, paving, and street and traffic improvements.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said the council hopes to make final decisions on how to spend the $7 million at Thursday's meeting. The city has had surpluses for the past four years. Those surpluses came after years of declining revenues.
"I think we will try to get an agreement on Thursday," Kay said.
Councilman Fred Brown has proposed that the $7 million be split among the 12 council districts — which would mean each district representative would have $583,333 to spend on projects in their districts.
Kay said it's likely the council will have to vote on Brown's proposal first during Thursday's meeting. If the council votes in favor of Brown's proposal, the meeting will be short, he said.
But similar proposals to split surplus among council members were defeated in previous years.
Kay said Wednesday that he is opposed to divvying the money among the 12 council members who represent districts. Under that proposal, the three at-large council members — including Kay — would receive nothing. Gray's administration's proposals, which total a little more than $2.5 million, would not get funded either.
"I've been opposed to similar proposals in the past," Kay said. "I think it's important that we weigh all projects on their merit in relation to one another and not simply assume that there are an equal amount of projects in each district that deserve funding."
Gray's administration has proposed $1.5 million for the garage, but city officials said Wednesday they are waiting on detailed cost estimates from the group that inspects the city's garages. It's likely that fixing the garage would cost less than the $1.5 million, said Jamshid Baradaran, director of facilities.
A July inspection report gave the city various options for what to do with the garage, including demolishing the structure and building a surface parking lot.
But the city is pursuing moving out of the government center, which once was the Lafayette Hotel. The Main Street building has become costly to maintain and is not user-friendly. Baradaran said the city did not want to spend a lot of taxpayer money fixing the garage, demolishing it or rebuilding a parking structure if the city was going to sell or lease the building to a developer. The city has hired a real estate consultant to help it determine the most cost-effective options for a new city hall.
"If we spent more than $1.5 million to tear the garage down, we will not able to recoup that cost," Baradaran said.
Most of the available parking spots are for commissioners and the council. To shore up the garage, those parking spaces will be lost, Baradaran said.
That could factor in the council's decision, Baradaran said.
In other requests, Gray has proposed $90,000 for a tutoring program at the Carnegie Center, $90,000 for God's Pantry, $90,000 for an Urban League youth program and $10,000 for a PTA family engagement program.
Former Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said this year that he hoped Gray and the Urban County Council would make the achievement gap between minority, disabled or poor students and others a priority.
Gray said in a written release that he thought many of the programs he is recommending for funding targeted the achievement gap.
"Our public schools are facing some real challenges, including an achievement gap that is unacceptable to all of us," Gray said the release. "We've worked hard to improve our city's financial management and to find ways to be more efficient so we can afford important investments. I'm asking the council to increase the city's investment in our youth with funding for programs that will help them get off to a good start so they are prepared for good jobs."
Other big-ticket items up for consideration Thursday include a request by Councilwoman Jennifer Scutchfield for $1.3 million for sidewalks on Old Mount Tabor Road and $9.6 million for sidewalks on Old Todds Road. Scutchfield has been pursuing money for those projects for years.
Other council requests are for parks improvements, such as $155,000 for basketball court improvements at Veterans Park; $60,000 for a walking trail for Meadowthorpe Park; and $195,000 for tennis, basketball and other courts at Pleasant Ridge Park. Some of the requests address traffic problems, including $160,000 for a traffic light at Mount McKinley Way and $125,000 for a traffic study for Beaumont Circle and Harrodsburg Road.