The Lexington council is expected to take its first vote June 7 on a little more than $1 million in changes it made to Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The Urban County Council has been debating changes to Gray’s $345 million budget for the past several weeks. Last Thursday, the council finished making its proposed changes that included decreasing some funding and adding money in other areas. The council has tentatively approved a little more than $1 million in new spending; the largest chunk of that is an additional half percent raise for most city employees.
After the council’s first vote on June 7, a final vote is expected June 16. Council has until June 30 to pass a budget.
“Until we take a final vote it’s not final,” Vice Mayor Steve Kay said. But Kay said he doesn’t anticipate many changes prior to the final vote.
The council finished its budget deliberations early this year. Typically tweaks and changes are still being made in the first and second weeks of June.
“The mayor has had more experience and the council has more experience,” Kay said. “This budget was produced with input from the council and was very collaborative.”
Geoff Reed, Gray’s acting chief of staff, said Gray does not plan on vetoing any parts of the budget.
“The mayor and his administration have worked closely with council members on this budget,” Reed said. “It has been a true partnership. As a result, we have a budget that is well rounded. It addresses needs throughout our community.”
One of the biggest changes council has tentatively agreed to is the additional .5 percent raise for most city employees. Gray had proposed a 3 percent increase in his budget. That raise would be for all employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Police, fire and Fayette County Detention Center correction officers raises are covered under collective bargaining agreements.
That additional .5 percent will cost $450,820. If approved, the 3.5 percent would take effect on July 1.
Councilman Richard Moloney proposed the additional raise at a budget meeting last Thursday. Moloney argued city employees went several years without pay raises prior to the past two years. City employees received a 4 percent raise in the current fiscal year and a 2 percent raise the previous year. Prior to that, city employees went several years without raises because of budget cuts caused by a drop in revenues.
A 3 percent raise would be more than other government employees including state workers and employees at the Fayette County School system, said Finance Commissioner Bill O’Mara. O’Mara told the council Thursday he has been told that only Fayette County schools had proposed a raise for employees. State employees are not going to get a raise for the upcoming fiscal year. The school system would get a 2 percent raise.
Councilwoman Susan Lamb said she supported the additional bump in pay. Some in police, fire and corrections have received raises of more than 5 percent as part of their respective collective bargaining agreements.
The 3.5 percent raise is still not “comparative to what our sworn officers get,” Lamb said.
Councilwoman Angela Evans agreed. City government has to remain competitive to attract good employees, she said.
“We are trying to make local government attractive to people in the private sector,” Evans said.
Another change made Thursday was the creation of a diversity officer.
Councilman James Brown, who proposed the creation of the position, said the new position would help the city increase diversity in its own ranks and would also help address diversity issues in the community. Hiring of minorities has been an issue with both police and fire in the past, Brown said.
“This position would be proactive rather than reactive,” Brown said.
But some on council expressed concerns about how the new position would work and who the person would report to. The city had a diversity officer in the past but that person was appointed by the mayor. Currently, the city has a lawyer and a person in human resources who handle hiring and other discrimination complaints. Some on council had reservations on whether the new position would have enough to do.
Brown proposed the diversity officer report to the chief administrative officer rather than the mayor. It would be a civil-service position and not a political appointee, he said.
Kay said the city has done a good job with diversity but it can always do more.
“This community is increasing in diversity in all ways,” Kay said. “ We need someone in the city whose full-time job is to help us think about diversity.”
The council ultimately voted to fund the position at $38,640, or salary and benefits for roughly half the year. The city must first create the position and its duties before advertising the position. That process often takes several months.
Other tweaks the council proposed include adding an additional staff person for police to handle the increase in the number of open records requests, an additional $50,000 for improvements to the city’s main corridors such as Richmond and Versailles roads, $50,000 for a feasibility study for sidewalks on Old Todds Road and $20,000 for additional summer programming at Black and Williams and Charles Young centers.
Even with the additional $1 million in spending, the city will start and end the fiscal year with $1.5 million in reserves, O’Mara said. The additional money will come from non-budgeted funds in Gray’s proposed budget.
The council has also tentatively agreed to fund several big-ticket items in Gray’s budget including $7 million for a proposed youth sports complex at New Circle and Versailles roads on 130 acres of city-owned property and $10 million of city bond money for a proposed $250 million overhaul and expansion of the Lexington Convention Center.