Hard times have been knocking at many doors in recent years, including the door of the Urban County Government. The $271 million budget proposed by Lexington Mayor Jim Gray Tuesday reflects this reality.
To make the budget balance, Gray is proposing $27 million in cuts and assumed savings, including laying off 28 city employees and abolishing 215 vacant Urban County Government positions.
While it will not ease the pain for the 28 workers who are losing their jobs, Gray's decision to give up six months of his salary and require his commissioners and senior staff to take two-week furloughs was an important symbolic act of sharing the pain.
Overall, this is a good budget proposal, one that makes the hard decisions demanded by hard times. But the proposal does raise some concerns.
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For instance, Gray and council members must be committed to ensuring the 50 percent reduction in funding for the Purchase of Development Rights program is temporary in nature. PDR is vital for preserving the irreplaceable farmland that is a signature feature of Fayette County and the surrounding Bluegrass region.
Council members also should look closely at the proposal to close two swimming pools and Meadowbrook Golf Course to see if these moves will deprive certain segments of the community of access to recreation.
Sure, there are other pools and other municipal golf courses. But that doesn't mean children who swim in the Berry Hill and Constitution pools have access to transportation that can take them to other pools. And it doesn't mean the golfers who frequent Meadowbrook, who tend to be youngsters learning the game and seniors enjoying an 18-hole game in a two-hour stroll rather than a four-hour hike, will fit in at the city's other courses.
But the biggest concern involves two assumptions of savings — $3.5 million in the cost of health care for city workers and $5.6 million in the collective contracts with the police, firefighters and corrections workers.
The city's health plan is dysfunctional in that it has a zero-deduction option used by 90 percent of employees. Deductions are the norm in private health plans and should be the norm in public plans. Still, Gray has a selling job ahead of him in convincing city workers they must pay more of the cost of their health care.
He also has a selling job ahead in getting $5.6 million in concessions from negotiators for police, firefighters and corrections workers.
But he must succeed in both sales jobs because failure to achieve the $9.1 million savings involved in these two assumptions means deeper cuts than he is now proposing will be necessary to achieve a balanced budget.