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Lexington city council approves budget

The Urban County Council approved a ”tight,“ yet ”realistic“ budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The budget includes a number of cuts, such as reducing the work force, and cutting operating expenses and funding to most partner agencies, except for those that provide social services, by 10 percent. Those cuts, plus a number of new or higher fees expected to generate $5 million, were used to balance a fiscal 2009 budget that had a projected $35 million shortfall at the current rate of spending.

The general fund budget, the city's main operating account, is $275.2 million, $5.3 million less than the current year. The total amount of the city's budget, including the general fund and the other specialized accounts, was unavailable Thursday because of a computer server crash.

The budget is ”tight, but I think it's as good as it can be under the circumstances,“ said Mayor Jim Newberry.

If any of the city's estimates related to retirements, attrition and revenues are off ”we'll be compelled to issue a layoff plan,“ Newberry said. ”I'm concerned that the additional funding that was made available in raises is going to make it very difficult for us to avoid layoffs later on. I hope I'm wrong and I hope that what we see is an increase in revenues.“

The council decided to give city employees not covered by a collective bargaining contract a 2.3 percent raise, larger than the 2 percent raise starting Jan. 1 that Newberry proposed.

The council also disagreed with Newberry's proposals to create a taxpayer-funded scholarship program with a dollar-for-dollar private sector match; eliminate the citizens' advocate office; and transfer operation of the Day Treatment Center, a community-based treatment program for youths ages 12 to 18, to the school district.

Overall, Newberry said he was ”extraordinarily pleased“ that the council approved ”99 plus percent of what we proposed“ in the budget.

He wasn't surprised the council chose not to fund his scholarship proposal given the difficult budget environment, Newberry said.

”I continue to think it is the best way for us to enhance our economy in the future and to invest in our young people right away,“ he said. ”I'll continue to push for that sort of initiative in the future.“

The scholarship proposal will most likely be part of his proposed budget next year, Newberry said.

”It's a realistic budget,“ said Councilman Don Blevins Jr. ”What the mayor brought us was actually a pretty good start. There were some policy issues that the council obviously did not agree with ... Once we settled those policy disagreements there was a certain amount of money left and we gave that to the employees.“

Some council members said they were disappointed that they weren't able to find money to hire the 25 new police officers and 12 new firefighters who were scheduled to start this past spring. This year's budget included money for them, but Newberry decided to forgo those hires to help balance this year's and next year's budgets.