Fayette County

Council allocates some of budget surplus to old Fayette courthouse, possible homeless shelter

The old Fayette County courthouse has been closed since mid-2012 because of asbestos and other hazardous materials.
The old Fayette County courthouse has been closed since mid-2012 because of asbestos and other hazardous materials. Herald-Leader

The Urban County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow Mayor Jim Gray's administration to spend up to $450,000 in surplus funds on the old Fayette County courthouse, $200,000 on the possible conversion of a city-owned building to a homeless shelter and $100,000 for police overtime.

The old Fayette County courthouse has been shuttered since July 13, 2012, because of asbestos and other hazardous materials. Earlier this year, the area around the courthouse had to be closed off because of safety concerns.

Last year, the council allocated $250,000 for a study to determine what needed to be done to the courthouse and possible uses for the courthouse, which most recently was home to the Lexington History Museum.

Sally Hamilton, the city's chief administrative officer, told the council that the study should be completed in January.

"We will be back to you in late January with some options," Hamilton said. The $450,000 could be used to address problems noted in the report.

The homeless shelter project is contingent on negotiations between the city and the organizers of the Community Inn over a federal fair housing complaint.

At issue is whether the city improperly revoked the Community Inn's conditional-use permit in 2012. A mediation is scheduled for Dec. 3.

One possible option — of many — is moving the Community Inn, currently on Winchester Road, to a city-owned building that is appropriately zoned for a shelter on Industry Road.

Hamilton said the $200,000 would be used to make renovations to the building and to add shower and bathroom facilities.

"We are very thankful for council support for these projects," Hamilton said after Tuesday's meeting.

The money comes from the city's $6.3 million budget surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30.

The council previously had agreed that it would spend $2.2 million of that amount, and Gray had recommended that the remaining $4.1 million be held in reserve.

However, the council voted Tuesday to take the possible expenditures for the old courthouse, homeless shelter and police overtime out of the $4.1 million reserve fund.

It allocated most of the $2.2 million to other projects.

The council had already allocated $1.2 million of the $2.2 million at a meeting last Tuesday. Some of the items the council approved then include more than $253,000 for the Hamburg YMCA; $100,000 for major road cleanup for the 2015 Breeders Cup; and $30,000 for Internet connectivity at the city's pools.

On Tuesday, the council spent $438,028 of the $962,150 remaining of the $2.2 million.

Most of the projects approved Tuesday were parks projects.

The council approved two projects that could be completed in the next six months — $9,000 for a spiral slide at Pine Meadows Park and $20,000 for Pleasant Ridge Park upgrades. The council also decided to allocate about $160,028 for repaving of basketball and tennis courts in an assortment of parks.

It also approved $24,000 for the completion of a bridge in Zandale Park and $50,000 for a shelter at Wellington Park.

General Services Commissioner Geoff Reed said the neighborhood surrounding Zandale Park had been very involved in the improvements to the park. An architect who lives in the neighborhood did the plans pro bono, he said. Neighbors also helped with the beautification efforts at Wellington Park, Reed said.

The council also gave the green light to $150,000 for a comprehensive aquatics study. The city last did an aquatics study in 2007, which recommended closing two swimming pools.

"We need to look at where we are now in terms of revenue and attendance," Reed said. "The other thing we need to think about is whether we need to go toward splash parks verses pools. ... Do we need an indoor facility?"

The city's parks department needs a comprehensive plan that includes capital needs. Although there was a motion to spend $200,000 on a new parks plan, that motion ultimately died because several council members said they wanted more details of how much a comprehensive plan would cost.

"The council or a future council can come back and revisit this," Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said.