Lexington's Urban County Council made few initial changes Tuesday to Mayor Jim Gray's $323 million proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Five council budget subcommittees reported initial recommendations to the full council during a more than four-hour meeting.
No votes on the proposed recommendations were taken during the meeting. The council will begin to make some key decisions on Gray's budget proposal next week. The council must take a final vote on the budget by the end of June.
Council member Kevin Stinnett, chairman of the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee, said council members' requests for funding for projects in their districts also would be discussed at a meeting next week.
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"Late items from the administration will also be coming next Tuesday," he said.
The five subcommittees recommended only minor tweaks to Gray's proposed budget, which includes a 3 percent pay raise for most city employees, $58 million in borrowing or bonded projects, and money for 35 new employees including 10 more police officers.
Courthouse, Town Branch
The two-term mayor's budget also includes $22 million for restoration of the former downtown courthouse and $10 million for Town Branch Commons, a linear two-mile park downtown.
The restoration of the Main Street courthouse — which has been vacant for several years — and Town Branch Commons were not discussed during Tuesday's meeting. Those two big-ticket items could be discussed at next week's budget meeting, Stinnett said.
Some of the changes recommended by the subcommittees Tuesday include an additional $92,000 for more staff for the county attorney's office, not hiring any additional staff for the city's human resources department until a third-party audit of the division is completed, and using $600,000 from a surplus rather than bond funds to buy body cameras for the police department.
Moving Peoples Bank
The council's budget subcommittees also initially recommended using $150,000 of city money to help pay part of the $850,000 cost of relocating the mid-century modern Peoples Bank building to a parking lot owned by Lexington Center Corp. The Warwick Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preservation, has said it will use the building as a type of community center and will oversee day-to-day operations of the building once it is moved.
But some council members questioned whether the city was setting a precedent by using public money on a private project.
Stinnett asked if the city has a written policy on when it will help private groups pay for historic preservation projects.
"What is the justification?" he said.
Planning Commissioner Derek Paulsen, who has been involved with efforts to save and move the bank building, said the city receives few requests to help move buildings and has not developed a written policy on when it will use city funds on historic preservation projects. "The re-purpose of this building will be for the public benefit," Paulsen said.
The bank building is one of the last commercial mid-century modern pieces of architecture in Lexington. It had been slated for demolition to make way for a 12-screen cinema.
Social services programs
A key area of contention every year is how much money is awarded to social services programs.
In the proposed budget, the city would allocate $3 million — approximately 1 percent of its budget — to 49 social services programs through a competitive grant application process.
The Salvation Army would get less than it had received in previous years.
The Salvation Army would get more than $227,000 for emergency shelter services for women and children. It would not receive additional funding for its transitional housing program, which provides short-term housing for 15 women. Officials with the Salvation Army pleaded with the council to give the group more money.
Charlie Lanter, the city's director of the office of homeless prevention and intervention, said the Salvation Army's transitional housing application did not receive a high enough score on its application by grant reviewers. The Salvation Army's total allocation last year — for emergency and transitional housing — was $330,000.
Earlier this year, the Salvation Army returned to the city a Community Development Block Grant — a federal grant — that was for less than $75,000. The Salvation Army returned the grant because it did not want to comply with some of the requirements of that grant — including participating in a homeless database management system.
Vice Mayor Steve Kay and others on the council said they regretted that not every social services program was funded, but the council has set up a process — 36 members of the community score the grant applications. Programs that score the highest receive the grants.
"I'm really reluctant to second-guess that process," Kay said. If the council makes changes for the Salvation Army, other agencies also might request increases in grant allocations, he said.
Officials with several social service agencies — including God's Pantry Food Bank and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning — told Gray and the council later Tuesday during a public hearing that their programs have been cut, and they urged the council to restore funding. This year the city had $6.8 million in requests for grant assistance but only $3 million for outside social services programs, said Social Services Commissioner Chris Ford.