Fayette County

Lexington council votes to increase pay for most city employees by 4 percent instead of 3 percent

Lexington Fayette Urban County Government council chambers
Lexington Fayette Urban County Government council chambers Herald-Leader

Lexington's Urban County Council will begin to make tough decisions beginning next week on possible changes to Mayor Jim Gray's proposed $323 million budget.

During a more than four-hour meeting on Tuesday, the council took tentative votes on some changes. Some of the proposed tweaks include an additional 1 percent pay raise for most city employees. That's on top of a 3 percent raise Gray had included in his budget for city employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

The council also voted to increase pay for minimum-wage employees to $8.15 an hour and add 75 summer youth employees — an increase from the current proposal of 225 summer youth employees to 300.

The council also voted for an additional $2.4 million for paving neighborhood streets.

Vice Mayor Steve Kay said the council will return at 9 a.m. June 9 to continue budget discussions. At that meeting more detailed information about costs will be available. The council will then have to take a final vote on what to include in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Finance Commissioner Bill O'Mara told the council during Tuesday's budget meeting that after it had passed some additional items requested by Gray's administration, it had $843,570 left to spend. To spend more, the council probably would have to make cuts to Gray's budget proposal.

O'Mara also asked that the council keep $1.5 million in reserve for emergencies.

Council member Richard Moloney proposed the additional 1 percent raise for most city employees. "The reason why we have had surpluses... a lot of it is to the credit of our employees," Moloney said. Employees also had to go several years without raises, he said.

City employees received a 2 percent raise on July 1, 2014. Gray proposed a 3 percent raise for the fiscal year that begins July 1. In addition, some employees received raises in the past year as part of a compensation study aimed at bringing city employee salaries in line with other cities.

The cost to the general fund for that additional 1 percent raise would be a little more than $562,000, city officials said. Some on council expressed reservations about the ongoing cost of those pay raises.

Councilman Ed Lane pointed out that raises are not one-time costs and most be added to personnel costs in years ahead.

"You don't roll payroll back," Lane said. "You pay for it into the future."

The council voted 8-7 to approve the additional raise.

The same is true to bring the city's minimum-wage employees from the current federal minimum of $7.25 to $8.15 an hour. The city's minimum-wage employees are seasonal, part-time employees.

Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti, who is backing an ordinance to raise the minimum wage in Lexington, said the proposal would cost about $160,000 to raise those employees' wages by a little less than a dollar. The city would gradually raise the minimum wage to $10 over three years, Mossotti said.

The council approved the measure by a 9-6 vote.

The council has not discussed some big-ticket items in Gray's proposed budget. Those items include $22 million to renovate the former courthouse on Main Street and $10 million for Town Branch Commons, a downtown linear park that would stretch from Cox Street to Midland Avenue. Those items could be discussed next week.

The council must pass a budget before June 30, the end of the current fiscal year. Gray's proposed budget includes money for 35 new staff members, including 10 new police officers, and $58 million in borrowing.

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