Fayette County

$345 million Lexington budget includes 3.5% raise for city employees

The Lexington council Tuesday took its first vote on a $345 million city budget that includes a 3.5 percent raise for most city employees, $10 million for renovation and expansion of the Lexington Convention Center and $5.2 million for a new fire station.

TheUrban County Council voted 11 to 1 during a work session to put on its June 14 agenda the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. It will take its final vote at a meeting June 16.

The council made few changes to Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed budget and finished its budget deliberations early this year.

The biggest change was an additional .5 percent raise for city employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements. Gray had proposed a 3 percent raise. If granted final approval next week, city employees will receive a 3.5 percent raise beginning July 1. Other minor changes included giving an additional $130,000 to Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts’ office for health insurance costs, adding $50,000 for a feasibility study to add sidewalks to Old Todds Road and creating a new diversity officer.

Last week, Geoff Reed, acting chief of staff for Gray, said Gray does not plan on vetoing any of the council’s changes.

Gray’s budget includes $10 million in city bond money for the expansion and renovation of the downtown convention center. The nearly $250 million project will greatly expand the exhibition hall and add meeting space. The council approved an increase in Fayette County’s hotel and motel tax in late May. That 2.5 percent increase will be used to make payments on $60 million in state borrowing and an additional $171 million in bonds.

Another big-ticket item in Gray’s budget: $7 million for a youth sports complex on 130 acres of city-owned land near Versailles and New Circle roads. In previous budget meetings, some on council have expressed reservations about the proposed $25 million complex but ultimately agreed to put $7 million in the budget. The council will not have to vote on the borrowing until later and the $7 million is only a place holder in the budget, city officials have said.

Residents of Wellesley Heights, a neighborhood near the proposed development, have raised questions about the project. Those concerns include traffic impact on an already-busy Parkers Mill Road and whether the youth sports complex will eventually be a drain on the city’s coffers.

Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. was the sole council member to vote against moving the budget forward. Farmer said he had concerns the budget still contained the $7 million for the youth sports complex.

“We are going to approve bonding capacity for something that may never happen,” Farmer said. “This has never been vetted in public.”

Other new spending in the budget includes: $5.2 million for a new fire station in Masterson Station; $3 million for pool upgrades, and money for 20 additional police officers, bringing the total number of police officers to 600.

The general fund budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is a 6.6 percent increase from the current year budget of $324 million. It includes $47.9 million in borrowing or bonding, down from the current year's borrowing of $59 million. The city is on track to end the current fiscal year with a surplus — the fourth consecutive year of surpluses.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall