Fayette County

Police, pools, fire station in budget approved by Lexington council

The pool at Shillito Park off Reynolds Road near Fayette Mall will get $400,000 worth of improvements, including a lazy river and a double slide. Lexington’s council Thursday approved a city budget that includes a total of $3 million for upgrades to the city’s pools.
The pool at Shillito Park off Reynolds Road near Fayette Mall will get $400,000 worth of improvements, including a lazy river and a double slide. Lexington’s council Thursday approved a city budget that includes a total of $3 million for upgrades to the city’s pools. mcornelison@herald-leader.com

The Lexington council gave final approval Thursday night to a $345 million spending plan that includes money for 20 additional police officers, $5.2 million for a new fire station, $7 million for a youth sports complex on city-owned land and $3 million for upgrades to the city’s pools.

Mayor Jim Gray said he doesn’t plan to veto any items in the budget.

“This budget is a team effort … mayor and council,” Gray said. “This budget reflects needs across our community. It’s a good budget, and there will be no vetoes. We’ve invested in public safety, roads, parks, economic development — the fundamental building blocks of our city. We’re able to make these investments because we have put our city on firm financial footing through strong management.”

The Urban County Council voted to 14-1 to approve the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The council made few changes to Gray’s proposed budget. The biggest change was increasing the raise for city employees to 3.5 percent. Gray’s budget proposal had a 3 percent raise for most employees. The raise for employees not covered by a collective bargaining agreement will take effect July 1.

Big-ticket items in the budget include $3 million for upgrades to the city’s pools. That includes $400,000 for changes to Shillito pool, including adding a lazy river and a double water slide. That $3 million also includes new “spraygrounds” at Masterson Station, Jacobson, Douglass and Castlewood parks. The switch to spraygrounds, which are playgrounds that include water features such as fountains, was recommended in a recently released aquatics master plan.

Other big projects include $5.2 million for a new fire station in Masterson Station, one of the state’s largest neighborhoods. It will be the first new fire station in a decade. There is also $10 million in bond money for the expansion and renovation of the downtown Lexington Convention Center.

The most controversial item in the upcoming budget was $7 million for a youth sports complex. Much of the discussion before the final vote was about that $7 million.

Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti was the only member of council to vote against the budget. Mossotti has said she felt the project — and how it will be paid for — should be thoroughly vetted before the city commits money to the park. Mossotti said the city’s other parks need millions of dollars in repairs and updates, which should be the city’s first priority. Mossotti tried to amend the budget to remove the $7 million, but the motion died for lack of a second.

Many council members said during Thursday night’s meeting that although they would vote for the budget, they would not vote to issue $7 million in bonds for the project until questions about the project have been answered.

Councilwoman Peggy Henson, whose council district is adjacent to the proposed park, said there are too many questions about it.

“I don’t think it’s been properly vetted,” Henson said.

Councilman Russ Hensley, whose district includes the area where the proposed park is located, said he too had concerns about the long-term viability of a youth sports complex. He didn’t want to see the park “become an albatross around the city’s neck.”

Neighbors of the proposed park told the council at a public meeting Tuesday they question whether the park will be financially successful and voiced concerns about traffic, noise and light pollution. The Bluegrass Sports Commission, a nonprofit, has pledged $6.5 million in corporate sponsorships for the park, which could include more than 20 fields that could be used to host youth sports tournaments. The commission has also said that it intends to hire a company to run the park and that the city will not be asked for operation costs after the park is built. Many youth sports complexes break even or lose money.

Proponents of the park point to a recent economic analysis that said over 20 years, the youth sports park would generate $450 million in new spending at Lexington hotels, restaurants and stores. Many in Lexington’s sports’ community support the project, saying parents are spending thousands of dollars each year traveling to other cities’ youth sports complexes.

The budget also includes more than 40 new positions, including 20 new police officers. With the addition of the 20 officers, Lexington’s police force would total 600, the highest number of officers in the city’s history, Gray has said. The budget also includes a new diversity officer to help address minority recruitment in police, fire and corrections and to help the city address diversity issues overall.

Other spending includes $2.5 million to replace aging police cruisers and $600,000 for police body cameras. The current-year budget also included $600,000 for the body cameras. Lexington police have said they hope the first officers will have the cameras later this month.

The budget is a 6.6 percent increase from the current year budget of $324 million. It includes $47.9 million in borrowing, down from the current year’s borrowing of $59 million. The budget includes spending $6 million from the current year surplus. The city is expected to end the fiscal year with a surplus for the fourth consecutive year.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall

Budget highlights

  • $600,000 for police body cameras
  • $2.5 million for police cruisers
  • $3 million for upgrades to pools
  • $5.2 million for a new fire station
  • $7 million for a youth sports complex
  • $10 million in bond money for expansion and renovation of the Lexington Convention Center
  • $12 million for road paving
  • $345 million total
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