Politics & Government

Lexington mayor outlines potential budget vetoes, will decide Friday

Mayor Jim Gray delivers his inaugural address to the city council and a large crowd during the inaugural ceremony for the mayor and city council in the Bluegrass Ballroom at Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, January 2, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins 11290
Mayor Jim Gray delivers his inaugural address to the city council and a large crowd during the inaugural ceremony for the mayor and city council in the Bluegrass Ballroom at Lexington Center in Lexington, Ky., Sunday, January 2, 2011. Photo by Matt Goins 11290 Lexington Herald-Leader

Mayor Jim Gray will line-item veto one building project in the budget approved by the Urban County Council last week and is considering vetoing several other items, he told council members Wednesday.

During the budget briefing, Gray said he definitely would strike from the budget $150,000 for disc-golf courses in two city parks — Coldstream and Jacobson.

"This is not the time for Frisbee golf, and I will veto it," he said.

Gray said he is considering vetoing three other construction projects in the budget: $75,000 for new lacrosse fields at Shillito Park, $75,000 to remove the Berry Hill swimming pool, and $100,000 for a handicap-accessible entrance at the Charles Young Center on East Third Street if it becomes a senior citizens' center.

The mayor is expected to submit his full veto list to the council Friday. The council then may override his vetoes if nine of its 15 members agree to do so.

Gray also is considering vetoing the council's decision to:

■ Delay borrowing money that would help finance the police and firefighters' pension fund.

■ Restore seven employees in the communications department that Gray had included in layoff plans for the city.

■ Restore the mayor's proposed 10 percent cut in funding for outside partner agencies such as the Salvation Army and the Hope Center.

"When we're asking our own people to make sacrifices, it's fair for our partner agencies to do the same," Gray said during the morning budget briefing for council members.

Gray said the last Lexington mayor who made line-item vetoes in the city budget was Foster Pettit, the first mayor of the newly formed Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, in 1975.

On Wednesday, 11 council members showed up for the hastily called meeting in the mayor's office that lasted about an hour. The meeting was described by council member Steve Kay as "congenial" in tone.

"The mayor got to say what he thinks the underlying issues are," Kay said. "We will have a continuing conversation about a very difficult set of issues."

The council voted 11-4 on June 23 to approve a $273 million General Fund budget for fiscal year 2012, which starts Friday. The council restored several items Gray had trimmed or eliminated. Vice Mayor Linda Gorton and council members KC Crosbie, Diane Lawless and Doug Martin voted against the budget.

Gray's 2012 budget called for reducing recurring expenses by laying off 28 employees, including 11 security jobs at the Government Center and the Phoenix Building, and not taking on more debt. But the council added back the 11 security officers and several public information employees, plus a police recruit class of 25 officers, for a total of 45 positions.

To help pay for the extra police and the saved jobs, council members voted to delay for six months issuing a $31 million bond to help fund the police and firefighters' pension fund, which faces an unfunded liability of about $200 million. The six-month delay frees up $1.4 million by delaying the first debt-service payment.

The council also voted to reinstate $300,000 in funding to the city's partner agencies. In reviewing partner agency budgets, Gray said at least one included a salary increase for the executive director.

Documents show a 5 percent salary increase proposed for Cecil Dunn, executive director of the Hope Center, and five other top managers at the Hope Center, which feeds, shelters and provides other services to homeless individuals.

Dunn said Wednesday that he had not asked for and would not get a raise. He last received a raise in 2010, bringing his salary to $112,500.

The five other Hope Center managers will not automatically receive 5 percent raises, said Walter May, the group's director of special projects.

"Usually, a 3 percent raise is max, and that is not automatic. It is decided on an annual basis on the anniversary of their date of employment," May said. "There are people on this list that will go two, three years without a raise."

May said he had not received a clear explanation for why Jeff Crook, the Hope Center's chief financial officer, listed the salary increases in documents submitted to the city.

"It's not a projection based on realism," May said. "Since he doesn't have a (salary) schedule to go by, he sort of had to wing it. Has has to fill out so many of these forms, sometimes he just picks a figure and plugs it in."

On Wednesday, Gray told council members that his budget was built "with the taxpayer in mind, no apologies. With a sound balance sheet in mind, no apologies."

After the meeting, Gorton said it was helpful to sit down with the mayor in a somewhat informal situation and hear his comments on the budget.

Gray "certainly clarified his discomfort with our ability to fund the budget the council has passed," she said. "That was very clear in his comments and reasons for potential vetoes."

Gorton said she could not predict whether the council would try to override any of Gray's vetoes.

"It will be interesting, because we may not have consensus on any item, or we may have consensus," she said.

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