Politics & Government

Gray vetoes $889,612 of spending from Lexington budget

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray

Mayor Jim Gray line-item vetoed $889,612 of spending from the $274 million city budget that went into effect Friday, including several building projects that the Urban County Council added last week.

In addition to vetoing $150,000 for two disc-golf courses at Coldstream and Jacobson parks, Gray vetoed $75,000 for new lacrosse fields at Shillito Park, $75,000 to remove the Berry Hill swimming pool and $100,000 to make the Charles Young Center accessible to the handicapped. Financing those projects would cost the city $90,000 a year for five years.

Gray also vetoed funding for seven positions in the government communications division, which would save $485,000. And he restored his previously proposed 10 percent funding cut for arts and charitable organizations, such as the Salvation Army and the Hope Center. That move would shave an additional $314,612 from the budget.

It is not known whether the council will have enough votes to override any of the vetoes. Nine of the council's 15 members must agree to override a veto.

The council must vote to override the vetoes in a "reasonable" amount of time, but the city's statutes do not give the council a specific deadline. The next scheduled council meeting is Thursday, but a special meeting could be called before then.

Sixth District Councilman Kevin Stinnett said Gray's cuts to outside agencies was the most troubling. Many of those agencies — 26 in all — provide services to the poorest and neediest citizens, he said.

"I think there will be a more thorough discussion of all three (of the items Gray vetoed)," Stinnett said.

Councilwoman K.C. Crosbie, who did not support the council's budget at its June 23 meeting, said she thinks Gray's vetoes were responsible and appropriate. The city's revenues have declined for three straight years, she said.

"We can't continue to spend like we have a lot of money," Crosbie said. "We clearly don't have the money to be spending on some of these projects."

Gray is the first mayor to exercise his line-item veto authority since 1975, when Foster Pettit was mayor of the newly formed Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.

At a news conference on Friday, Gray said he issued the vetoes to help Lexington live within its means.

"I am taking this step with the taxpayers in mind," he said.

Gray briefed about 11 members of the council on Wednesday about potential vetoes. He had been mulling whether to veto several other items, including the council's decision to delay for six months a $31 million bond to help finance the police and firefighters' pension fund. The pension fund faces a $200 million unfunded liability.

Earlier this month, the council voted 11-4 to approve the general fund budget. In addition to Crosbie, Vice Mayor Linda Gorton and council members Diane Lawless and Doug Martin voted against the budget. All four voiced concerns that the council's budget was too bloated, given the city's lean finances.

In its budget, the council had restored several items that Gray had proposed cutting in his austere budget proposal, presented to the council in April.

Gray's budget called for laying off 28 people, including seven people in the communications division and 11 security officers who watch over key government buildings. But the council added back many positions, including a new police recruit class of 25, for a total of 45 jobs.

To pay for those jobs, the council had proposed delaying a $31 million bond for six months, which would free up about $1.4 million that could be used for payroll. On Friday, city officials said they are still trying to determine whether delaying the bond would pay for 25 new police officers.

Gray said he ultimately decided against vetoing funding for the 11 security jobs out of respect for the council's wishes. Gray had originally proposed outsourcing the security officers, a move that could save about 30 percent over current costs, he said.

"I felt like it was important to demonstrate a willingness to support the council's point of view," Gray said. "But it's important for us to continue to examine what functions government should continue to perform and what we should outsource."

Gray said he knows the 10 percent funding cut to outside agencies will be difficult, given the current economic climate. But everyone must sacrifice, he said.

Terry Mullins, the executive director of Moveable Feast Inc, said the cut would result in a $4,000 loss to the agency, which provides more than 100 meals a month to people living with HIV or in hospice. Mullins said he hopes the council overrides Gray's veto.

Private donations have declined over the past three years as food prices have increased, he said.

"Everything is trending down," Mullins said. "We will continue to feed people, but it will mean the difference between hamburger or roast beef."

Major Debra Ashcraft of the Salvation Army said a 10 percent cut would mean a loss of $20,000 for the emergency shelter for women and children. That's on top of other cuts from private foundations and from state and federal funding, for a total projected loss of about $70,000 for the shelter.

Last year, the shelter provided services for 1,200 people, including 300 children.

The cuts couldn't have come at a more difficult time, she said. The United Way recently told the Salvation Army that it would lose $73,000 for its boys and girls club programs and its child-care programs.

"The need is increasing," Ashcraft said of the comprehensive homeless services the Salvation Army provides.

Ashcraft said the Salvation Army's board has not yet decided what, if any, services it will cut if new money doesn't materialize.

"We will make the least painful cut as possible," she said.

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