Politics & Government

No consensus emerging to override Lexington mayor's spending vetoes

As Lexington's Urban County Council prepares to meet Thursday night, there appears to be no consensus to override Mayor Jim Gray's recent line-item budget vetoes.

Gray vetoed $889,612 from the $274 million city budget that took effect Friday. The vetoes included several building projects added by the Urban County Council.

The council must vote to override Gray's vetoes in "a reasonable amount of time" — there is no set number of days, council clerk Susan Lamb said. An override requires approval of nine of the council's 15 members.

Council member Steve Kay said he had not heard of any colleague "leading a charge" to override a particular veto.

The council passed the city budget for fiscal year 2012 on June 23.

The mayor had 10 days to veto any items in the budget. On Friday, he released his line-item veto list, which included $150,000 for disc-golf courses at Coldstream and Jacobson parks, $75,000 for new lacrosse fields at Shillito Park, $75,000 to remove the Berry Hill pool and $100,000 to make the Charles Young Center accessible to the handicapped. These projects were to be bonded and would cost the city $90,000 a year for five years in debt service on the bond.

Gray also vetoed funds for seven positions in the city's government communications division, saving $485,000. He vetoed $314,000 for 26 partner agencies including the Salvation Army and Blue Grass Rape Crisis Center.

On Wednesday, it was unclear whether the council would have enough votes to override any of the vetoes.

Some council members, including Kay, expressed concern about cutting partner agencies by 10 percent. "They've already been hit pretty hard, and I don't think we ought to cut them," Kay said.

He said he is ready to ask the council to reinstate city funds for 20 of the 26 partner agencies. These are ones that provide social services such as Baby Health, Chrysalis House and the Salvation Army. He does not favor reinstating funds for partner agencies that are not social service-oriented; these include the Environmental Quality Commission, Explorium, LexArts, Commerce Lexington and Downtown Lexington Corp.

Council member Bill Farmer proposed the $75,000 for lacrosse fields at Shillito Park because of support in his 5th District for developing a partnership between the city and lacrosse leagues.

But few responded when Farmer asked for voter feedback in his weekly newsletter last week, and several people said they supported Gray's vetoes. On Wednesday, Farmer said he had not decided whether he would support any motions to override vetoes.

One of the capital projects Gray vetoed was $75,000 to remove Berry Hill swimming pool and find a new use for the site. The expenditure was proposed by 8th District council member George Myers. On Wednesday, Myers said, "At the end of the day, the mayor is charged with running government, and if he feels that strongly, and if he feels strongly that he needs to veto particular items to help him efficiently and effectively do his job, I'll give him that opportunity."

First District council member Chris Ford said he had not decided whether to support any motions to override, because as a first-term council member, he is just coming to grips with the city's bleak financial picture.

"We are in a very fragile financial time," Ford said. The city's 2012 budget anticipates savings of more than $3 million in a new health insurance plan for city employees and $5.6 million in the collective bargaining contract with firefighters.

"If we do not realize the cost savings we project with health insurance and collective bargaining, we're going to be making even tougher choices than we have had to make now — either massive layoffs or a tax increase," Ford said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader