Politics & Government

Council committee to rank projects, vote on spending $12.5 million surplus

The Lexington Urban County Council will begin to make decisions next week on what to do with a $12.5 million surplus.

Council members decided Tuesday to rank approximately 50 projects by importance and will likely vote on how to spend excess funds at the Oct. 10 special meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee. Those 50 projects includes those proposed by council members and by Mayor Jim Gray's administration.

The list of potential projects include: $1.1 million to complete the Legacy Trail, $250,000 for a study of the redesign of Man o' War Boulevard and $80,510 for more signs and paint for bike lanes.

Finance Commissioner Bill O'Mara told council members during Tuesday's Budget and Finance Committee meeting that the total surplus was $51.9 million for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. That figure includes carryover funds from previous fiscal years. However, by council ordinance, much of that surplus must go toward the rainy day-fund and other accounts, which leaves $24.5 million.

O'Mara recommended that the council put an additional $9.5 million aside for contingencies — including $2 million for health insurance, $2 million for pensions and $5.5 million for potential lawsuits not covered by the city's insurance. The council voted unanimously to set aside that money on Tuesday. That leaves nearly $15 million in unspent money.

O'Mara recommended and the council agreed to keep $2.5 million in the surplus account and look at spending $12.5 million.

The issue of how to spend any surplus money has created a split on the council. In August, the council originally discussed approving $3.7 million for capital projects to be spent in council districts. That amount was later lowered to $2.25 million. The council voted last week to delay a vote on the capital-projects proposal until after the Budget and Finance Committee meeting — when updated figures on the city's surplus would be available.

Urban County Councilman Steve Kay said Tuesday that the term "surplus" was incorrect. The city ran the government efficiently during the past fiscal year but there are lots of needs in Lexington. The money should go toward those needs, he said.

"This is a result of effective budgeting and efficient government," Kay said. "These are things that did not get in the budget initially, this is not extra spending."

Councilman Kevin Stinnett said that the media has portrayed the surplus inaccurately. In April the council set aside money from last year's surplus for employee health insurance and to pay for street lights and to end "brown outs" at the city's fire stations. The council also has put money into the rainy-day fund.

"This is an old discussion, this is not a new fund balance that jumped out of the sky," Stinnett said. "It wasn't explained what we did good back in April ... because I guess that doesn't sell papers."

On Tuesday, council members and members of the administration made their pitches for why certain projects should be funded.

For example, the administration would like $400,000 to repair roofs on various city structures, $250,000 for a design study for the redevelopment of the old court house, $1.75 million for new fire trucks and $1.25 million to replacing aging police cars.

Council members also made pleas for capital projects in their districts for such things as repairing dilapidated basketball courts, additional paving of roads and replacing old windows in community centers.

If the Budget and Finance Committee finalizes the list of projects at the Oct. 10 meeting, it will go to the full council for a vote.