Politics & Government

Council votes to spend $7.3 million of $12.4 million of Lexington surplus

Lexington Herald-Leader

The Urban County Council voted Thursday to spend $7.3 million of a $12.4 million surplus on new fire trucks, police cars and other capital improvements.

The council did not complete the total allocation of the surplus funds and will return Tuesday to determine how the remaining $5.1 million should be spent.

The council also voted Tuesday to sock away an additional $2.5 million in the city's economic contingency fund, which is a type of rainy-day account.

In addition to increasing the city's cash reserves, the council allocated $3.2 million to replace 25 police cruisers and 11 unmarked cars, two fire engines and two emergency medical vehicles. In addition, the council voted to give $40,000 for new air tanks for the fire department.

Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason said 25 percent of the city's police cars are more than 10 years old and have more than 100,000 miles. A significant portion of the fire fleet is also more than a decade old.

Council member Kevin Stinnett said the current and previous administrations approached the council on three occasions to have a formal replacement policy on its public safety fleet. Each time, the council opted not to fund it. The two fire trucks that would be replaced with the money are 14 years old, Stinnett said.

"We have vehicles that are less and less reliable," council member Steve Kay said. "This does not get us caught up."

The council voted 10-5 to spend $250,000 on pre-development work at the old county courthouse, which was closed to the public in 2012 due to elevated levels of lead dust.

Jeff Fugate, president of the Lexington Downtown Development Authority, said the money will go to engineering, architectural design and environmental studies to prepare the building for a possible tenant. Fugate said he has had several conversations with possible tenants. But in order for those talks to proceed, the city needs to take care of the building, which sits in the middle of downtown.

Council member Julian Beard said he didn't think it was a wise use of city funds. The old courthouse would not be an ideal office building because of its unique architecture, and parking is a problem, he said.

But other council members said the building was worth preserving. Fugate said there is enough parking downtown. He conceded that the city would have to find a unique tenant to occupy the iconic downtown building, but he said such a tenant can be found.

Other items approved by the council included $325,000 for pothole repair, $350,000 for facility HVAC projects, $400,000 for roofing projects, $26,000 for traffic signals at the Reynolds Road roundabout, $125,000 to repave part of the Jacobson Park roadway and $45,000 for an aquatic climbing wall at Woodland Park.

Possible projects to be discussed Tuesday include $1.1 million for the Legacy Trail and $250,000 for a study on Man 'o War redesign and possible widening.

The council has been debating what to do with the city's surplus funds since late August. The council had originally proposed setting aside $3.75 million to be spent on capital projects in council districts. That figure was later lowered to $2.25 million. The council voted 15-0 during Thursday night's meeting to table the $2.25 million proposal until full discussion on the surplus has been completed.

Thursday's votes were the initial approval for spending the surplus money. Once council finalizes its list of projects on Tuesday, the project list will need two readings for final approval.