Council members always face a tough summertime job as they try to wrangle a budget to the ground before the next fiscal year begins.
In times like these, the job is even harder. The temptation to take a breather on some long-term aspirations to make the budget balance short term will be greater than ever.
As far as we know, no one at city hall has so far seriously suggested cutting back on funding for Lexington's Purchase of Development Rights program as a way to make the numbers work.
Let's keep it that way.
Mayor Jim Newberry has $2 million in his proposed budget for PDR, and the council committee reviewing that part of the budget has agreed.
But the nuts and bolts of the budget are decided in the final days when the council has to reconcile proposed spending with revenue projections.
Here's why the council should look elsewhere when it starts searching out the inevitable nips and tucks: PDR works.
The idea behind PDR is to compensate people who own farmland for pledging to keep it agricultural rather than selling it for development as a subdivision, shopping mall or other more intense use.
Both sides benefit. Farm owners get much-needed cash to invest in fences, feed, seed, barns and a host of other needs on their property. The rest of us get the assurance that our air and water will be cleaner, our Bluegrass brand will be preserved and we will continue to enjoy the quality of life that comes from living close to one of the most beautiful agricultural landscapes in the world.
Quality of life is one of those "soft" terms that can be easy to dismiss. But it's pure economics when we talk about our landscape. Our agricultural sector employs thousands of people directly and accounts for many other spin-off jobs. It also attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year (and hundreds of thousands this year with the World Equestrian Games.) Preserving our farmland is also vital to attract the creative, bright people who drive economic growth and want to live near open spaces and close to their food supply.
Plus, it's a bargain.
The city already has in hand $2 million in federal matching money for the PDR program for the next fiscal year. That's a guaranteed 100-percent return on investment, something very hard to come by these days. The city will also be eligible to apply for state matching money in the new fiscal year. In fact, federal and state matching money for PDR has exceeded the city's investment by almost $5.5 million.
PDR grew out of the 1996 decision to open 5,400 acres within Fayette County to development. PDR was established with the goal of acquiring conservation easements on 50,000 acres within the county by 2020.
The program is on track to meet its goal, with 24,244 acres, or 48.5 percent of the goal, already protected.
In tough times, government officials look to cut back on programs that have not fulfilled their promise or that benefit only a small swathe of the population.
But when a program like PDR is working well, doing exactly what it set out to do and benefiting the entire county, it deserves strong, continuing support.