Lexington council approves $401 million budget that includes raises, new projects

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The Lexington council gave final approval Tuesday to a $401 million spending plan that includes raises for most city employees, more than $4.8 million for park improvements, a new roll call center for police and 34 new positions, including six new police officers.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council voted 14 to 1 to approve the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Councilman Richard Moloney was the only no vote. Moloney said he was concerned about using money from some of the city’s savings accounts.

“The council also added several new positions, and it’s not clear how we are going to pay for it,” Moloney said.

This is the first time in history the general fund budget has topped $400 million. The budget is a nearly 6 percent increase over the current year, austere budget of $379 million. The spending plan includes no tax increases.

Buoyed by federal stimulus dollars doled out at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and better-than-expected tax collections, the city expects a more than $20 million surplus for the current fiscal year.

Mayor Linda Gorton’s original proposed budget was $398 million. The council added roughly $1 million in new spending and $4 million in new borrowing to that spending plan through changes approved over the past two months.

In total, the budget includes $29 million in borrowing.

Gorton and the council used about $7.9 million from current-year savings to fund some of the priorities in the upcoming budget.

In addition, the city used $7.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act money, federal stimulus dollars, to fund some park improvements.

The city still has approximately $114 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to designate for other potential projects over the next two years. There are restrictions on how that money can be spent.

Gorton has not said if she will veto any of the council’s changes to the budget.

During the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year, the city passed a lean budget that froze dozens of positions and offered no salary increases. Several key changes in this year’s budget include adding new staff and giving raises to city employees for the first time since 2018. The budget increases spending on paving, affordable housing and purchasing replacement vehicles for police, fire and other city departments.

Here are some of the highlights of the $401 million spending plan:

  • 34 new positions, many of which were frozen last year, including six new police officers.

  • $3.1 million for 3 percent raises for city employees not covered by collective bargaining agreements.

  • $3 million for affordable housing, a $1 million increase from prior year funding.

  • $14 million in paving, including $1 million for paving a portion of Man o’ War Boulevard.

  • $3 million for a new police roll call center in Veterans Park to replace the current, leased roll call center on Centre Parkway.

  • $750,000 for a connector road, utilities and other improvements adjacent to William Wells Brown Elementary School for a potential project that would include a new Head Start and affordable housing.

  • $3 million for new fire trucks and ambulances.

  • $2.3 million to replace police vehicles and $750,000 for a new mobile command unit.

  • $50,000 to up minority recruitment in public safety.

  • $200,000 for a new program to help poor homeowners fix problems cited by code enforcement.

  • $24,000 to increase the citizen’s advocate position from 20 hours a week to 25 hours a week to help citizens file complaints against the police department, a key recommendation of Gorton’s Commission for Racial Justice and Equality. The group released more than 54 recommendations in October.

  • $4.8 million in parks improvements, including playground upgrades at Gardenside, Masterson, Pine Meadows and Northeastern; improvements to basketball courts at Dogwood and Berry Hill; and a new slide at Douglass Pool.

Although Gorton recently proposed spending $10 million to build a new senior and therapeutic recreation center in Shillito Park, the project is not included in the budget for the new fiscal year.

Gorton has said the money may come from current-year savings or could be borrowed or bonded. The mayor has said she does not want to use American Rescue Plan Act money for that project because there will be up to $584,000 in ongoing annual operating expenses.

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