Lexington, Kentucky Increases Budget for 24 New Firefighter Hires

Public safety came out on top on the Urban County Council's list of changes to Mayor Teresa Isaac's proposed 2005 budget.

The council yesterday tentatively agreed to give public safety $1 million more than was suggested in Isaac's budget, allocating $631,000 of that amount to increase the number of firefighters the department is allowed to hire next year from 12 to 24.

Other big changes to Isaac's proposed budget include setting aside an additional $700,000 for street resurfacing, not cutting funding to outside agencies that provide social services and restoring vacuum leaf collection, which Isaac recommending eliminating.

The council yesterday completed its initial work on Isaac's proposed $217.8 million budget for 2005. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The budget is scheduled to be ratified at today's 1:30 p.m. work session. If it is ratified, the budget would require two council readings before becoming final. Second reading could come June 24.

After spending the past six weeks studying Isaac's proposed budget, yesterday was the first day in which the council entertained motions to amend Isaac's budget.

The council did a lot of background work before making changes to Isaac's budget, said Councilwoman Linda Gorton. "Every council member has gotten a little bit that they wanted."

Other changes to the budget include reducing the council office's budget by $157,586, or 9.7 percent, and cutting more than $460,000 from Isaac's and Chief Administrative Officer Milton Dohoney's office budgets.

Isaac and Dohoney declined to comment on the proposed cuts to their budgets, said Bruce Edwards, Isaac's press secretary. "Until the budget is complete, including the bonding issues, neither will comment."

The council has not addressed the part of Isaac's budget which recommends issuing $15 million in bonds next year to fund a variety of information technology, stormwater, neighborhood development and farmland preservation projects.

The council plans to begin discussing the proposed bonds at today's 11:30 a.m. committee meeting.

If approved, the bonds would be issued in the first half of 2005, but the city wouldn't begin paying the debt service on those bonds until fiscal year 2006.

Items in Isaac's budget that the council did not change include spending $7.2 million to establish a step pay system for public safety employees, provide a 3.7 percent raise for non-sworn employees at a cost of $2.1 million and dismantling the property management division to save $350,000.

Overall, public safety -- which includes police, fire, community corrections and the Division of Environmental and Emergency Management -- is the biggest winner in the proposed 2005 budget, said Councilman Jacques Wigginton. "Public safety has the majority of our budget and it got the lion's share of the adjustments we made."

The additional 24 firefighters in the budget are a necessity, said Fire Chief Robert Hendricks. "We've been operating at a deficit to meet the current needs of the community."

The city still needs to open three new fire stations around Lexington, he said.

The council spared outside agencies that provide direct social services to residents from another year of budget cuts.

Instead of imposing the 25 percent budget cut Isaac recommended in the 2005 budget, the council agreed to fund the agencies at this year's levels.

Approving Isaac's recommended cut to the outside agencies would represent a 45 percent cut in funding since 2003, Councilman Bill Cegelka said.