Skip to comments.Lexington, KY, Mayor Urges Tax Hike or Reduction in Force
Posted on 04/30/2003 10:26:06 AM PDT by Theodore R.
Isaac: Add health tax or cut workers Some on council unhappy By Laura Yuen HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER
Mayor Teresa Isaac offered an unsettling choice to Lexington's city council yesterday: Approve a new health tax or lay off government employees.
That choice was laid out starkly in the city budget she proposed yesterday. Last year's $4.4 million funding for the health department disintegrated completely because Isaac is counting on the tax's approval to balance the books.
"The alternative to accepting the health department's proposal is another scenario: laying off Urban County Government workers," Isaac told the council.
While health department officials cheered Isaac's public touting of the tax, a few unhappy council members accused the mayor of tossing an unpopular decision onto them. Isaac said during her mayoral campaign that she would not raise taxes.
"She punted," Councilman Bill Cegelka said. "She presented a budget and left the difficult decision for us."
Vice Mayor Mike Scanlon, who has publicly advocated the idea of a health tax, said: "She threw her health tax in our lap. ... I think the mayor sincerely wants to help the city, but this is hardball politics at best."
But Milton Dohoney, the city's chief administrative officer, said Isaac wanted the council "to clearly understand" her assumptions that the council would approve the tax. The council agreed to invite Health Commissioner John Poundstone to present his case for the tax at Tuesday's work session.
"They heard what the mayor had to say," Poundstone said. "If they don't allow us to help them out," the city will be in a tight spot, he said. If the tax succeeds, the health department would take over the city's contributions to the Humane Society, coroner's office and jail health program.
The health tax would be levied on all property, such as real estate and motor vehicles. The proposed rate is 6.971 cents per $100 of assessed value, and it would be imposed starting Jan. 1.
Unlike the LexTran or parks taxes being considered by the council, the health tax does not have to go before voters. It must be approved by the council and the state's Cabinet for Public Health to take effect.
Isaac whittled the general fund by almost $5 million, down to $205 million. She described a national landscape where cities are reeling from "a slowed economy, uncertainty about world stability, and greater security costs that have flowed from 9/11."
The council will debate elements of her proposal until it can finalize and pass a budget by June 30.
Under her proposal, other outside agencies such as the Carnegie Literacy Center, Lexington Center Corp. and the Blue Grass Airport Board also lost their city funding, as expected. Altogether, outside agencies took a 24 percent cut from last year.
She also suggested saving money through actions such as closing city pools on Mondays during the summer.
Most city departments would see little or no change, except for public works, which would absorb a 10 percent decrease, and the insurance department, which would see a 20 percent increase. The budget would not include new funds for stormwater projects.
The disparity in cuts between outside agencies and city departments troubled Scanlon, who said he could not justify new taxes until he saw "evidence of a scalpel" throughout City Hall. "She made the easy cuts," he said.
Salvation Army Lt. Col. Howard Burr compared the $56,110 hole in his budget to a triage center. "When doctors come into a disaster site, they have to determine this guy lives and this guy dies. We're going to look at all our programs and say something has to go."
Isaac called for a 1 percent pay raise for city employees at the beginning of the fiscal year, and an additional 1 percent raise starting Dec. 1. An ultimate goal, she said, would be to pay city workers a minimum wage of $9.63 an hour. City employees -- especially police and firefighters -- had been hoping for bigger raises this year.
The police department's budget would increase by 3.2 percent; it would pay for higher health insurance costs and new items such as equipment. Fire and emergency services would get a 1.8 percent increase, partly to cover training-incentive pay increases.
"Right now the morale in the department is not good because of the salary situation," said Jim Sandford, president of the local chapter of the International Association of Firefighters. "We have guys going to smaller departments such as Frankfort. One question that hasn't been asked is, 'Where's the money going to come from to pay for the groceries?'"
But jailer Glenn Brown acknowledged that any raise was better than none. "It could have been zero," he said. "This goes to show what this administration is trying to do for employees."
The proposal included morsels of good news for some groups. Isaac committed $2 million to the Purchase of Development Rights preservation program after pulling a half-million dollars out for her proposed reductions in the current fiscal year. She cobbled up money to build a $250,000 shelter in Coolavin Park -- a request that has gone unfulfilled for 10 years.
Isaac's idea to close pools and community centers one day a week worried Councilwoman Sandy Shafer, who said it was the first time she could recall that happening. "It can be seen as a degradation of services," she said.
This is supposed to be a difficult choice?? Wowsers.
10-4. In talking with Councilmembers about this I believe there is a backing away from going on if condemnation has to be used.
Here is another case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
10-4. We can say that about most politicians. Our council members are way too quick to expand services WE pay for and then whine when it's necessary to cut back. It's time for careful review of the proposed budget IMO. Less is more!