On Tuesday, September 16th, the developers and the administration together brought forward a new CentrePointe TIF proposal for council consideration. The council voted unanimously to support a bonding mechanism for the parking garage, an initiative coordinated by the Kentucky League of Cities. My vote for this project was guided by two beliefs:
1.) A successful development in the heart of our city, complete with a downtown parking facility, is a good outcome for our community.
2.) The project’s many twists and turns as well as its financial complexity have made the funding mechanisms difficult for the public to understand. This is why I have supported a clear bottom line throughout: no liability for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
Beth Musgrave with the Herald-Leader provides a straightforward summary:
The city’s only obligation is pledging the new tax revenue from the project to pay the debt, Juett said. If the development is not successful, the city and the League of Cities will not be responsible for paying off the bonds. All the risk is on the buyer of the bonds.
During the meeting, Vice-Mayor Linda Gorton also highlighted an important concern: what if the bonds do not sell? We learned that this risk is reduced when a private underwriter purchases all of the bonds up front and then resells them to bond buyers, which we were told is likely. In either case there is no risk to the city.
As the Herald-Leader reported, the city’s only role in the agreement is to pledge a portion of the additional tax revenue to pay back the bonds. That means if the project is economically successful and brings in more tax revenue to LFUCG, a portion of that new revenue will help pay back the bonds. The TIF bonds will be used to finance the new parking facility and no other aspects of the CentrePointe development.
The council was unanimous in its support for this latest financing proposal. It is my hope that, with this last financing piece in place, this long-delayed project will now go forward successfully.
The 2014 Best of Bluegrass (BoB) is June 9-12, the week before the Festival of the Bluegrass at the Kentucky Horse Park. BoB will feature performances, workshops and community events in downtown Lexington in conjunction with the Festival of the Bluegrass. There will be free concerts every night in a variety of venues. Dale Ann Bradley is performing at Thursday Night Live and KET is live-streaming the show. LexTran will be offering a shuttle service between the park campground and downtown.
In my recent Council Comments, I spoke with Art Schechet and Tom Martin, two of the BoB organizers and supporters. They provided some of the background and more information about BoB, the local music scene, and the Lexington Area Music Alliance, a key presence in Lexington’s burgeoning music scene.
Come downtown June 9-12 to take advantage of this opportunity to hear world-class music in a casual setting. See the full schedule here.
Council received an update on Lexthrive, LFUCG’s Health Management Strategy, on May 6th. You can see the presentation here. The operation of the Samuel Brown Health Center, the city employee pharmacy, and the incentive program are key components of that strategy. The good news is that 60% of the employees have completed a biometric screening and are using the Health Center. The total savings in paid claims in a one year period is over $2 million. 1,659 patients have been identified with biometric risk factors, 70% have been engaged, and 40% have improved their health.
The Health Center is seeing almost 900 patients per month for health coaching and acute care and a total of 20,000 per year including occupational services. Appointments are currently 98% filled. Looking forward they plan to address the growing demand for care, increase the engagement of the target population (those identified with health risk), and increase the number of patients making clinical gains.
The LFUCG budget is comprised of several different funds – the General Services District fund (General Fund), the Urban Services District fund, multiple special revenue funds, pension trust funds, and internal service funds. There are also several capital project funds and enterprise funds. The largest is the General Fund ($313 million). 84% ($262 million) of the revenue received by the General Fund is from licenses and permits, 8% ($24 million) is from services, and 7% ($22 million) is from ad valorem taxes. You can get a copy of the FY 2015 Mayor’s Proposed Budget, and you can watch the first Council meeting on the budget here.
The Proposed Budget anticipates an increase of General Fund revenue of $16 million (5.4%). The proposed growth rate is the largest since 2007 and Council will have to decide if that is a realistic expectation. The bulk of the increase ($8.5 million) is employee withholding.
The Proposed Budget also includes an increase in expenditures of $14 million (4.9%) with 64% being personnel ($9.3 million), 15% operating ($3.9 million), and 11% debt service ($33 million). 55% of the General Fund budget is spent on Public Safety ($172 million) with an increase over last year of $7 million including 15 new positions each for Police and Corrections. Proposed spending on partner agencies increased by $700,000; debt service decreased by $500,000; and both the Local Food Coordinator and the Office of Homelessness Intervention and Prevention are funded.
Council has a long way to go in analyzing the budget and the Links, sub-committees to analyze portions of the budget, are meeting now. The Links Report Out is scheduled for May 27th at 10:00 am. You can find a copy of the packet here when it is posted and view the meeting here.
My aide, Leah Boggs, recently toured Lexington’s Urban Forest. Here is her report:
The tour was sponsored by the Lexington Tree Foundation and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Parts of the tour were depressing because of trees that were buried too deep, had mulch volcanoes, were planted improperly, were root bound, and were damaged by mowers and other contractors. To address these issues the city’s Planting Manual needs updating to correct ordinances that are conflicting, have gaps, or are not enforced.
The good news is that there is some progress. The Planting Manual is in the process of being updated and Environmental Policy is reviewing all tree related ordinances. In FY 2015, Environmental Policy will add two staff members dedicated to street tree enforcement. The Mayor’s Proposed Budget also includes funding for the Street Tree Cost Share Program to assist homeowners with street tree removal and replacement. It is a good start but more needs to be done. Enforcement of landscaping on commercial development is the responsibility of Building Inspection but the position dedicated to this enforcement was moved to Environmental Policy. This vacancy needs to be addressed.
Lexington must address the damage caused by contractors and improper planting. Otherwise we will never be able to increase our tree canopy in a meaningful way, and we will keep planting the same areas over and over at a huge cost to the taxpayer. Fortunately, Susan Plueger, the new director of Environmental Policy, is aware of the problems and is taking steps to address them. She needs our support. We thank Susan for her efforts.
Commissioner Beth Mills presented the design for the new Senior Center at the Council Work Session on Tuesday. EOP Architects and Catlin Petrovick Architects designed the building after a collaborative process that included public meetings and design charrettes. The design addresses the three most important aspects of a senior center: education, wellness and fitness, and socialization. The $13 million budgeted for the Center will be enough to design, build, furnish, and landscape the Center, and provide a van. It will be a great asset to Lexington’s senior citizens. You can watch the meeting here.
At the Council Work Session on Tuesday, April 15 I moved to put a resolution on Council’s next meeting docket that would provide a dedicated funding stream for the Affordable Housing Fund starting in FY 2016. Council previously approved funding for FY 2015 from the FY 2014 Fund Balance. My proposal required that an amount equal to 15% of the insurance license fees received in the previous year be placed into the Fund annually, approximately $3.96 million. On an 8-7 vote, Council voted against the motion, with those opposed preferring to wait to make this decision until the administration presents a detailed plan for the operation of the Fund. You can watch the meeting here. You can read the Herald-Leader report of the discussion here.
Earlier in the day, Comm. Paulsen presented at the Planning and Public Works Committee a preliminary plan for the operation of the Affordable Housing Fund . A complete plan will be coming to Council before our summer break in July. You can watch the Planning and Public Works Committee meeting here.
While I would have preferred passage of my motion, I am pleased that the issue continues to move forward. I believe that the final outcome will be positive, and that we will allocate the resources necessary to address the long-standing issues of homelessness and the need for more affordable housing for our low-income community.
The Mayor presented his proposed budget on Tuesday, April 8th. You may find a copy of the budget address and the proposed budget here, you can watch the budget address here, and you can read an article about it here.
The highlights include a $40 million bond issue for Rupp Arena, $8 million to build the Senior Citizens Center, $2.6 million for software and basic technology upgrades, $2.9 million to implement the compensation study recommendations for reducing pay differentials for emloyees, $2.5 million in social services partner agency funding, $ 3.5 million for capital improvements in the Fire Department, $300,000 for playgrounds, $235,000 for a cultural arts center at the Carver Community Center, $150,000 for improvements to Shillito Park, $100,000 for the renovation of the Kentucky Theatre, a 2% raise for the non-union employees, funding for 35 new positions in Public Safety and 2 recruit classes in both Police and Fire. It does not include any tax increases.
The Council will now split into five groups, each with the responsibility to review a certain section of the budget as presented. I am part of the group that is responsible for reviewing the Environmental Quality and Public Works section of the budget. The Council also reviews the revenue projections and the debt & capital projects in the budget. These groups will report to the full Council on May 27. The first reading of the budget is scheduled to take place on June 17 with the final reading and adoption of the budget on June 19.
Code for America would like to better understand the behaviors, motivations, and needs of Lexingtonians who use city services by interviewing people they haven’t met before. If you live in Lexington and are interested in particpating in a paid 60 minute user interview. Please fill out this form. If selected, the interviews will take place between April 15th and April 17th.
The Lexington Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Lexington Corporation, and the Lexington Parking Authority are asking citizens to participate in a survey about downtown Lexington. The survey should take about 10 minutes and your answers are anonymous. You can find the survey here.