This is my last year on the Urban County Council, and it was a privilege to serve Lexington’s 10th Council District. It has been a busy four years.
The lack of money at city hall has been the overriding theme during my time on the council. Employees were laid off, salaries frozen, employee benefits cut, healthcare premiums raised, and funding for government divisions and partner agencies slashed. We found out that Lexington owes about $585 million for pensions and medical benefits for our police and firefighters, and that this shortfall is growing rapidly. We also passed a resolution requiring council approval of collective bargaining agreements, a big win for fiscal restraint.
Water quality was also a constant theme. In 2009 the council approved the Water Quality Management Fee, which LFUCG is using to bring our polluted creeks and streams into compliance with the EPA Consent Decree. The EPA mandated that LFUCG repair our sanitary sewers to withstand a “two-year rain event.” This sounds like a minor upgrade but carries a $540-million price tag. We also began a $100,000 residential repair grant program for low and moderate income residents who are plagued by chronic sewage backups in their basements.
I have spent quite a lot of time on roads. The council used to divide road repaving funds equally among council districts, but this left small districts with great roads and large districts with terrible roads. In 2010 we changed the way LFUCG allocates road money, and now funds are divided based on the percentage of roads in each district rated below 65 (out of 100). While this puts money where it is most needed, our list of roads below 65 continues to grow.
Despite Lexington’s financial hardships, we managed to make Lexington an even better place to live. Streetscapes along Main Street and Limestone were refurbished, and the historic Lyric Theater was rebuilt, both big wins for downtown Lexington. We worked to halt the conversion of single-family residences to “vinyl box” apartments around UK, and a long-term compromise with neighbors and land owners was reached. Lexington also made great progress on pedestrian trails, adding miles of new bike trails along our roadways and extending existing trails. LFUCG also built several new trail systems, including the Legacy Trail, the Town Branch Trail and the new mountain bike trail at Veteran’s Park. With some encouragement, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet added pedestrian trails to their double crossover diamond interchange at Harrodsburg Road and New Circle, an opportunity that could have been lost forever.
Finally, a lot of time was spent on communication and transparency. I hope my monthly Southsider columns have informed citizens of what has been going on at city hall. Transparency also involved the council adopting an “open data” resolution to organize and release LFUCG data, so that through new software applications, the public can have easier ways to know what LFUCG knows. LFUCG also began its new LexCall 311 e-mail service, and developed several LexCall smart phone applications, so that citizens can more quickly report their needs to city hall.
Of course, none of this would have been possible without exceptional council legislative aides during my four years, Mary Tackett, Allison Webster and Jonathan Hollinger, who not only made me a more effective councilmember, but also represented the best of what government can be. I am very grateful to each.
I have one last Southsider article to write, and so next month I will look ahead at some of the challenges and opportunities facing Lexington.