Rocky Tuesday LFUCG Work Session: MRF, Utilities at Newtown Pike

Rocky Tuesday LFUCG Work Session: MRF, Utilities at Newtown Pike

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Yesterday afternoon, August 18, the Mayor’s office rolled out a press release saying, “Mayor Jim Newberry today presented a plan to the Urban County Council to cut the portion of the property tax related to garbage pick-up by 20 percent, phased in over two years.” He said, “We are implementing a number of cost-savings measures to make garbage pick-up more cost-effective,” Newberry said.  “These savings need to be returned to individual taxpayers.”  The tax bills of approximately 89,000 property owners who have city garbage pick-up would be cut.

Environmental Quality Commissioner Cheryl Taylor was on hand during the Council Work Session, where the tax cut (and possible eventual fee-system) met with resistance from some Council Members.

CM Andrea James objected to giving inappropriate impression with use of the word “surplus”—when there are so many projects that still have to be paid for, notably MRF (the recycling facility).

When bonds hit the discussion, CM Diane Lawless asked, “Why all of a sudden are we not paying cash when we’ve been saving for it. Our credit card is full,” asking, “Who knows in this economy if we’re going to be able to bond anything.”

Council Member Ed Lane said garbage pickup is going just fine in Lexington, but he did suggest maybe the Council could “drag out the old [waste management] study [seems like about $100grand]; dust it off; present it back to Council Members, so some of new people” could have the benefit of that history.

CM Lawless countered that while she was glad CM Lane’s district has no trash pickup issues, some neighborhoods are “a nightmare.”

Lane’s response was “The 10 percent reduction today is a Band-Aid. Ithink we need major surgery in restructuring how this Department is operated.”

CM Linda Gorton said, “Last wk I asked for a presentation on our bond capacity, debt service, and what will be retired when.” (The presentation is scheduled for Tuesday, August 25 in Budget & Finance)

CM Lawless reiterated, “it seems irresponsible at this point to roll back these taxes…” In reference to MRF, she added “it’s been my experience that whatever you think it’s gonna cost, we’d better add 30 to 40 percent…”

Asking for more time for the Council to consider the tax rollback, Mayor Newberry responded, “Now is the time to adjust our property taxes…we cannot do that in six months.” If it’s going to happen, it has to happen in the next three weeks, or wait till this time next year.

Newtown Pike Extension

The worksession heated up when the discussion turned to the possibility of burying power lines for the new Newtown Pike Extension. Clive Pohl and Graham Pohl (of Pohl Rosa Pohl) had appeared before the Council last week to address the visual clutter. Both Graham Pohl and Vice Mayor Jim Gray were on the 11 o’clock news on Monday, August 17th to discuss the power lines. Vice Mayor Gray addressing the corridor into the city (particularly during the WEG), that Lexington would, “never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

After repeated questions from Council Members (and citizens over the past few weeks), what seemed to emerge from the discussion and last night’s presentation was that the design and concept drawings were never meant to address the placement of the utilities, above ground or underground. Transporation/engineering said, “We never put utility lines in any of our renderings or drawings.” A presentation included information that “Utility companies must provide for the lowest cost relocation.” (KU’s David Freibert was available during the worksession.)

Mayor Newberry’s response was, “Nobody likes aerial utilities. And for anybody to come in like Clive Pohl did last week and suggest somebody’s in favor of aerial utilities is just wrong.” What it came down to, he explained, is cost. How would burying the power lines be paid for?

Although visual clutter was addressed extensively, nobody asked Freibert, on the record, if burying the power lines would prevent outages like the ones during the last ice storms that shut down Lexington (and its economy).

Tune in next week.