Mayor calls for scholarships to boost economy

By John David Morgan

Mayor Jim Newberry’s city budget address last night spoke to the role of future Wildcats in Lexington’s economy.

Newberry asked city council members to support a new initiative that would begin redefining the Lexington workforce by encouraging high school students to attend college in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Newberry proposed that the city provide $500,000 in scholarships to Lexington high school students going into STEM fields.

“I cannot think of a better way to spend 0.2 percent of the general fund by investing in our high school students while at the same time sending the world a message that Lexington actively supports STEM education,” Newberry said.

“We must take aggressive steps to develop our workforce so we can attract the high-tech jobs of the future,” he said.

Newberry acknowledged that many of the council members might have reservations about starting a new initiative during a tight budget year, but he said it was necessary for Lexington’s progress.

“When 83 percent of our general fund comes from taxes tied directly to our local economy, we must find ways to make Lexington’s local economy prosper,” he said.

The 2008-09 city budget is a proposed spending plan of $274 million, which is down from $281 million spent in 2007-08.

The bulk of the spending will go toward pubic safety, Newberry said.

According to the city budget, $6.5 million will go toward increased personnel costs to meet collective bargaining agreements in police, fire and corrections, and $13.4 million will fund equipment upgrades in the departments. A $70 million bond will address unfunded liability in police and fire pensions.

Newberry also expressed the need to support emergency operations, storm sewer projects and employee retirement funds in his proposal.

An estimated $3.4 million will be allocated for storm sewer projects, which are required by a recent settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency, and $2 million to $6 million will go toward employee retirement payouts.

While the majority of this year’s budget will focus on correcting current issues affecting Lexington, Newberry said he recognized the potential of Lexington’s economy. Educating the state’s youth in the fields of math and science would help the city cross the threshold into an increasingly high-tech world, he said.