New Lexington Park Tax Advances to City Council Committee

LEXINGTON, Ky.–The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council’s recent work session has propelled a proposed new park tax into the legislative process, sending it to the Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee. Referred by Councilmember Whitney Baxter, this sets the stage for a committee meeting scheduled for 1 pm on March 19. This meeting could be key in determining whether the park tax referendum will appear on the November ballot.

The referendum in question aims to create a dedicated fund for capital projects in Lexington’s parks, including the development of trails, open spaces, and recreational facilities. The initiative, presented as a method to fund significant improvements and sustained investment in neighborhood infrastructure, suggests levying a new property tax specifically for Parks and Recreation project funding.

This proposal, part of the Lexington Parks Sustainable Funding campaign, was introduced by a partnership among the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, the Trust for Public Land, and Trees Lexington. It proposes an additional tax rate of 2.25 cents per $100 of taxable property, aimed at establishing a Parks Capital Fund. This fund is intended exclusively for capital improvements as identified in the Parks Master Plan, with the expectation of generating roughly $8 million annually. For the average Lexington homeowner, this would translate to an estimated $53 per year in additional property tax.

While the fund aims to address capital improvements, it’s important to note that the operating expenses for parks will continue to be financed through the city’s General Fund. The introduction of this dedicated capital fund raises questions about the long-term implications for the Parks Department’s operating budget and the potential for increased pressure on the General Fund. Critics argue that diverting funds to cover the operating costs associated with these new capital projects could negatively impact other city services. Parks’ General Fund budget for Fiscal Year 2024 is $27 million, according to city records.

The proposed tax follows the identification of approximately $100 million worth of projects in the 2018 Parks Master Plan. Despite significant investments in park projects through federal relief funds since 2021, Lexington still faces over $5 million in deferred park maintenance costs annually.

To advance to the November ballot, the referendum requires the support of at least nine Councilmembers and must be officially placed on the ballot at least 90 days before the general election on November 5th. The decision to move forward with the referendum and its potential impacts on Lexington’s fiscal landscape and park infrastructure remains a subject of citywide interest and discussion.

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Paul Oliva is the Lexington Times Editor Emeritus. He grew up in Lexington.