By Kinsey Grant
On a whiteboard that covers most of one wall of his office, Lexington City Manager Noah Simon has scribbled a long list of goals for the coming months. Some are left over from previous city manager Jon Ellestad, who retired in September. Others Simon identified when he arrived in October.
But Simon has no trouble identifying his clear priority from that list: getting a handle on the city’s finances. Lexington will incur nearly $12 million in debt as it builds the new Waddell Elementary School.
“We need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money,” Simon said. “We’ve got to figure out not only how we can do more with less but be smarter with less. We need to be lean and mean and effective and efficient. “
The city also faces major infrastructure problems. Water and sewer lines and roads need updating, and the council is charged with finding money to pay for the projects. Further, Lexington’s property tax base is shrinking as a result of lowered property values.
“You look at our needs and wants, and our ability to pay for those needs and wants doesn’t match with those needs and wants.”
Simon came on board in October. Only a few weeks later, voters elected two new council members, Patrick Rhamey and David Sigler.
Rhamey was critical of the length of time it took for the city to decide on the Waddell project.
“It’s not that wrong decisions were made,” he said. “I think they eventually made the right decision. But the entire process, in my opinion, could have been more efficient and a little more thoughtful.”
Rhamey said he understood the tax concerns of those who wanted to disband the city school district, but they didn’t give enough thought to the repercussions of such a move. It could have resulted in a decrease in property values, a loss of city revenues and even a downgrading to town status.
“That short-sightedness [throughout the Waddell discussion] was something I didn’t like and [it]was able I think to get a foothold on city council and cause some delays which ended up
costing us more money,” he said.
Fellow newcomer Sigler, who was also inspired to run by the Waddell controversy, agreed with Rhamey.
“No one wants to increase taxes,” Sigler said. “My goal is to learn and help however I can.”
Rhamey’s goals as a new face on council find support from veteran Council Member Chuck Smith.
“Any time you have new people, especially a younger set, you’re going to have different ideas, fresher ideas,” Smith said.
And when council members inevitably disagree, Smith said, that’s not a bad thing.
“It’s good to have [a wide array of views] on council,” he said. “If you get tunnel vision you have the risk of losing a lot of valuable perspective that helps council be a successful one or not as successful.”
Smith said Simon and the council have no choice but to be successful in the coming months.
“Hopefully our new city manager is cutting costs as best he can to alleviate any increase pressure from the property tax rate,” Smith said. “He’s going to have some different and fresher ideas on the budget process and how to manage the city and the departments.”