Wednesday, June 20, 2001

UK budget approved; health-care hike blasted

By Chris Duncan
The Associated Press

        LEXINGTON — The University of Kentucky's Board of Trustees on Tuesday approved a $1.29 billion budget and a restoration plan for the burned administration building during the last meeting of President Charles T. Wethington Jr.'s career.

        Mr. Wethington, 65, who will step down on June 30, gave a detailed breakdown of the budget for 2001-02 that increases expenditures by 4.9 percent from last year.

        The budget's state appropriation was $322 million, about 25 percent. Student fees accounted for $133 million, about 10 percent; revenues from the UK Hospital came to $316 million, 24.5 percent; and affiliated corporations contributed about $208 million, 16 percent.

        No new projects have been tabbed for the capital budget, listed at $116 million. About $25 million of that will be used for programmatic renovations and another $77.5 million will be used for equipment. About $10 million of the equipment budget will buy books, and another $11.8 million will buy computers.

        UK received $66.7 million of $100 million set aside by the General Assembly for research endowments.

        The budget has drawn criticism because it includes a steep hike in health insurance rates for faculty and staff.

        An hour before Tuesday's meeting, about 30 UK faculty and staff gathered outside the student center to protest the rates.

        “Most employees simply can't afford it,” said Deborah Florez, 36, who works in building operations. “If you offer a benefit that no one can afford, it's really not a benefit.”

        Trustee Russ Williams, the board's only staff member, voiced the lone dissenting vote for the budget. Mr. Williams and retiring trustee Dan Reedy said the health-insurance issue should be one of incoming university President Lee Todd's top priorities.

        “I know this is not an issue that can be solved at this table today, but it's not just an administration building that's the heritage of this university. It's the lives of individuals as well, and they need to be protected,” said Mr. Reedy, a professor of Spanish and Italian.

        But protesters said the administration has underestimated the impact the hikes will have on the employees. Ms. Florez dropped out of UK's plan and bought insurance, a decision she said will save her money.

        “Charles Wethington, I invite you to my home, my double-trailer, so you can see how I live,” said Ms. Florez, the mother of a 2-year-old girl. “I'll pop open a can of ravioli, we'll have some loaf bread on the side and some Bubba cola. Maybe I'll splurge and get some cookies for dessert.

        “I don't waste money. I don't even have enough money to go to the movies,” she said. “These are the things I have to buy at the grocery store.”

        Mr. Wethington has created a committee to look into the issue.

        “There is no easy answer,” Mr. Wethington said. “We have to go into this health-insurance issue at great length. We simply can't satisfy everyone with some serious decisions, but we certainly can involve everyone in that decision.”

        The decision to restore the administration building passed without a dissenting vote after a slide presentation by the university's chief architect, Warren Denny.

        The 119-year-old structure was gutted by the fire that was started by a worker's blow torch. The work was being done as part of a $1.4 million restoration project.

        The cost of the restoration and a timetable haven't been determined, Mr. Denny said.

        “We don't even have our own assessment yet of what it will cost to rebuild this building,” Mr. Wethington said.


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