Mayor Jim Gray is presenting a $358 million budget blueprint for Lexington that calls for belt-tightening in many areas while hiking spending for public safety, including “the largest one-year increase for Lexington police” in the modern era.
“Today more than 54 percent of our budget — that’s a big number — today 54 percent of our budget is committed to public safety,” Gray said.
The proposed public safety budget is remarkable for a city that Gray acknowledges is already statistically very safe.
“Lexington is one of the safest communities in America,” he said. “It’s the the safest city of our size in America.”
Nonetheless, Gray’s budget would add dozens of officers while remaking it’s patrolling map. The plan would add a fourth sector to the Police Department with additional officers, eventually bringing the force from the current 600 to 660.
“We have to stay vigilant,” Gray said of the security focus. “We have to stay on point all the time.”
Beyond growing the police force, reducing violence and drug addiction remain hallmarks of Gray’s latest budget — his seventh since taking office in 2011.
A new initiative, called One Lexington, will use “existing dollars” to focus on the intersection of drugs, violence and crime. The city proposes a hiring a director for the program.
While anticipating 3.5 percent growth, Gray insists his latest budget is about beginning to rein in spending, with an emphasis on curtailing hiring overall.
“Outside of public safety, we added no new General Fund positions this year,” he said of his proposal.
Instead, the budget offers current employees not covered by union contract a 2 percent increase.
And as municipal budgets are political as well as fiscal documents, Gray’s offers funding and pointed commentary on the minimum wage issue. It proposes boosting wages for temporary and seasonal workers to $9.15 per hour “as we work toward $10.10.”
“It’s competitive and the right thing to do,” Gray said.
Noting the city’s very low unemployment rate, Gray said the city has a role to play in guaranteeing that workers have the skills required in increasingly high-tech work. Grey pegged the city’s investment in various initiatives — including training grants and the incentive program Jobs Fund — at about $8 million.
“We’re going to continue to invest in workforce, workforce readiness, workforce development,” Gray said. “That means a quality workforce that we can all depend on, that our employers can depend on.”
Gray’s budget also calls for additional support for high-profile infrastructure projects, including the reconstruction of the Convention Center and the 3.2-mile Town Branch Commons linear park.