Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed $358 million budget reserves most of its focus, and its funding, to bolster police and safety.
But Gray’s latest budget — his seventh since taking office in 2011 — reserves money for jobs and workforce development, even as it largely leaves out major capital projects.
Noting the city’s low unemployment rate, Gray said the city still has a role to play in guaranteeing that workers have the skills required in increasingly high-tech work. Gray 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 told a gathering of city officials and media in mid-April ahead of his official address to the full Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council. “That means a quality workforce that we can all depend on, that our employers can depend on.”
And while the budget blueprint doesn’t contain any major new capital projects, it does seek funding for some that are in progress. Among other provisions, Gray’s budget 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.
Despite anticipating overall 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 bargaining contracts a 2 percent pay increase.
And as municipal budgets are political as well as fiscal documents, Gray’s offers funding and pointed commentary on the minimum wage, which remains a hot-button issue after state Supreme Court ruling invalidated Lexington’s ordinance seeking to raise it. Gray’s budget 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.
But police and public safety take the spotlight in Gray’s fiscal year 2018 budget.
“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.
Gray’s budget calls for “the largest one-year increase for Lexington police” in the modern era. It’s a remarkable priority for a city that Gray acknowledges is already statistically very safe.
“Lexington is one of the safest communities in America,” Gray said. “It’s the safest city of our size in America.”
Nonetheless, Gray’s budget would add dozens of officers while remaking the Police Department’s geographic patrolling map. The plan would add a fourth sector to the 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.
A new initiative, called One Lexington, will use “existing dollars” to focus on the intersection of drugs, violence and crime. The city proposes hiring a director for the program.