Lexington Mayor Jim Gray Tuesday endorsed a minimum 2 percent pay raise for most non-union city government employees and proposed that the city hire more police officers and firefighters.
Gray, in his annual budget speech, called for two new police recruit training classes and two new fire training classes, in addition to classes already under way.
Both departments have complained of chronic understaffing. Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason said the proposed fire and police classes are "a tremendous step toward maintaining staffing levels." The additional personnel will be very close to keeping up with attrition, he said.
Gray's proposed 2 percent raise for civil service — or non-union — employees would be increased to 2.5 percent for those who are paid less than the city's median salary.
Non-union employees have not had a salary increase since 2009, when they received 1 percent raises. The salaries of union employees — police, fire and corrections — are negotiated as part of their contracts.
Gray said he would not take a raise this year, nor will his chief of staff, the city's commissioners or the chief administrative officer.
Gray's budget, which goes to the Urban County Council for consideration, would keep the supplement for employee health care in place through the year.
More jobs; more revenue
Overall, Gray presented a more optimistic budget for fiscal year 2013 than the city has seen in several years. The proposed budget is $289.3 million, an increase of 5 percent over last year's budget.
As revenues in 2012 nudged upwards, cost-cutting measures and efficiencies throughout government are beginning to pay off, the mayor said. "It's an improvement over recent years," Gray said, but quickly cautioned, "We're not out of the woods. There is a long ways to go."
Because of a general improvement in Lexington's economic climate, the city is projecting a 3 percent increase in revenues from the payroll tax and a 4 percent increase in receipts from the net-profits tax.
Lexington's unemployment rate has dropped from 8.7 percent in June 2009 to 7.1 percent in January.
Jobs have been his primary focus over the past year, Gray said.
He said the city, Commerce Lexington and the University of Kentucky worked together to help bring in more than 1,000 new jobs and three corporate headquarters: Florida Tile, TempurPedic and A&W Brands.
Dispatch center proposed
Gray included $800,000 for an Emergency Operations Center, which would bring police and fire communications to a central location in the former juvenile detention center on Cisco Road.
LexCall would also be moved to the Emergency Operations Center, and its office on Main Street could then be rented.
Gray said investing in the Cisco Road building would be far less costly than building a new operations center, which had been estimated to cost as much as $40 million.
Money for Rupp included
Gray proposed the allocation of $1.25 million in existing bond proceeds to go with state money for preliminary work on the Rupp Arena Arts and Entertainment District project.
He also proposed $3.9 million for paving in urban and rural areas and $388,000 for parks improvements.
The mayor's budget will go to council for what is likely to be several months of discussion, dissection and changes. The final budget must be approved by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
Council members react
Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said after the address that while she had not had time to study the budget details, "I thought his address was uplifting. I'm thrilled he put in a pay raise for our non-bargaining employees. I appreciated his upbeat view on things, and that revenues are looking up."
Council member Kevin Stinnett called it "a very good budget in a very tough time. It was very balanced and really emphasized our top priority and that's public safety."
While the budget was short on details, council member Tom Blues said the budget indicates "the mayor sees a somewhat brighter situation in FY13 than FY12. It was important that he provided for employee raises. We haven't seen that in quite a while."
Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010