Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed $358 million budget unveiled Tuesday includes money for 30 additional police officers, the first step toward creating a fourth police sector in Lexington.
“The addition of this sector is needed to serve our growing city,” Gray said in his budget address before the Urban County Council Tuesday. “It allows us to increase community-oriented policing by dividing our city into four sectors, officers have less territory to cover.”
The 30 police officers and the six safety officers — who handle traffic and non-injury accidents — is the largest one-year increase to Lexington’s police ranks since the merger of the city and county governments in 1974, Gray said. It will bring the total strength of Lexington Police Department to 630 officers, the largest police force in city history.
Gray and city officials said the location of the fourth sector has not yet been determined and cautioned that it will take two years to ramp up strength to create a fourth police sector. The city currently has three. Officers are deployed and patrol based on those three sectors. It will take 60 police officers to create a fourth sector.
The creation of the fourth police sector — which has been discussed for decades — was one of few new initiatives and big ticket projects in Gray’s seventh budget proposal. The $358 million general fund budget is a 3.5 percent increase from the current year’s budget of $345 million. It includes $30.4 million in borrowing, down from last year’s total borrowing of $47.9 million.
The total amount of money it spends to pay off all of its current debt will increase to $41 million under Gray’s budget proposal. That’s a little more than 11 percent of the total budget of $358 million.
The Urban County Council will now have opportunities to make changes to Gray’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The council must make those changes by June 30. It will begin budget discussions during a council retreat on Friday.
Gray told the council that the economic boom the city saw after the recession is beginning to plateau. The city’s spending must reflect changes in the economy.
“Now with our economy cooling off somewhat, the budget will likely tighten up, both this year and next,” Gray said.
There are only a few new hires in his proposed budget and all of those are in public safety, Gray said.
The city will also create a new office called One Lexington, which will coordinate both private and city efforts to combat heroin and drug abuse in Lexington. But the office will not need additional funding, Gray said.
“It’s a new program, funded with existing dollars, that will coordinate all of our activities that address both drug abuse and crime — inside city government and outside with our public and private partners,” Gray said.
In addition, the city is spending $11.7 million on police, fire or jail equipment. Included in that is more than $2.5 million for new fire trucks and $4 million for a new security system at the Fayette County Detention Center. Approximately 54 percent of the city’s total budget is spent in public safety.
Gray’s budget includes a 2 percent raise for most city employees — those not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. That’s less than previous years’ raises. Minimum wage employees — who are mostly summer park employees and the city’s youth training program — will receive a slight bump in pay to $9.15 an hour.
Economic development programs such as the city’s JOBS program, which gives incentives for businesses to create high-paying jobs, will receive $350,000. A new job training program will get $300,000, double the $150,000 it received in the current year’s budget.
Gray’s budget funds many social service programs at the same level as in previous years. Office of Homelessness Prevention and Intervention would get $750,000, and the budget and sets aside $2 million for a fund for affordable housing. Social service funding through grants will remain at roughly $3 million.
Unlike in prior years, there are no big park or other capital projects.
Gray did not put additional money in his budget for a proposed youth sports complex that was originally proposed on more than 130 acres on city-owned land near Versailles and New Circle roads. The city set aside $7 million in the current year budget for the project — money that was never spent. Gray said prior to Tuesday’s budget speech that the project that would create a tournament-level youth sports complex is not off the table. But problems with the site and other questions about financing still have to be worked out.
The city is also setting aside approximately $750,000 for additional funding for the expansion of the downtown convention center. The city already has committed $10 million in bonding for the proposed $250 million expansion. The final designs — and cost of that expansion — are still being worked out, said Jamie Emmons, Gray’s chief of staff.
Councilman Fred Brown praised the inclusion of the 30 additional officers to create a fourth police sector. Brown has pushed in recent years for the creation of that fourth sector.
"Our population has increased," Brown said of the need for an additional sector. "Our response time will definitely improve."
Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti agreed. The addition of a fourth sector over the next few years will help address increasing concerns about public safety, she said.
“We have had a lot of concerns with heroin and as a result of that we have an uptick in burglaries and larcenies,” Mossotti said.