Lexington council considers eliminating funeral escorts

Funeral-procession escorts by on-duty Lexington police officers might be eliminated because of proposed cuts to the police budget, Urban County Council members were told Tuesday.

Police spent 8,000 hours on 2,041 funeral escorts in 2010, Chief Ronnie Bastin said.

"What most divisions of government are trying to do as we downsize is reassess our priorities, what we can and can't do," Bastin said.

Cutting funeral escorts has been recommended in the past, but the escorts were reinstated after public outcry. The idea resurfaced Tuesday as council members began discussing specific ways to balance the budget in light of stagnant city revenues.

In April, Mayor Jim Gray outlined his $271 million budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. To close a projected $27 million deficit, he proposed laying off 28 workers, abolishing more than 200 vacant positions, slashing spending on the police and fire departments, and closing Meadowbrook Golf Course and two swimming pools.

Starting from that point, the 15 council members divided into five subgroups of three members each and spent weeks scrutinizing spending by each government division.

On Tuesday, four of the subgroups — public safety; general services; finance and social services; and public works and environmental quality — reported their findings to their colleagues.

The public safety committee, led by council member George Myers, called for reducing the number of police officers assigned to specific neighborhoods from eight to four, reducing mounted officers from eight to four and reducing downtown and park patrol officers from eight to four. There would be limited policing of Legacy Trail.

Police programs that might be eliminated include Safety City, the drug and alcohol education program in schools (DARE), and the program to keep youngsters out of gang activity (GREAT).

The general services subcommittee recommended changing the mayor's proposed budget to keep Meadowbrook Golf Course open and have all swimming pools open on Mondays. Money saved by closing Avon Golf Course at the end of 2010 and revenue from beer sales at Tates Creek Golf Course would be used to pay for those items.

The environmental quality and public works subcommittee, led by council member Bill Farmer, recommended putting $43,000 back into the budget for the Valley View Ferry. The mayor's budget called for pulling out of the ferry's operation.

Farmer's group also said increasing Loan-A-Box fees from $38 to $75 would raise $50,000. Under Loan-A-Box, residents and non-profits can request a 10-cubic-foot box and fill it with debris, and the city hauls it away.

The city picks up dead animals from veterinarians' offices for free, Farmer told council members. Charging $45 per animal would recoup the $66,000 it costs to provide the service.

The last subcommittee report will be made at 3 p.m. Thursday. A public hearing on the mayor's proposed budget will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Council's first reading of the budget will be June 21. A second reading, where it could be adopted, would be June 23.

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