The news that more than 600 people will lose their jobs when Trane closes its doors in Fayette County later this year is a sign that Lexington must do more to keep jobs and help businesses expand, the two candidates for Lexington mayor said Monday night.
Ronnie Bastin, the city’s former police chief and public safety commissioner, said Lexington should consider waiving the first year of some fees for start-up companies in an effort to help them expand.
“Cash flow is an issue in the first year of business,” Bastin said during a two-hour WVLK News Talk 590 and Crime Stoppers forum held at Joseph-Beth Bookstore on Monday.
Linda Gorton, the city’s former vice mayor, said not all small businesses struggle for the same reason. For example, a group of small breweries recently told Gorton that its the city’s zoning laws that have hampered their growth. “We need to look at all of these processes and see where we can cut some of that red tape,” Gorton said.
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The city’s recent push to make high-speed internet available in every Lexington neighborhood means it will be better positioned to attract high-paying technology companies when the network is completed in the next three years, Gorton said.
But not everyone needs to go to college, Gorton said. Pushing education for skilled trade jobs — such as electrical, plumbing and other home-building trades — is also necessary, she said.
Bastin said growing small businesses, especially the more than 8,000 businesses in Fayette County that have only one employee, is key.
He also expressed concern about why so many young professionals leave Lexington for work.
A vibrant but affordable downtown is key to keeping young professionals in Lexington, he said.
On the issue of crime, Bastin said he has pledged to add 40 new police officers over the next four years to the city’s current authorized strength of 630 police officers, an all-time high. Bastin was police chief from 2008 to 2015 before being named public safety commissioner. He resigned in January.
Gorton said she supports increasing the number of police officers as the number of people in Lexington increases but did not say how many additional police officers are needed.
Both said they would support local efforts to legalize medical marijuana and sports betting if the state legislature were to approve laws that allow local jurisdictions to decide those issues.
Gorton and Bastin said they would not support legalizing marijuana for recreational uses.
Gorton and Bastin sparred some over the city’s urban service boundary, which defines where development can happen in Fayette County. Both candidates have said they support keeping the current growth boundary, but Gorton questioned the sincerity of Bastin’s stance after the National Association of Realtors Fund spent money on mailers urging voters to back Bastin.
Gorton said Monday night that during an interview she did earlier this year with the Lexington-Bluegrass Association of Realtors, the group stressed the need for more land that can be developed.
She expressed concern that the national political action committee might “expect something” in return from Bastin.
Bastin said his support for maintaining the current urban service boundary has never wavered. The PAC may have backed him simply because he is the better candidate, he said.
Bastin noted that he has been endorsed by a wide variety of groups and individuals, including several unions that represent police, firefighters, educators and trade groups. He also has been endorsed by former mayors Jim Newberry and Teresa Isaac and former Gov. Paul Patton.
Gorton said her campaign has not been focused on special interest groups but on individual voters. She has been endorsed by former mayors Pam Miller and Scotty Baesler.
“I’ve talked to many people in those endorsing (groups) who will be voting for me,” Gorton said.
Gorton, a retired nurse who spent 16 years on the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council, placed first in the seven-way May mayoral primary with 42 percent of the vote. Bastin, a first-time candidate, placed second with 25 percent. This is the first time no incumbent has been in the mayor’s race since Pam Miller opted not to run for a third term in 2003.
Bastin has amassed more money than Gorton and has more money to spend in the next two weeks prior to the Nov. 6 general election, according to the lastest campaign finance reports filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.
The next public mayoral forum will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the Carrick Theater in the Mitchell Fine Arts Center at Transylvannia University. The forum is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lexington, WKYT, Transylvania University, the Lexington Herald-Leader and WLAP. The forum will air live on the CW Lexington and will be streamed live on Kentucky.com and WKYT.com.