In her first state of the city address, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton pledged to develop solutions to the city’s opioid crisis, touted the recruitment of new businesses and jobs, and cautioned that the city’s finances will be tight in the coming year.
Gorton, who was elected in November with 63 percent of the vote, is the third woman to be elected mayor of Kentucky’s second-largest city. She spoke to the Lexington Forum at noon Tuesday at the Hyatt Regency.
Although the speech has been referred to as the state of the city, she called it the state of the city and the state of the county to make the speech more inclusive of all parts of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government.
“Despite 45 years of merged government, today urban life in Lexington and rural life in Lexington are still very different, with different priorities,” she said.
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Here are five takeaways from Gorton’s speech.
Jobs, jobs jobs.
Gorton spent the majority of her first address talking about attracting and keeping jobs in Lexington. MetroNet, the city’s newest high-speed internet provider, is installing a fiber-optic network citywide that will better position the city to attract high-tech jobs, she said.
“That means an aggressive economic development campaign to attract new high-tech companies,” Gorton said.
High-tech agriculture is an area the city is well-positioned to go after, she said. The city will partner with Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, Alltech and the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment to recruit and grow those types of businesses, she said.
Workforce training programs must also be better-tailored to “meet the needs of our employers and workers,” Gorton said.
More than 250 acres of new land set aside for economic development near the University of Kentucky Coldstream Research Park also means more land to attract new businesses, she said.
“Our industrial development authority has been appointed and will begin meeting soon to put together a plan for this 250 acres,” Gorton said.
A citywide approach to curbing opioid overdoses will be developed in coming months. Gorton said she has named Andrea James to develop a broad and evidence-based response to the the rise in addiction. James will put together a multidisciplinary team that will recommend policy and other changes to decrease opioid addiction, increase options for treatment and save lives, she said.
The city is also gathering data and evaluating available funding sources. The city recently received a $2 million grant for overdose prevention to make naloxone, an overdose-reversal drug, more readily available.
“People are desperate for help and hope,” said Gorton, who is a registered nurse. “And it is time we make this a community priority.”
Several council members applauded the mayor’s push to make drug abuse a top priority.
“Education and prevention is key,” said Councilwoman Angela Evans, after the mayor’s speech. “We all have a role to play in this.”
Money is tight
The city’s budget will be tight in coming years, Gorton warned. She has previously cautioned that revenue remains flat as the city’s pension costs continue to rise.
“We are looking at a very tight budget next fiscal year, with many funding challenges ahead of us, especially rising pension costs,” she said. “Like last year, the ongoing uncertainty in Frankfort leaves us and other Kentucky cities with questions about how much our pension costs will rise.”
Vice Mayor Steve Kay said council members are watching the city’s finances carefully.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about the budget,” Kay said.
Violent crime dropped in 2018 over the previous year, she said. Serious crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery, decreased 16 percent in 2018. The number of assaults with a firearm dropped 23 percent and the number of murders dropped 21 percent, she said.
“While we can be happy that overall numbers are declining, we know there’s more work to do,” she said.
Gorton pledged to work with Fayette County Public School officials and touted the ONE Lexington program, which is working in some neighborhoods to decrease violence. Gorton said she would like to see ONE Lexington expanded.
Former Mayor Jim Gray added additional police officers in recent years with the goal of adding a fourth police sector. The city currently has three police sectors, or areas where police officers patrol. The police department is authorized to have 630 officers, the largest number in the city’s history.
After her speech, Gorton said she wants to talk more with Lexington Police Chief Lawrence Weathers before deciding if more officers and an additional police sector is the department’s top priority.
“We need to have input from Chief Weathers to determine whether ( a fourth police sector) is something that will be useful to them,” Gorton said.
Gorton announced no new capital projects in her speech, but several ongoing infrastructure projects are moving forward.
A new fire station in Masterson Station will open this summer. New traffic signals will be installed in the congested Hamburg and Nicholasville Road area that will be more responsive to traffic needs, she said. Shillito and Veterans parks will get new playground equipment. New trails are coming to Meadowthorpe and Dixie parks. Work on the Lexington Convention Center continues, she said.
What about a new city hall?
“We will be focusing again on a new city hall. Just this morning I came in to find a first-floor meeting room I use frequently had been the victim of a leaking pipe over the weekend,” Gorton said.
Gorton has previously said there will be no money for a new government building in her first budget, which will be unveiled in early April. The council will have a meeting on Feb. 7 to re-start discussions on a new government center.
Councilwoman Jennifer Mossotti said the council must make key decisions that will help determine the project’s cost.
“We have to determine do we want to move all of our employees into one building,” Mossotti said. “... We also need to take our time and make sure we understand all of the cost issues.”
Gorton said that there is much work to be done in city government. For example, the city must prepare for the 2020 Breeders’ Cup and look at new, innovative ways to address violence.
“Many opportunities are missed because they come dressed in overalls and look like work,” Gorton said. “In Lexington, we’re not afraid of work and we don’t miss opportunities for our city.”