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Public Safety Tops Mayor's 'Tighter' Budget Wishlist

Josh James
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray delivers his 2017 budget address before the Urban County Council.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s proposed budget slims down several areas of city government, but one all-too-familiar priority is exempt: public safety.

Gray began by striking a cautious tone in his Tuesday budget address, saying his $358 million dollar spending plan anticipates slower growth ahead.

"With our economy cooling off somewhat, the budget will likely stabilize, both this year and next. But we will adapt and adjust," the mayor promised. 

Even as the budget cuts back on hiring and trims 3.5 percent, or about $2 million, from non-personnel operating costs, departments working the front lines in Lexington's battle against drug addiction would be in line for an increase – the largest since the creation of the merged government.

Police chief Mark Barnard says Gray’s proposal comes as the city grapples with two related challenges.

"We've seen more instances of violence in Lexington than we have in the past, and that's probably because population growth is going up and we're also seeing the scourge of the epidemic with addiction issues," Barnard told reporters. "We're battling on all those fronts and officers really need the assistance."

If okayed by the Urban County Council, Gray’s plan would add a new fourth patrol sector to the city and eventually boost the police force by 60.

"Dividing the city into the four quadrants versus the three will allow officers to calls quicker for service, allowing smaller areas to be into and to patrol. So it allows them to more intimately know the areas that they're working," Barnard explained. "An officer right now could be at Nicholasville Road and be dispatched all the way to Paris Pike and it takes that long to respond to that call."

Given the crime stats and the public response, Ninth District Council Member Jennifer Mossotti says the investment is unavoidable.

"I think you almost have to," she says. "Just in the environment we're in now, I think that the citizens really want more public safety."

Gray also wants to create a new initiative, called One Lexington, aimed at coordinating the city’s response to drug abuse and crime.

Beyond public safety, the mayor’s budget allows for a 2 percent raise for non-union city employees and funnels other funds into the Town Branch Commons project and the remodeling of the downtown Convention Center.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.