A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Lexington Mayor Gray: The state of our
city is strong and getting even stronger


Excerpts of Mayor Jim Gray’s report to the city:
 

We are here today to talk about the state of our city … I am proud to report that the state of our city is strong and getting even stronger.
 

We’re stronger focusing on our city’s top goals …Create Jobs … Run Government Efficiently … Build a Great American City.
 

I dial back to these goals routinely … they’re the goals we set together as a community in 2010. And it’s important to report back on the progress made, and the opportunities still before us …
 

So why is creating jobs our number one priority? Outside of family and health, having a good job is about the most important thing in life. Everyone in the world wants a good job!
 

Today in Lexington, 149,249 people are employed according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics … that’s more than have ever been employed here since the government started keeping records in 1990. In fact, our job growth rate from July 2012 to July 2013 was the ninth highest in the country.
 

Since January 2011, jobs in Lexington have increased by almost 9,000 … a 6 percent increase in our labor force in less than three years. By contrast, the state’s labor force increased by only 1 percent.
 

As of last November, Lexington had a 6.1 percent unemployment rate … Significantly lower than the state rate of 8.4 percent and the national rate of 7.3 percent.
 

What’s contributing to our job growth? Let’s start with quality of life. Dial back 30, 40, 50 years ago. People moved to where the jobs were. Think IBM, Trane, even Toyota … now that model still works.
 

But today, more jobs are moving to where the people are … where talent is … where’s there’s a premium on quality of life … quality of place.
 

So our focus has been on creating the environment … the quality of life and place … that grows and attracts good jobs and talented people. . .
 

What else attracts and keeps good companies, good jobs and talented people in Lexington? Our highly educated workforce … just last month, Lexington was again named by U.S. News as one of the 10 smartest cities in the country. And Lexington has a higher median income and lower cost of living than the national averages.
 

Working with our partners at Commerce Lexington and UK, our economic development efforts target companies with a lot of potential. Lexington is ranked 10th nationally for the number of high-tech start-ups …
 

Our economic strengths, including our universities, our health care and our agricultural industries, especially the equine industry, which serve regional, national and even international customers.
 

This past November, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and I released our BEAM plan … the Bluegrass Economic Advancement Movement. The goal? Creating jobs by leveraging Central Kentucky’s strength in advanced manufacturing.
 

We’re encouraging more engineers, more training centers, more earn-and-learn programs to help prepare our workforce the jobs that already exist – and those to come … And to leverage mid-skilled talent … it’s not all just about high-tech jobs. And we are encouraging greater exports to more countries … business beyond the city limits … in other words, thinking globally.
 

With these intentional efforts, our economy is outperforming similar-sized cities. And we should! Because Lexington is a University City, a place where innovation, entrepreneurship and talent are welcomed with open arms.
 

Running government efficiently takes imagination, innovation and backbone … In 2012, just from reforms in one year alone we saved $14.2 million. In 2013, $47.6 million was saved. That’s 61.8 million of your tax dollars saved. And these savings compound year over year.
 

Now $61.8 million in savings is a very big number. But that doesn’t mean we have that money to spend. We just don’t have to bond pension payments anymore, or look to one-time fixes for health insurance. We have righted the financial ship …
 

And we’ve kept on finding new ways to save …
 

• Savings of over $3 million at our employee health center; and $1.2 million at our employee pharmacy since 2012.
• Savings of $1.6 million through energy-saving initiatives since 2011.
• Savings of $305,000 a year at the jail through new contracts for food and laundry service.
• Savings of $25 million on our Emergency Operations Center by reusing an existing building and winning several federal grants.
• Savings of $8 million so far in the overall cost of cleaning up our sewers because of an emphasis on project management and streamlined procurement …
 

Three years ago a group of citizens began examining Rupp Arena and the surrounding blocks … Rupp has been aging and its competitiveness challenged … the question for the task force was, build a new arena or renovate?
 

These citizens recommended not just renovating Rupp, but reinventing it, at a lower cost than new, and creating a better-than-new, state-of-the-art experience.
 

And they recommended that the arena become a part of, rather than remain apart from, our downtown … creating an arts and entertainment district around a free Rupp.
 

We’ve brought in the nation’s best architects and held public meetings, giving citizens the opportunity to share their ideas with the design team. And we’ve just completed a citizens survey asking folks what changes they want to see inside Rupp … there were 8,335 participants in just two weeks … responses from all corners of Kentucky and as far away as Phoenix and Miami. Generally, fans are interested in technology improvements and chair backs in the upper arena …
 

Now we’re about to take a couple of big steps … in the next few days we will unveil a new design for Rupp Arena and the convention center and elements of Town Branch Commons.
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Public safety … strong police, fire and corrections divisions are essential to our quality of life. Public safety commands 55.2 percent of our budget, the great recession affected even those divisions … unavoidable. But, unlike many cities, there were no layoffs in police, fire or corrections.
 

And as the economy began to recover … and largely because of our ability to save dollars elsewhere … we were able to make new investments in public safety. Each of our principal public safety divisions … police, fire and corrections … is now very close to having all current staffing positions filled … 97 percent for police; 93 percent for fire; 98 percent for corrections …
 

We’ve also invested in equipment, importantly new communications equipment … radios that cover our county, border to border, and allow for seamless communication among police officers and firefighters. And we’ve invested in new patrol cars and fire vehicles.
 

Bottom line … in 2013, our public safety employees continued their extraordinary work:
 

Now we all watch the news. We all know there is crime in our city. We don’t live in Mr. Rogers neighborhood. Yes, this is a city with all its challenges. But the numbers tell the real story. Lexington is one of the safest cities of its size, anywhere in the country … let me repeat … one of the safest cities of its size anywhere in the country …

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Now, in other areas, we have increased investments in paving and in parks … both important basic services. We are working with Fayette County Public Schools as they invest in a new high school.
 

We’ve also invested in the arts. In Lexington, the arts have in many ways become a basic service. We recognize their importance to our culture and to our economy and we invest in them as a community … Lexington has more arts establishments per capita than Chicago, Philadelphia or San Francisco.
 

We are also investing in technology to find new efficiencies and ways to improve basic services: Everything from a renovated state-of-the-art parking garage, now open on Main Street … to code enforcement, where we are examining data in a new way to zero in on our community’s most distressed buildings … a way to end demolition by neglect.
 

We will invest in our employees. Our compensation system for employees outside of collective bargaining agreements is not working. We’re working on a solution that is fair and equitable.
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We are also investing in our citizens and in meeting their needs … Since 2012, when federal and state funding was being cut, we’ve increased funding for social service agencies by 20 percent … these are programs that help the neediest among us.
 

And we’re building a new Senior Citizens Center…. Construction will begin this summer on the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, which will also be the eastern trail head for the Legacy Trail, connecting the east end to the horse park, a wonderful new recreational opportunity in the heart of our city …
 

I’ve been talking about our investments in basic services and their importance to our quality of life. But over the past few years we’ve really only been able to address critical needs because of limited resources…
 

Lexington has community projects – like major transportation projects and a world-class park system – that aren’t even being considered today because the funds just aren’t available. These types of projects would distinguish Lexington and make us even more competitive.
 

So, how do we make these investments? We need new options. One of those options is a local option voter referendum that would allow voters to support or oppose up to a 1 percent local sales tax for specific capital projects for a limited amount of time. In Fayette County, a 1 percent sales tax would generate an estimated $34 million per year.
 

Allowing our citizens the very basic right to vote is something we should support. Let’s encourage our legislative delegation to get behind this important effort this session.
 

As we make important investments in the future of our community we should always remember: We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us … all the way back to 1775 … 239 years ago … when Lexington was settled around the Town Branch.
 

I’ve always believed and still do, that good business principles and practices can be translated into government … and we are doing just that … we are working efficiently …
 

From Office of the Mayor


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