Forty Lexington fire department employees are expected to retire by the end of the year. That’s double the number which was anticipated just a few months ago. The news prompted some tense discussion Tuesday at city hall.
Instead of immediately hiring replacement firefighters, fire chief Keith Jackson says he can fully protect Lexington by shifting people and equipment around the city. He says the new assignments would likely begin next spring, but no fire stations would be shut down and community safety wouldn’t be compromised. Agreeing there's no money for replacements, Mayor Jim Gray applauded Jackson's cost cutting plan.
“We have conditions in this country that are clearly not changing substantially…and that’s why it takes the creative energy that we’re hearing here,” said Gray.
Chief Jackson blames the surprisingly large number of retirees on stagnant pay, higher health insurance premiums and an aging workforce. The plan did not sit well with councilmembers like Kevin Stinnett who says more firefighters should be hired now.
“As regards to the recruit class, I would hire one post haste…there is money in the budget….there is a saving not having these 40 something people in our budget for the next six months….now the catch is we can maybe get through the next six months, but what happens the next fiscal year,” said Gray.
Geoff Reed, who's the mayor’s senior advisor for policy and government relations, says the 40 retirements will also be costly. Public Safety Commissioner Clay Mason is confident the rotating scheduling plan can address personnel shortages without driving up significant overtime expenses.