Given the problems facing Kentucky agriculture, some city leaders in Lexington say it’s time to legalize hemp. The Lexington council will soon consider a resolution drafted in support of hemp legalization. It calls on state lawmakers to act this session to allow hemp’s cultivation. Council member Julian Beard believes it’s a good idea. “For the farmers and the plight of the farmers, anything is an economic boost for them. You know it will take some time. It will never get up to the size tobacco was,” said Beard.
In his annual speech on the condition of his community, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray says ‘thinking and behaving like a mature city is our responsibility.’ During the ‘State of the Merged Government’ address, Gray indicated he thinks it’s occurring in central Kentucky. Lexington is a maturing city in many ways, according to its mayor. That includes its population. Mayor Gray announced Lexington officially has over 300-thousand residents. He also talked about job creation and efficient local government. Just last Friday, the city and its union agreed to a plan that stabilizes the underfunded police and fire pension fund. Now, Gray said there’ll be more money for other projects.
While President Obama was inaugurated for a second time, towns all over Kentucky observed Martin Luther King Junior Day. Inspirational singing welcomed marchers as they gathered inside the corridor at Lexington’s Heritage Hall. Just a few feet away from the song leader’s microphone, Tiffany Cooper swayed back and forth. “I’m just excited that we are coming together as one body and as different cultures and to experience this historic event. And just to see everybody walking hand in hand, that’s awesome. It just shows what God and can do and what Dr. Martin Luther King paved the way for,” said Cooper.
A plan that stabilizes the pension fund for Lexington’s police officers and firefighters has been negotiated. City and union leaders have signed off on the reforms. The downtown meeting room was jammed with labor leaders, retirees, council members, and city administrators for the announcement. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told them the significance of the agreement can’t be overstated. “It’s not extreme or extravagant to say that this historic agreement that we are announcing today will save the Lexington police and fire pension system and reclaim our city’s financial strength,” said Gray.
The chief prosecutor in Fayette County hopes universal background checks can help prevent mass killings like those seen last year in Connecticut, Colorado and Wisconsin. Still, prosecutor Ray Larson calls gun restrictions that limit the ability of law abiding citizens to defend themselves “disgusting.” Larson adds spotting a potential mass murderer is difficult.
Lexington fire officials are working on a staffing plan that should end the need for ‘brown outs.’ It may take about a year to fully implement a fix. For several months, Lexington has used ‘brown outs’ to cope with staffing shortages. Usually, it means taking fire trucks out of service. It can leave some neighborhoods with partial protection. Currently, Lexington has 482 firefighters. When that number increases to 536, Chief Keith Jackson says the brownouts should end.
For every $5 the city of Lexington spends, $1 goes to public pension obligations, proof that "our pension costs have spiraled out of control," Mayor Jim Gray said at a news conference Monday. Gray, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and other local government leaders spoke to urge the 2013 General Assembly to pass pension reform, which could include a reduction in retirement benefits and a massive infusion of extra state cash into the Kentucky Retirement Systems. The various pension funds of KRS have a $13.8 billion unfunded liability.
The New Year might have gotten off to a dreary start, with rain, sleet and snow overnight, but that's a contrast to 2012, which was the second-warmest year on record in Lexington, according to the National Weather Service. Last year's average temperature was 57.6, 2 degrees warmer than normal. Lexington's hottest year on record was 1921, at 58.5 degrees.
The delivery of electricity to Lexington homes could travel a new route in the years ahead. Instead of utility poles, some city leaders are more interested in underground power lines. Council member Bill Farmer says it needs to be part of Lexington’s long term planning.. “Not just when a pole can go up or be changed, but for us to begin to think about when can one go down and be buried. I think this is an opening discussion about how we think about it from a policy standpoint and then an action standpoint after that,” said Farmer.
This summer could seem like old times, times four, to Lexington’s motorists. On average, Lexington spends about three million dollars a year repaving city streets. However, this summer the city will fund a four-fold increase in repaving projects in residential areas. Council member Bill Farmer says many of those repairs are long overdue.
A two-year debate over assigning street addresses in Lexington appears to be resolved. The discussion over how to re-number nearly 50 residences on Richmond Avenue centered on addresses with fractions. Lexington E- 9-1-1 director David Lucas says fractions can confuse emergency responders. However, some residents have fought city hall…hoping to maintain their unique addresses.
Temperatures across Kentucky have been anything but winter-like recently, but preparation for clearing roads of snow and ice goes on. In Lexington, city officials propose building a second salt storage barn on the east side of town. Streets and Roads Director Sam Williams says a site just off interstate 75 near Athens is being eyed to build on two-to-three years down the road. Williams says a interim salt barn might be set up near the Winchester-New Circle Road interchange.
Restoration work on a popular Lexington parking garage has some motorists scrambling for parking spots. The Annex Garage along Main Street was closed in early November. Normally, Lexington Parking Authority Director Gary Means says over six hundred vehicles parked there each day. “They come through the garage on a given day. And then you have at least 300 employees or monthly parkers that could park there on any given day. And there’s only 380 spaces so it was a busy garage before we had to close it,” said Means.
Hoping to get a better handle on Fayette County’s need for social services, Lexington leaders are turning to student-researchers with the University of Kentucky. Some 21 agencies in Lexington were surveyed by three social work students from U-K. The first phase of their research was turned over this week to city leaders. They talked to representatives of the organizations supported by the city. Research supervisor Diane Loeffler says their aim is not to measure the number of people served by specific agencies. Loeffler predicts the data gathered will help the council reach out to more people in need.
There’s movement in Lexington’s dispute with a downtown homeless shelter. The operators of the Community Inn have dropped a lawsuit against the city. And the Lexington leaders are helping them find a new location. But, a resolution is likely still months away. City officials have given the operators of the Community Inn a list of new locations for the shelter. Lexington’s Board of Adjustments revoked the Inn’s permit in June….saying the facility violated zoning requirements. Initially, the Inn had until this Saturday to move. But, the city has extended the deadline until April and is now providing assistance.
Lexington’s vacuum truck began collecting leaves this week. It’s the start of a collection period that runs into December. Since leaves don’t necessarily drop on a schedule, city Arborist Rob Allen says setting pick-up times can create a challenge. “We’re trying to impose kind of a calendar deadline on an organic issue. For example, this year we had a drought followed by some pretty cool early fall weather, well that affects the timing of when the leave drops off the tree,” said Allen.
With the Lexington’s books “in the black,” city leaders are celebrating. During a meeting today Mayor Jim Gray took the unusual step of offering formal comments. The mayor says the city collected nine-million dollars more than their original predictions. “In the financial world, in the private sector, a business would say, well we’ve turned it around. We’ve made a profit ” said Gray.
A leading voice in on-line charitable giving welcomes Tuesday’s national emphasis on donations. Now, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us, it’s time for Giving Tuesday. Charitable organizations in central Kentucky hope to tap into the holiday spirit Among the groups soliciting on-line gifts is the Blue Grass Community Foundation.
Lexington is losing a lot of trees to disease and poor placement near streets. City Forrester Tim Queary says too many trees are squeezed between sidewalks and the road. “We need seven feet at a minimum between the sidewalk and the curb if we want the tree to live a long healthy life. But right now in a new development, we only have five and a half feet,” said Queary. Council member Kevin Stinnett says trees can be costly. Their leaves clogs storm sewers while low hanging limbs can block sidewalks and mailboxes.
An $80 million project will widen parts of New Circle Road in northwest Lexington and create a double-crossover diamond at Leestown Road. Those changes are part of a project that would alter some of Lexington's major arteries to "reduce traffic congestion and operational deficiencies on New Circle Road" and its interchanges, said Rob Sprague, design section supervisor for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. Sprague said the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2013 and continue through the summer of 2016.
Inspectors in Lexington’s Code Enforcement Department keep a busy schedule…inspecting thousands of structures annually. Code Enforcement Director David Jarvis told city leaders some 85 hundred properties were inspected in 2011. Some of the most nagging problems revolve around U-K students at the beginning and end of the semester in the disposal of items. Jarvis says any solution lies with their landlords.
Lexington’s Council appears ready to lower the boom on car stereos. Earlier this year, members rejected a comprehensive noise ordinance package. Now, the provision governing loud car stereos has been resurrected. The council’s Public Safety Committee approved the proposal this afternoon. Its sponsor is council member Tom Blues. “The principal addition here is to clarify the nature of the noise and also to reduce the distance over which the sound has to travel in order to be cited as a violation from 50 feet to ten feet,” said Blues.
This house is on the Jessamine County property purchased by the Kentucky United Methodist Homes for Children & Youth. The organization plans to add office space onto the house and build a new $6 million facility elsewhere on the property.
Lexington city leaders are supporting a unique downtown hotel project to the tune of one million dollars. Council members decided Tuesday to spend the better part of an Urban Development Action Grant or UDAG money toward the 21c museum hotel project. One million dollars will be loaned to developers. Council member Julian Beard says the city will likely be asked to participate with more financial support.
An official kick off for a one and a half million dollar fundraising campaign for a downtown Lexington landmark is scheduled this evening. A birthday celebration is planned for the Kentucky Theater as it celebrates 90 years downtown. Guests are encouraged to come wearing a costume in tribute to their favorite movie character or movie era.
Some musicians at Eastern Kentucky University hope to make it more of a home for Mountain and Bluegrass music. Biology professor Bob Frederick thinks E-K-U can do a better job of recruiting and retaining students if it did more to embrace Appalachian culture. “It just struck me that this would be a unique way for a certain group of students to find a niche that might help them cope with the day to day rigors of being a student and maybe being an outlet for them,” said Frederick.
The establishment of new homeless shelters in Lexington would be impacted by a proposed change in zoning law. The amendment impacts all new adult day care centers which would include those serving the disabled and seniors. Council member Chris Ford says it’s important to balance community interests. “We want to make sure that we get it right to the benefit of all constituencies, you know, the impacted less fortunate in our community as well as neighbor and business interests,” said Ford.