Unlike last year, a proposed increase in the franchise fee levied by local government in Lexington on utilities is not on the table. The cost of those fees, which are paid by water, natural gas and electric companies, are often passed onto consumers. The fees should remain unchanged, but city attorney David Barberie says it’s not set in concrete.
Hoping to enhance Lexington’s economy, Mayor Jim Gray wants to set up a new, two-million dollar development fund. The money would finance start-up companies and expansions by existing firms. It would also fund the recruitment of businesses operating outside Lexington. Gray says many competing cities already have such a fund. “Competitor cities of ours have, for a long time, utilized responsible economic development models for growth,” said Gray.
University of Kentucky men's basketball coach John Calipari topped other Bluegrass leaders to grab a firm victory as the Lexington area's most influential person. The top five in the recent poll by the Herald-Leader is rounded out by high-profile men familiar to Central Kentuckians: Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, Jessamine County railroad executive R.J. Corman, Alltech founder Pearse Lyons and UK President Eli Capilouto. The list of the 14 people who have the most influence on Lexington and Central Kentucky was determined in a poll of readers of the Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com.
Archaeologists like Kim McBride of the University of Kentucky really dig Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate in Lexington. McBride has participated in a number of archaeological projects off Richmond Road, dating back to 1989. She led a group Friday as part of the 30th Annual Kentucky Heritage Council Archaeology Conference. “This is an area with a lot of springs and of course this was kind of an open savannah before Ashland was founded, but we have Native American artifacts probably from all the culture history periods. I don’t know if we have any paleo artifacts here,” said McBride.
While support is evident for a fund that finances low-income housing, Lexington’s council remains stuck over funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The council is hung up over a proposed one percent increase in Lexington’s tax on insurance premiums. Among the city officials withholding support is Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. As part of the effort Gray’s willing to fund a city office that coordinates services for homeless people. However, he won’t support a tax increase until its details are ironed out.
The sounds of hammers and saws could ring out a little louder in the bluegrass in 2013. So says Chris Bollinger, Director for the Center of Business and Economic Research at the University of Kentucky. Bollinger looks for more residential construction over the next 12 months. “And I think we’re going to begin to see new construction. Housing starts are beginning to climb in Lexington as they are in Louisville and Cincinnati as well. And I think we’ll begin to see that new construction going in 2013. It will probably be 2014 before we really see the housing starts index for Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati return to their historic trends,” said Bollinger.
Changes are likely along a winding roadway in Jessamine County that connects Harrodsburg and Nicholasville roads. The Kentucky Transportation Department is beginning a review of just over three miles of Brannon Road. Department spokes woman Natasha Lacy says it’s still early in the process.
The Lexington-Fayette Health Department is making it easier to check the cleanliness and food safety practices at restaurants. Inspection scores are now available on the internet. The scores given some 15 hundred eating establishments by inspectors are now posted on the health department web site. But, Health Department Spokesman Kevin Hall says an eatery’s overall score is not the only number to look for.
Lexington is in the market for a new senior citizens center. The project’s been on the city’s wish list for years. The search for a site has begun. Lexington’s current Senior Citizens Center sits at the corner of Nicholasville road and Alumni Drive. It’s an active spot during most days. But, after three decades of wear and tear, city officials say modernizing it is not feasible. And, if Lexington builds a new center, Social Services Commissioner Beth Mills says it should be built to last.
After months of review and investigation, a final report from the mayor’s commission on homelessness was delivered to city hall Tuesday. 20 years ago, as a Lexington council member, Debra Hensley helped write a report which made similar recommendations. This time, Hensley, who also co-chaired this commission, has reason for optimism. “Having chaired a similar report in the 90’s which produced a report with many of today’s findings, like most of the other members I believe that this report holds the most promise of getting real results, if it is acted upon,” said Hensley
A much anticipated report on homelessness in Lexington is due out Tuesday. The report, which was composed by members of a Mayor’s Commission, will include strategies meant to reduce the number of homeless people. Commission Co-Chair Steve Kay says they hope to find funding, increase the number of affordable residences, and improve services available to people who could lose their homes.
Lexington’s jail has been under new leadership for nearly a year. Much of that time has been spent rebuilding morale and staff. Rodney Ballard, with three decades of experience in law enforcement and corrections, took over as Community Corrections Director last spring. Ballard has put many inmates to work in the center’s kitchen. Once they do their time, he hopes many can find jobs as cooks.
Benjamin Bond, 67, dropped by Lexington's Catholic Action Center at noon Wednesday to savor a bowl of hot chili and just enjoy being inside. Too cold out on the street, he said. Lexington's low temperature Wednesday morning was 10 degrees, according to the National Weather Service, and the day's high barely topped freezing. Another shot of bitterly cold air is expected Thursday.
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.