LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 6, 2012) — Lexington Mayor Jim Gray today announced plans to hire 25 firefighters into vacant positions open because of retirements, but first will conduct a careful review of the city’s budget and revenues.
“It will be hard for the city budget to afford 25 firefighters, but harder for us not to,” Gray said. “Public safety is our top priority, and I’m convinced that the public’s safety requires more firefighters.”
Interim Fire Chief Keith Jackson said once the recruits join the force there will be a reduction in time when equipment is taken out of service because of personnel shortages. (It is routine for the division to take a piece of equipment out of service for a matter of hours or an entire shift because of a training class, however equipment is not usually taken out of service unless there’s a nearby back-up on duty.) Emergency medical vehicles are always kept in service.
Jackson said without a recruit class the large number of retirements from the division this year could have caused equipment to be taken out of service more frequently because of personnel shortages. “The class will address my major concerns about shortages,” Jackson said.
Thirty-nine retirements from Fire were announced at the end of 2011. “The retirements created a need for replacements, but they also put pressure on the current budget,” Gray said. “In this year’s budget if we want to hire additional firefighters we have to find more money.”
Here’s why: The salaries of the retiring firefighters add up to about $2.9 million annually, but this year $2.4 million will be needed for the retirees’ pay-outs — reimbursements for unused vacation, holiday time and sick leave. The combined annual salaries of the recruits are expected to add up to $1.5 – $2 million annually.
Gray said before the hiring he plans a thorough budget review, working with the Urban County Council. “There have been many changes since we approved the budget last June, and most of them come with a price-tag … new, required expenditures,” Gray said. “We must step back and take an in-depth look at the budget and identify additional expenses and additional cuts.”
The Mayor said he anticipates the hiring process will begin in February or March. After they are hired, the recruits undergo 18 weeks of training. Recruits hired in February would be on the streets responding to emergencies by mid-June, when summer vacation season begins.
Council approval of the new hires is required. The Mayor said he will work with the Council on budget adjustments and the hiring plan over the next few weeks.