Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Update

Mayor Jim Gray released the Fiscal Year 2017 (FY 17) proposed budget on Tuesday, April 5, 2016.  As a reminder, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government’s FY 17 will begin on July 1, 2016 and conclude on June 30, 2017.   The administration proposes the budget, which the Council reviews over the coming months.  You can view a video of the Mayor’s budget address by clicking here.

The mayor’s proposed budget  projects operating fund revenue of $345 million. Here are a few highlights:

  • Funds for twenty new police officers and the purchase of body cameras
  • A $3 million investment in aquatics including spraygrounds
  • Affordable housing and homeless prevention and intervention are funded at $2.75 million
  • A youth sports complex in Cardinal Run North has a proposed funding level of $7 million

For a comprehensive and detailed PDF of the proposed budget, please click here.

Council has formed subcommittees of the Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee to review the proposed budget.  Each subcommittee covers a different area so that the full budget receives Council’s review.  By clicking here you can view a list of the subcommittees and the Councilmembers who serve on them.

Council will approve a budget by the end of June 2016.  Below is an estimated timeline of events in the budget process:

  • 4/5/16 – Mayor’s Proposed Budget Address
  • 4/14/16 – Council Budget Workshop
  • 4/19/16 – Revenue Projections, Bonding, Debt & Capital Discussion
  • 4/26/16 – Discussion/Analysis of Mayor’s Proposed Budget
  • 5/24/16 – Link Recommendations and Report Out
  • 5/24/16 – Public Hearing Mayor’s Proposed Budget
  • 5/26/16 – Revenue Update/Review Mayor’s Late Items/Review Links/Councilmember Recommendations
  • 6/7/16 – Discussion of Proposed Amendments
  • 6/7/16 – Ratify Budget/Motion to Place on Docket
  • 6/14/16 – 1st Reading of Budget
  • 6/16/16 – 2nd Reading of Budget
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Bluegrass Double Dollars Happy Hour at West Sixth

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On Thursday, March 24, 2016, you can join Bluegrass Farm to Table and the Blue Grass Community Foundation for an informal happy hour to celebrate Bluegrass Double Dollars.  You can RSVP for the Facebook event here.  If you order a beer flight at the happy hour—or any time in March—you will receive a wooden nickel (worth $1!) to donate to the program.

Frequent readers of my blog are familiar with Bluegrass Double Dollars, a program that doubles the purchasing of power of low-income families when they buy local fruits and vegetables.  You can read more about Bluegrass Double Dollars on the program’s web page here and my previous blog posts here.

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OneDoor Lexington Will Better Serve Homeless

LFUCG created the Office of Homeless Prevention and Intervention (OHPI) in 2014 following a series of recommendations from the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness.  The agency is led by Director Charlie Lanter, a former senior manager at the Community Action Council.  OPHI has made strategic and overdue progress in better serving the homeless, including funding mental health courts.  Now the agency is taking the lead in a more client-centered approach to homelessness with the initiation of the OneDoor Lexington coordinated entry system.

Coordinated entry essentially refers to a way for service organizations to work more closely together to best serve the homeless.  The key is that a client who may need multiple forms of services and support has access to them whichever agency or organization he or she first contacts, so that initial difficulties do not compound over time. For a more thorough summary of coordinated entry, please see this summary from the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

At the organizational level, OneDoor Lexington will include regular meetings of the participating organizations that form the continuum of care (CoC).  Lexington’s CoC is  the planning body in our community that coordinates the policies, strategies and activities toward ending homelessness.  It has a board of 13 members and a broader membership of organizations.  Regularly convening the CoC will improve collaboration and communication so that each organization can better match clients to available services.  For additional information on Lexington’s CoC including a membership application, please click here.

OneDoor will also include a standard form across participating organizations.  This common assessment will be the Vulnerability Index – Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool (VI-SPDAT).   When clients approach an organization for help, they will complete this form and receive an acuity score.  That score will assist in connecting them to the best services given their specific circumstances.

The program will launch at the beginning of May 2016.  OHPI held a training for organizations on VI-SPADT on March 8, 2016.   For more information about the program and/or trainings, please contact Jennifer Oberlin at 859-258-3136.

 

 

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US House Subcommittee Features Bluegrass Farm to Table

I am proud to share the news that Urban County Government’s Local Food Coordinator Dr. Ashton Wright recently testified before the United States House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Nutrition regarding Bluegrass Double Dollars.  You can view my earlier posts about the program by clicking here.

You can view the full video of the hearing below:

If the video is not visible in your browser, click here to go to YouTube. The meeting starts 14:00 minutes into the video.  You can go to that location by clicking here.  For Dr. Wright’s specific testimony, click here or start the video at 26 minutes and 20 seconds.

The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program supports projects to increase the purchase of fruits and vegetables among low-income consumers. Dr. Wright highlighted the success of the Bluegrass Double Dollars pilot project funded by FINI and identified the lessons learned from the pilot program.  She then provided the following  recommendations to the Subcommittee regarding the FINI grant program:

  1. Encourage strong multi-sector partnerships to develop sustainable incentive programs.
  2. Employ a more comprehensive approach to education in which the state and local SNAP offices work more collaboratively with grantees.
  3. Develop a community of practice, a peer-to-peer network, to share best practices.

Our thanks to Dr. Wright for her hard work in helping make the pilot project a success, and our congratulations to her for being invited to testify before Congress and representing Lexington so well.

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Gigabit City Committee Drafting RFP

The Mayor’s Gigabit City Executive Steering Committee is drafting a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Lexington’s fiber optic network.  For additional background on this issue, see my previous blog posts here and here.  The Committee previously released a Request for Information (RFI) on its gigabit city initiative.  An RFI differs from an RFP in that an RFI allows a public agency to learn about possible options without the obligation and expectation to award a contract within a specific timeframe.  In other words, by releasing an RFI, the Committee has taken the opportunity to learn about the variables and technical challenges before initiating the awarding processing required by an RFP

On January 19th, 2015, Chief Information Officer Aldona Valicenti provided the Environmental Quality & Public Works Committee with an update on the project.  You may view a video of the presentation and the packet with presentation slides by clicking here.  Fiber Optic Technology is item 4 on the agenda.  As Aldona noted in her presentation, a fiber optic buildout is a complex project.  The city’s strategic decisions in deploying the fiber optic network will have consequences for decades, so while some enthusiasts of the project have been eager for progress, a deliberate approach is appropriate for the best outcomes.

The Gigabit City Executive Steering Committee will be drafting and releasing an RFP in the coming weeks.  The Committee plans to suggest 2 options in the RFP.  The first option will be a private build in which the city has a level of participation.  The second option will be a public-private partnership model.  The city’s interest in both models relates to a ubiquitous, or equitable, build.  One outcome of a fiber optic network build is that only wealthy residents have access to high speed information delivery.  The city would prefer that this fiber optic infrastructure be available more equitably, and the public investment advances that interest.

 

 

 

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Update on Rural Recreational Zone Text Amendment

Some constituents have inquired about the status of the rural recreational zoning ordinance text amendment (ZOTA), so I am providing a brief update on where the policy issue stands.   For more background on the ZOTA please see my earlier blog post here.

LegislativeHistory

Here is a timeline of the rural recreational ZOTA’s progress through the legislative process so far:

  • February 12, 2012 – Former Vice Mayor Linda Gorton created the Recreational Zoning Ordinance Text Amendment Work Group to study how to update zoning ordinances regarding possible new opportunities for ecotourism,  agritourism, and other commercial uses in the rural area.
  • May 23, 2013 – The Work Group delivered its final report to Council.
  • June 6, 2013 – The Council approved the final report during a first and second reading at a Council Meeting and instructed the Division of Planning to draft a zoning ordinance text amendment for the Planning Commission to consider.
  • October 23, 2014 – Planning staff present the ZOTA at a Planning Commission public hearing. The Planning Commission made no recommendation to Council at that time. The minutes on this issue from that meeting are available here.
  • March 26, 2015 – The Planning Commission held a second public hearing related to this issue.   The Planning Commission also made no recommendation to Council at that time. The minutes on this item are available here.
  • June 25, 2015 – The Planning Commission held the third public hearing on zoning items on which the ZOTA was part of the agenda. On a split vote the Commission approved an amended version of the ZOTA and recommend approval to Council.  You can watch a video of this meeting here, and you can view the recommended ZOTA by clicking here.
  • August 27, 2015 –  Council voted unanimously to table the recommended ZOTA  rather than give the ordinance first reading. The rationale given for tabling the ordinance was to allow for further council consideration and public input, in part because so many members of council were new and not familiar with the history and the intricacies of the issue . You can view that meeting by clicking here.
  • November 11, 2015 – Planning staff presented a recreational ZOTA workshop and answered numerous questions from Councilmembers.

What is at Issue?

The main area of disagreement when the Planning Commission voted, and the likely area of concern when the issue is before Council, is whether a set of proposed uses for the rural area should be  “principal uses” or “conditional uses.”  Principal uses are always allowed in a zone “by right.” Conditional uses require approval by the Board of Adjustment.  There is a further important distinction between  “conditional use” and  “conditional zoning.”  A conditional use permit is detailed, includes specific restrictions, is reviewed annually, and can be revoked if the holder does not meet the prerequisite conditions.  Conditional zoning, in contrast, only applies once and the zoning cannot be revoked.  I anticipate discussion related to how these differing levels of restriction might apply, for example, to proposals for commercial hiking and biking trails as well as other potential uses.

Next Steps

Given that Council tabled the ZOTA, there is no time constraint for Council to act on the legislation.  However, I expect it will be removed from the table and placed back in active consideration within the next month. Council can then choose to do one or more of the following: refer the issue to a standing committee; create an ad hoc committee to further review the issue; hold a public meeting; hold a formal public hearing with legal notice, docket the legislation for a vote. On so important an issue, which will have substantial and long-range implications for our rural lands, the the challenge is to balance the need for full discussion and consideration with the need to finally take action.

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My Support for the Minimum Wage Increase

On November 19, 2015, Urban County Council voted to approve an ordinance raising the minimum wage in Fayette County to $10.10 an hour over the next three years, beginning July 1, 2016.  The vote was 9 to 6 in favor.  The Herald-Leader article about the vote can be found here.

I voted with the majority.  I believe it was the right thing to do. But I also believe that reasonable people can differ on this issue, and that each of the Councilmembers who voted against the proposal had reasonable concerns about the potential impact of the ordinance.  These concerns included the following:

  • The move to $10.10 an hour is too large an increase too quickly
  • The county does not have the legal right to raise the minimum wage above the State or Federal level
  • We should wait until the Kentucky Supreme Court rules on the lawsuit regarding the validity of Louisville’s similar legislation
  • Small businesses and low wage workers would be harmed by the increase
  • Other approaches to providing low wage workers with support would yield more positive results with fewer negative consequences

Though I do not agree with some of the assumptions behind these concerns, I  understand them and took them into account in deciding how to vote.

I supported the proposal because for me there are two deciding factors in this complex issue.  First, the need to provide relief now to the working poor in our community outweighs the concerns about possible negative impact.  The working poor have seen the purchasing power of the minimum wage diminish steadily over the past few decades.  Despite working full time at one and sometimes two minimum wage jobs, many must rely on a variety of government subsidies and support to pay for the rent, the food, and other necessities for themselves and their families. Second, a solid preponderance of evidence indicates that raising the minimum wage is good both for low-wage workers and for the overall economy.

In the discussions on raising the minimum wage, Councilmembers made the point many times that doing so by itself does not solve all the problems of poverty in our community. I agree. Our community needs to continue to look for additional ways to increase education and employment opportunities and to provide other means of support for the working poor. For example, Councilmember Hensley moved to place on the Council docket an ordinance to exempt minimum wage workers from the city’s Occupational License Tax. Council approved my amended version of his motion, to place discussion of the issue in the Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee. At an earlier meeting Council approved Councilmember Stinnett’s motion to place into the same committee discussion of additional efforts within LFUCG for workforce development and training. Both proposals are worthy of consideration, and I look forward to continued Council work on these important issues.

I offer thanks to Councilmember Jennifer Mossotti for bringing the minimum wage issue before Council, to all my colleagues on Council for their thoughtful deliberation on this issue in numerous meetings over the last nine months, and to all the citizens who took the time to share their views with me and my colleagues. My thanks also to Jason Bailey and Anna Baumann of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy for their research and analysis of this complex and difficult issue.

You can view more of my thinking on this issue in a series of blogs posted earlier on this site.

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Final Vote on Minimum Wage

The minimum wage ordinance, which will raise the wage to $10.10/hour over 3 years, is on the  council docket for a second reading at the 11/19/15 council meeting that starts at 6:00 p.m.  This is a crucial, final step for the ordinance before Council.  A majority vote by Council in favor of the ordinance and a signature from the mayor will make it law.

As a reminder, an ordinance typically is vetted at a work session, and then it is placed on the docket for two separate readings to ensure the public has ample time to comment on the potential law. This ordinance has also been considered by the council’s Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee and been the subject of a number of special meetings and public hearings.

I believe this ordinance is an important step forward for Lexington.  I have listened to the arguments put forward by those who oppose this ordinance and I understand the concerns expressed. But I disagree with the conclusion that raising the minimum wage will harm those at the lower end of the income scale or our economy overall.  On the contrary, raising the minimum wage will provide needed relief to those individuals and families whose earning power has been significantly eroded compared to the rising cost of living, and it will benefit the entire community.

You can view the 11/19/15 work copy docket by clicking here.  Minimum wage is located under item IV. Ordinances – Second Reading.  It is the third item, which reads as follows:

An Ordinance creating Chapter 13a of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Code of Ordinances establishing a minimum wage in Lexington-Fayette County of $8.20 per hour beginning July 1, 2016, $9.15 per hour, beginning July 1, 2017 and $10.10 per hour beginning July 1, 2018; providing an exemption for agricultural workers; providing remedies for employees paid less than the minimum wage; and providing for a formal review of the minimum wage on or before July 1, 2018.

For additional context on this issue, see my earlier blog posts:

If you would like to receive email issue updates on minimum wage and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Carbs & Caffeine for a Cause: Biscuits, Sorghum, Magic Beans Coffee – for Bluegrass Double Dollars

Carbs & Caffeine for a CausePlease join Rona and me at 250 Campsie from 10:00 am until noon this coming Saturday (11/7/15).    You may RSVP for our Carbs & Caffeine for a Cause event by clicking here.

We will be serving homemade biscuits with Kentucky butter, five different fresh 2015 sorghums, and a variety of Magic Beans coffee.  You will get to meet Randal Rock of Country Rock Sorghum and Schulyer Warren of Magic Beans.  You can learn the story behind the tastes, or, if you prefer, just indulge.

The suggested gift is $15, and the donations will go to the Bluegrass Double Dollars program. This is a program that doubles the purchasing power of SNAP (formerly food stamp) recipients when they purchase local fruits and vegetables for their families.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on Council news from me, please sign up here.

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Minimum Wage of $10.10 Advances to the Council Docket

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During yesterday’s work session (10/27/15), I voted with the majority to add the to the Council’s docket an ordinance proposing an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over the next three years. Eight Councilmembers supported the motion, six Councilmembers opposed.

I am hopeful that the ordinance, which you can view here, will soon become law.  The ordinance represents a compromise between an earlier ordinance proposed by Councilmember Mossotti (available here) and an earlier ordinance proposed by Councilmember Lamb (available here).  These motions were discussed at a September 10, 2015 special Committee of the Whole Meeting devoted to minimum wage.  The ordinance passed at work session will, if enacted, benefit over 20,000 Lexingtonians who need relief in the absence of federal or state action on this issue.

The work session is often the forum in which issues are vetted before the full Council, so the show of support is an encouraging sign for the ordinance’s final approval.  Before, becoming law, the ordinance will next need to receive a majority of Council’s support for a first and second reading at upcoming Council Meetings.

Thanks to everyone who contacted Councilmembers through phone call, emails, and speaking at the work session.  I value and welcome your participation.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on minimum wage and/or other Council news from me, please sign up here.

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