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

Min_wage

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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Latest on Gigabit City

Fiber Optic Cable

Status Update

The city of Lexington has a project team working to make our community a gigabit city.  Being a gigabit city means that residents and businesses can access the Internet at download speeds of 1 gigabyte/second.  To download data at gigabit speeds, Lexington will need an infrastructure of optical fibers.  The copper cables currently available do not have the capacity to deliver this speed.   For additional background on this topic, please read an earlier blog post by clicking here.

Since the last update, Lexington’s Chief Information Officer Aldona Valicenti has participated in a meeting of the United States Department of Commerce’s Broadband Opportunity Council.  The Council released its report and recommendations on August 20, 2015, which you review by clicking here.  The project team has since been working to identify the variables, opportunities, and weigh the interests for a fiber build-out.  Council began to review one opportunity with the middle mile project on October 20, 2015.  It is discussed in greater detail below.  The next product of this work will be a recommendation to the mayor and city council.

Digital Equity

One consideration in a fiber build-out recommendation is digital equity.  Digital equity refers to making the opportunities of technology available to all members of the community, particularly those who are under-served and/or underrepresented.  You can review Seattle’s work on this issue by clicking here.  Equitable fiber network build-outs often positively correlate to the amount of public investment in a project.  Public investment allows for public interests to have greater weight in the build-out of a fiber network.  In contrast, an exclusively private build-out may only serve more affluent neighborhoods or subdivisions.  Providing access in an equitable manner means that common interests are advanced.  For example, fiber networks can better help households acquire educational content and even increase the value of homes, outcomes which enhance Lexington’s common wealth.

Middle Mile

An opportunity the team is considering is the KentuckyWired Middle Mile project.  This is a state government project that is funding fiber optic cables that will help wire the state of Kentucky, which currently ranks 42nd out of the 50 states in connectivity.  “Middle mile” often—and in this case—refers to the work of connecting the networks of small towns to high speed carriers, serving as the middle or bridge between the two.  In Kentucky, the middle mile will connect to specific anchor institutions—KCTCS, K-12, universities, and libraries.   This state-level fiber optic project connects to eastern Kentucky through Lexington.  This middle mile development represents a significant opportunity for Lexington because the city is able to piggyback on the state’s infrastructure work for our fiber needs.  As was discussed at the October 20, 2015 work session, Lexington is planning to add fiber dedicated to our city to the fiber being built by the state.  The city must pay for the cable, rather than the work of digging the trench and other accessory costs.  It’s a significant opportunity for cost savings, and it helps pave the way for our gigabit city infrastructure in a manner that complements the work of the state government.

If you would like to connect with a community of gigabit city enthusiasts, please check out the Advocates of Gigabit Internet in Lexington, KY Facebook Page by clicking here.

If you would like to receive email issue updates on Council news from Vice Mayor Steve Kay, please sign up here.

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Maintaining Our Urban Forest

The following is a guest post by Angela Poe, a Program Manager for Public Engagement with the LFUCG Division of Environmental Services.

Tree CareLexington is invested in enhancing its corridors and medians.  Trees are an important part of that effort.  To keep our urban forest healthy and attractive, Lexington’s Division of Environmental Services is committed to properly caring for our trees and helping citizens do the same.

Since late last fall, Environmental Services’ seasonal crew has mulched around 3,000 trees located in the city’s thoroughfares, using approximately 600 cubic yards of mulch.  Mulching the trees conserves soil moisture, reduces weed growth, and provides a buffer that protects the trees from mower damage.

For more information on Lexington’s urban forest, visit: http://www.lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page=2863.

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“Green Up for the Breeders’ Cup” Council Comment

The Breeders’ Cup begins on October 30th, 2015–just a few weeks away.  The city has been hard at work making sure Lexington’s signature beauty is at its finest not only for the upcoming festivities but long into the future as well.  Keep Lexington Beautiful (KLB) partnering with the Division of Environmental Services (DES) and the Corridors Commission have all worked in concert with private sponsors to orchestrate these beautification projects.  For more information on the this work, read the most recent guest post on my blog by clicking here.

I also had the opportunity to visit one of the beautification sites near Man o’ War Boulevard across from Keeneland and talk with Susan Plueger and John Saylor, both of DES, about their work. You can view  that Council Comment video below.


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