The Mayor’s 2015 Proposed Budget

The Mayor presented his proposed budget on Tuesday, April 8th.  You may find a copy of the budget address and the proposed budget here, you can watch the budget address here, and you can read an article about it here.

The highlights include a $40 million bond issue for Rupp Arena, $8 million to build the Senior Citizens Center, $2.6 million for software and basic technology upgrades, $2.9 million to implement the compensation study recommendations for reducing pay differentials for emloyees, $2.5 million in social services partner agency funding, $ 3.5 million for capital improvements in the Fire Department, $300,000 for playgrounds, $235,000 for a cultural arts center at the Carver Community Center, $150,000 for improvements to Shillito Park, $100,000 for the renovation of the Kentucky Theatre, a 2% raise for the non-union employees, funding for 35 new positions in Public Safety and 2 recruit classes in both Police and Fire.  It does not include any tax increases.

The Council will now split into five groups, each with the responsibility to review a certain section of the budget as presented.  I am part of the group that is responsible for reviewing the Environmental Quality and Public Works section of the budget.  The Council also reviews the revenue projections and the debt & capital projects in the budget.  These groups will report to the full Council on May 27. The first reading of the budget is scheduled to take place on June 17 with the final reading and adoption of the budget on June 19.


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Code for America Call for Participants

Code for America would like to better understand the behaviors, motivations, and needs of Lexingtonians who use city services by interviewing people they haven’t met before.  If you live in Lexington and are interested in particpating in a paid 60 minute user interview.  Please fill out this form.  If selected, the interviews will take place between April 15th and April 17th.

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Downtown Needs Your Input

The Lexington Downtown Development Authority, the Downtown Lexington Corporation, and the Lexington Parking Authority are asking citizens to participate in a survey about downtown Lexington.  The survey should take about 10 minutes and your answers are anonymous.  You can find the survey here.

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Pop Art in the Office

Blue Horse

Blue Horse

I now have the art of Jerielle Hanlon in my office.  Jerielle grew up in Kentucky and has lived in Lexington for the past 13 years.  She majored in studio art at Transylvania University, attended classes at the University of Kentucky, and studied abroad with artists in Japan and the Czech Republic through the Universities of North Carolina and Massachusetts.  She teaches art at Meadowthorpe Elementary and will be painting a mural on technology and aviation for their libray.  She is slated to paint a prominent public mural this spring as well as teach at the Living Arts and Science Center.  She believes art is healing to the community and seeks to give Kentucky residents a sense of their own identity by blending Kentucky culture with pop art.  You can find her on Facebook and Etsy.  You can read more about her here and here.

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Funds for Affordable Housing and Homelessness

At its March 18 meeting the Budget and Finance Committee approved an administration proposal for $3.5 million in funding for affordable housing and homelessness. You can watch the meeting hereThe proposal will go before the full Council on March 20th for first reading.  You can find the packet here when it is posted. 

The funding comes from the current year budget surplus. As proposed, no money will be spent until program guidelines are approved, which should be presented before summer break. Subsequent year funding from a dedicated source will still need to be approved, but I am pleased with Council’s major step towards addressing this challenge.

The issue of affordable housing has been before the Council in one form or another for six years.  I have been deeply involved in the issue during my time on Council and I am gratified by this latest action.  Many thanks to the Mayor, my colleagues on Council, Co-Chair Debra Hensley and fellow members of the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness, and the many, many citizens who have worked diligently and doggedly as advocates for this issue over the years.


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Farm Gate Receipts and Local Food

Kentucky’s farm gate receipts jumped to $5 billion in 2012 after a decade of being under $4 billion.  They are on track to exceed $6 billion in 2013 and should remain around $6 billion in 2014.  Farm gate receipts are the traditional method of valuing the agriculture economy and include corn, soybeans, cattle, horses, and horticulture.  If you include  value-added processing operations, services, supplies, forestry and fiber, those receipts are estimated to be at least $34 billion.   You can read more about the receipts here and here.

Increasing local food consumption is one way to increase farm gate receipts.  What we spend on local food is currently an extremely small percentage of our total expenditures for the food we eat.   State estimates range from a high of 14% in Iowa to a low of 2.5% in Vermont.  Many jurisdictions have started campaigns to encourage buying local food - North Carolina, Iowa, Massachusetts, and VermontKentucky recently announced its campaign, stating that $500 million in overall revenue would be generated if Kentucky family’s would spend 10% of their food dollar on Kentucky Proud products.

Nurturing a local food economy produces the classic win-win scenario.  It creates institutional, small business and consumer-level markets for local farmers while providing fresh food for local consumption.  A thriving food economy creates jobs beyond the farm; hospitality, food processing and manufacturing all benefit.  The environment benefits, too.  Reducing the distance between production and consumption lessens greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the last two years I have led an effort to secure the majority of initial funding  from outside sources for a pilot  program to create a Local Food Coordinator position within the LFUCG Office of Economic Development. With that funding in place, Urban County Council approved the initiative at its January 29, 2014 meeting.  The search is now underway for a qualified candidate.

Lexington is making a modest up-front investment  to create economic opportunity and improve quality of life for many through developing Lexington’s local food economy.  I look forward to accelerating this important work with the help of our new local food coordinator.

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Affordable Housing Update

The consulting firm czb, inc. presented its report on affordable housing at a Council Work Session on February 25, 2014.  You can get a copy of the report here and see the presentation and discussion here.

The report confirms that we have a significant affordable housing problem.   As a result of the basic structure of our local economy, an estimated 6,000 households do not earn enough money to afford decent housing even though one or more members of the household hold full-time jobs.  We value the increases in higher paying jobs our community has experienced, but those increases also cause housing prices to rise faster than  the wages at the lower end of the spectrum, causing an affordability gap.

Here is the heart of what we need to know from the data and analysis in the report. In 1990, 88% of the households earning minimum wage in Fayette County could afford decent housing.  By 2010, using the same standards, only 17% of the households earning minimum wage could afford decent housing.  If this trend continues without being addressed in some way, few people at the lower end of the wage spectrum will be able to afford to live in Fayette County. As the report says: “If you work in Fayette County, you should be able to live in Fayette County.”

The consultant estimates that it would take an average of $20 million each year over the next 10 years to redress the current gap, and an additional $2.4 million each year to keep pace with the growing disparity between low-income wages and rising housing costs.

At the Council Work Session I made a motion to dedicate 1% of the 5% fee the city currently assesses on insurance premiums, which would be equivalent to $4 million, to create an affordable housing trust fund to begin to address this issue.  My motion is consistent with recommendations in the czb report.  It is also consistent with previous recommendations from the Affordable Housing Task Force and the Mayor’s Commission on Homelessness, except that my motion would take funds from existing revenue rather than raising the current fee.

On a split vote, Council tabled my motion until the Council Work Session on April 15, 2014. This is the week following Mayor Gray’s budget address.  Mayor Gray has said he will include some funds in his proposed budget to address these recommendations.  Council will have that information when the motion is placed again on the agenda for consideration.

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2013 Comprehensive Plan Implementation Chapter Public Hearing

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Thursday, February 20th at 1:30 pm in the Council Chambers on the 2nd floor of the Government Center at 200 E. Main Street.  The public is invited to comment on the implementation chapter of the Comprehensive Plan at this hearing.  If you wish to comment at this hearing, please sign up at the table inside the entrance to Council Chambers.  You may also comment on-line prior to the hearing as well as view the adopted 2013 Comprehensive Plan and the draft of the implementation chapter here.

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Code for America

Recently Mayor Gray welcomed three Code for America Fellows to Lexington to start a ten month partnership.  You can read the press release hereCode for America is a non-profit that places technology developers, designers, and researchers from major technology companies within local governments to work alongside city staff to solve community issues with new technology.  The issues addressed include citizen engagement, criminal justice, and public health.  Lexington wants to focus on using data to drive more decisions about allocation of resources.  A local Code for America Brigade is at work on some of the same issues.

You can see Lexington’s page with its community partners listed hereSome of the alumni cities include New York, Boston, Chicago, South Bend, Macon, Kansas City and Louisville.

After spending time in the selected cities, the fellows will reconvene in San Francisco to share experience and proposed solutions.  You can read more about the national initiative here.

We welcome Code for America Fellows Erik Schwartz, Lyzi Diamond and Livien Yin to our community.


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Good News for Lexington in the Bike/Ped World

Each year the U.S. Census Bureau collects information from a sample population of the United States through the American Community Survey.    In 2012, it studied cities with a population of 65,000 and greater.  The League of American Bicyclists then analyzes this data to assess the state of bicycling across the country in the “Where We Ride” report.  As a caveat, the Survey only records commuting to work on a bike if it was the primary mode of transportation to work.

From 2005 to 2012, Kentucky increased bicycle commuting 97.7%.  Lexington-Fayette County ranked 38th out of the top 70 largest cities with the highest share of bicycle commuters, showing a 92% growth from 1990 to 2012 and a 16.7% growth from 2000 to 2012.  Lexington is also one of the top 50 cities where bike commuting is growing the fastest, one of the top 20 bike cities in the southern region, and ranked 2nd in percentage of bike commuters in cities with a population of between 300,000 and 1 million.

We are relative late-comers to understanding the importance of  alternative modes of transportation for the health of our community.  We are working to catch up.  The good news is that we are making progress.

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