Lexington council votes to spend $10 million surplus

March 20, 2014. Lexington Herald-Leader.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council on Thursday unanimously agreed to spend a $10 million surplus from this year’s budget.

Resolution 45 commits the city to spending the surplus on affordable housing and homeless initiatives, among other items. The surplus was created by $5 million in savings and $5 million in unanticipated revenue.

The Rev. Adam Jones, co-chairman of Building A United Inter-Faith Lexington through Direct-Action (BUILD), praised the council for passing the resolution as others held up a sign with 500 bricks drawn on it; each brick contained the signature of a Lexington resident who agreed with spending for affordable housing.

“We wanted to make sure that the council and mayor knew that it is a step in the right direction,” Jones said. “However, the full resolution of the affordable housing resolutioncrisis must include an affordable housing trust fund with a dedicated revenue stream.”

A council committee had set aside $3 million for affordable housing and $500,000 for homeless initiatives. The city plans to spend $2.9 million on body armor, Tasers and 65 police cruisers; $2.9 million on fire equipment, including thermal imaging devices and repairs to aging fire buildings; $2.5 million for three fire trucks and an ambulance; and about $535,000 on community corrections or the county jail.

Affordable housing has been a growing problem as the city has lost 28,000 apartments affordable to minimum-wage workers in 20 years, a recent report found. Also according to the report, by czb consultants, Lexington is losing 400 rental units each year to higher rents. The report, issued last month, recommended spending at least $3 million to $4 million a year to address the problem.

Greg Capillo, a representative from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said the lack of affordable housing in Lexington affects him, and it needs a secure fix, but “budget surpluses are not secure.”

“As a young person who works a low-wage job, I’m personally in a precarious situation with a landlord who is not up to par, but I don’t think I can get rent that’s as affordable elsewhere,” Capillo said.

It has not been decided how the affordable housing and homeless funds will be spent, but the council is to receive a detailed plan in coming months. Mayor Jim Gray said they must take one step at a time.

“Have a plan and work the plan,” he said. “This is a significant first step. … I trust, hope and believe the affordable housing advocates recognize what a big step this is. It’s rare for a council to make this significant of an investment.”


BUILD ensures inmates have identification

In October 2012, 285 BUILD leaders voted to focus on issues related to re-entry and recidivism. At the time, people were routinely being released by Lexington’s detention center into the community without an ID. Given that identification is necessary to get a job, find housing, open a bank account, and other basic tasks, this was a critical gap in the criminal justice system. BUILD discovered that the state of Indiana had developed the best program in the country for ensuring people were issued IDs before being released, and wanted the Fayette County Detention Center to follow the Indiana model. On April 16 2013, BUILD brought out 1,680 people to its Action Assembly. BUILD used that power to negotiate and win commitments from the Fayette County Circuit Court Clerk and the Director of the Fayette County Detention Center to develop a program to ensure inmates have a state-issued photo ID prior to their release. Out of 41 inmates who are in a designated re-entry program, 21 have received assistance in getting IDs prior to their release to date.

BUILD presses for fair hiring practices

In 2011, BUILD began to research re-entry and learned that 20,000 people in Lexington have a criminal background. It was determined that almost every problem related to re-entry branches from employment barriers, specifically, employers not willing to hiring ex-offenders. There were a number of organizations training and providing services to prepare ex-offenders for the job market, but the majority of ex-offenders were still not being hired due to their criminal history. Studies show that if ex-offenders do not obtain employment within 90 days of release, they are 500 times more likely to re-offend. BUILD also looked for best practices in other communities and found that many communities now conduct criminal background checks only for positions that require them by law or sensitive positions for which a background check is necessary. For example, in Minneapolis, nearly 60% of applicants with a potentially disqualifying record were hired in 2007, compared to 5.7% under the prior policy. As a result of BUILD’s 2012 Nehemiah Action, Lexington’s Mayor, his administration, and local employers agreed to attend an Ex-Offender Employment Workshop to deepen their understanding of fair, effective hiring practices. Following this workshop, Mayor Gray committed to promote hiring policies that help reduce recidivism by getting people with a criminal history back to work.

BUILD provides primary care to uninsured in Lexington

Lexington, KY – In 2009, BUILD discovered that at least 40,000 Lexington adults did not have health insurance. We also learned that of these adults, only a quarter of them had access to primary care. According to the local hospitals, the lack of routine primary care was costing the community millions of dollars each year. In 2007, at BUILD’s Action, the Fayette County Health Department committed to add staff and hours to see 700 additional patients per month. In April 2008, BUILD turned out 1,100 people to their Nehemiah Action where the Director of Primary Care at the Fayette County Health Department and representatives from local hospitals and nonprofit clinics committed to meeting primary care needs for an additional 6,000 uninsured adults. Due to the work of BUILD over a number of years, the Fayette County Health Department and others now annually provide primary care to 14,000 people that would otherwise not have healthcare. Each year, close to 8 million dollars worth of healthcare is provided to the uninsured in Lexington as a direct result of BUILD’s efforts.

Drug treatment in Lexington now available to women

Lexington, KY – BUILD discovered, in 2006, that the Fayette County Jail did not have a drug treatment program for women, despite the success of the men’s drug treatment program in reducing the recidivism rate from 60% to 19% each year (i.e., rate of repeat arrests). Through BUILD’s efforts, former Mayor Teresa Isaac installed $175,000 into the county budget for a women’s drug treatment program at the Fayette County Jail. We have followed up each year since then to ensure that the program remains funded and 439 women have been treated to date. This program has already saved Lexington $4.5 million dollars.