As a Lexingtonian with discretionary income, I am excited by Mayor Jim Gray's vision for the community as described in his Jan. 22 State of the Merged Government speech. The recent rebirth of downtown and a commitment to maintain that momentum are exciting. Our world-class University of Kentucky basketball team deserves a world-class arena like the one envisioned in the preliminary designs to update Rupp.
Bringing Town Branch Creek to the surface will reconnect us with our history and make downtown an even better place to spend time. The explosion of downtown restaurants, bars and cultural opportunities provides a reason for everyone with the means to participate in what is already happening and is on the horizon.
Almost 20 percent of us, however, will not be able to participate in the new Lexington unless the city makes a serious commitment to creating employment opportunities for all, not just the highly skilled and professional classes. The 21C hotel and museum, made feasible by a government loan and tax breaks, will be a great asset. But the people who work there as maids and waiters won't be able to afford the cost of participating in most of downtown's cultural and entertainment opportunities.
The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government must adopt an economic development priority that effectively targets government financial assistance to employers and projects that create good jobs at a living wage for those in jobs that don't meet even basic human needs.
The restoration and redevelopment of deteriorating buildings in the city's core for housing, commercial and professional office space is exciting and will further fuel its rebirth. But, as we eliminate affordable housing by redeveloping apartments that formerly rented for $500 a month to build condominiums that sell for $250,000, we make an already serious affordable housing gap even worse.
When buildings on streets like North and South Limestone and Jefferson are redeveloped, real people lose homes and face a market where the demand for affordable housing already outstrips the supply.
Similarly, as we continue efforts to protect our world-class rural landscape, we limit the amount of buildable land, driving up property values and, again, eliminating affordable housing.
The LFUCG must adopt the task force recommendations for an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and it must ensure its revenues are no less than the task force's original proposal. Such a fund will reduce the cost of developing rental and homeowner properties so that more families can afford to live and play here.
A successful, prosperous future for Lexington is a goal we all share. We will not succeed, however, if fully one quarter of our children are growing up in poverty and lack the economic and social opportunities they need to succeed. Our schools and the early childhood community are making great strides to ensure preschool-age children have a good foundation. But we have done little as a community to ensure pre-teens and teens from households with low-incomes are on a track for success.
Recently, with federal employment development dollars, the city's Department of Social Services and Community Action Council have initiated pilot youth education and employment initiatives that successfully create ways to ensure our youth succeed. But the two projects only serve a total of 40 young people, far too few to make a meaningful dent in the problem.
LFUCG needs to use every means available to it to take back the federal employment funds that the previous administration relinquished to a regional agency. We know our needs; we need to control the federal dollars available to address them.
The mayor's commitment to solve our serious problems with the long-neglected waste- and surface-water management systems is critical to our future. The commitment of local tax dollars and fees to meet this requirement is huge and we will be paying for it for years to come.
In addition to spending millions to correct the problems of the past, the city needs to find ways to minimize wasteful and unnecessary water use.
Gray has vowed to fight the recent rate hike request by Kentucky American Water. The city has the opportunity to collaborate with the Office of the Attorney General, Community Action Council and conservation groups that are also intervening in this latest effort to increase water rates. The case provides an opportunity to require the company adopt what are known as conservation rates.
Presently, the more water a KAW residential customer uses, the less it costs. In other words, the rates actually encourage customers to increase their consumption of water.
Conservation rates will provide an incentive to use less and reduce the demand on our sanitary sewer system. They will also make water more affordable for low-income households and older persons with fixed incomes.
This is not a matter of either/or. We can create a world-class city in a way that addresses the aspirations of all its citizens by just making sure that our public policy priorities make a difference in the lives of everyone and not just some of us.
Jack Burch is the executive director of Community Action Council, Lexington's anti-poverty organization.