Fayette County

Lexington council votes to cut ties to Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board

Lexington Fayette Government Center
Lexington Fayette Government Center Herald-Leader

The city of Lexington is a step closer to pulling out of a regional job training group connected with the Bluegrass Area Development District.

The Urban County Council voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that Mayor Jim Gray not sign an interlocal agreement with the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board, a 17-county board that receives about $8 million in federal Workforce Investment Act funds to help job-seekers. The Bluegrass ADD serves as fiscal agent for the board.

Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government is not the first entity to distance itself from a regional workforce investment board. Warren County Fiscal Court voted last week to cut ties with its workforce investment board, which linked to the Barren River Development District. Warren County intends to set up its own nonprofit.

There was little discussion before Thursday's unanimous vote.

Council member Chris Ford said the city has been dissatisfied with the board and its programs for years. Ford, who represents the 1st District, which has pockets of unemployment as high as 20 percent, said Lexington's employment needs are unique. He made the motion to cut ties with the group.

"Since our local Mayor's Training Center was shuttered in 2007, the Bluegrass ADD has been ineffective in meaningfully addressing the complexities of employment and training needs for urban, inner-city communities," Ford said. "As such, I contend Lexington's fair share of federal Workforce Investment Act funding is not being directed to areas of highest and most urgent need."

Kevin Atkins, chief development officer for the city, said the city would notify the investment Board about its decision not to sign the interlocal agreement.

"Concurrently, we will notify the governor's office of our intent. We have also asked for clarification from the U.S. Department of Labor on the exact next steps needed to take this action," Atkins said.

Cathy Lindsey, spokeswoman for the state Education and Workforce Cabinet, said Lexington would have to get permission from Gov. Steve Beshear and the Kentucky Workforce Investment Board. Under current law, the other counties also would also have to agree to the new designation. However, the federal workforce investment law is being overhauled, and the new law will be in effect in July, Lindsey said.

"We recommend that these changes not be made while we're getting ready to make a big change," she said. "But it's a local issue, and we can only give guidance."

Atkins and Darryl Smith, chairman of the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board, said the new law would have different standards for federal workforce investment areas and how they are created.

If Lexington becomes its own workforce investment area, it will have until July to start the program, city officials said Thursday.

Atkins said the city was looking at the types of job-training programs it could start. The city has never said that it would bring back the Mayor's Training Center.

When it was closed in 2007, the city said it would save $1.3 million a year. The move came after the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board decided not to send $430,000 in workforce development funds to the center because it thought services could be offered through the state or other programs.

Atkins said Fayette County residents would continue to receive services through the Bluegrass Workforce Investment Board until July.

"The funding is not in jeopardy," he said.

David Duttlinger, executive director of the Bluegrass ADD, said that if Lexington didn't sign a new interlocal agreement, the old one would remain in place., adding that Bluegrass ADD would continue to serve citizens in the 17-county region "as we've already been doing. We're not closing down anything."