City poor funding civil rights agency

In this tough economic climate, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government has to make some difficult decisions about where it will spend the limited funds available in this year's austere budget.

To keep the city out of debt, Mayor Jim Gray proposed to shut down two underutilized city pools, cut Monday hours at every pool, close Meadowbrook Golf Course, cut the funding of every satellite agency like the Human Rights Commission by at least 10 percent, suspend his own pay for six months, decrease spending on public safety, abolish more than 200 vacant positions and lay off 28 employees.

Out of all of those budget-cutting measures, some council members and citizens are putting up a fight over getting in a few extra holes on the back 9 or a few extra laps in the pool.

While the commission agrees that recreation is an important part of life, we would choose freedom from discrimination over a dip in the pool any day.

It might seem a bit dramatic, but these are the kinds of decisions we must make when the funds are so tight. Although the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission appears as a line-item in the satellite agency section, it is an organization that is very important to Lexington's quality of life.

Since 1974, when it was established in the merged government charter, the commission has been charged with protecting all Fayette County residents from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

These services are offered free of charge for anyone who feels that they have been a victim of discrimination.

This year, the commission is facing a deep cut to its budget for the third year in a row. If some of our council members think we can take $50,000 extra to keep pools open, why don't they think we have an extra $20,000 to continue protecting our community from discrimination?

Aside from safeguarding our community, the commission is also an important source of federal funding for the city.

Because it exists as an agency to monitor and ensure provision of fair and equal housing in Lexington, the commission is eligible to receive millions of dollars from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

To continue receiving funds, the city must undergo an analysis by HUD to study our community's barriers to providing fair housing. In last year's analysis, HUD made it quite clear that one of the major impediments is the meager budget the city provides to the commission.

HUD has warned that continued substandard funding of the commission could lead to a loss of funding. Each year, the city must sign a certification which states it is taking measures to overcome the barriers noted in the analysis. Lexington is not keeping up its end of the bargain by continually cutting the budget since 2008.

Food and gas prices are a looming uncertainty. Raises are few and far between. Most citizens are feeling the pinch and spending their hard-earned money more wisely. We certainly want our elected officials to do the same with our tax dollars.

Tell our council members that freedom from discrimination in Lexington should be a priority over a few extra recreation facilities.