Urban Council eyes help for families with rent, utilities; plan needed first

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Lexington could provide as much as $1.9 million in rent, utility and even food assistance to people facing eviction and other crisis related to the coronavirus under a proposal given support Tuesday by the Urban County Council.

But the city must first develop a plan for doling out the money, which would come from more than $15 million in federal CARES ACT funding, much of which would go back into the city’s surplus funds which were raided to fund the current budget which started July 1.

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In an expansive meeting that covered more than four hours, Mayor Linda Gorton recommended a plan for applying for $15,628,924 in eligible public safety payroll expenses in the second round of reimbursement from federal coronavirus-related funding. The city is eligible for $25 million in reimbursement and already has been approved for $9.3 million.

About $8.3 million already has been received.

But the next round is the largest and Gorton recommended a plan that included investing in city residents and replenishing funds the Urban Council raided in June when it took $20 million from the economic contingency fund and $9.4 million from the budget stabilization fund to supplement the current $379 million budget that took effect July 1.

The biggest portions of Gorton’s suggestion are $2.225 million in direct reimbursement to city budgets for expenses related to having employees work from home — everything from laptops to internet connections, and $3 million for a household assistance program to help families with rent and other living expenses.

Of the $6.475 million recommendation, $500,000 also would go to homeless assistance programs and $450,000 would go toward restoring he building Fifth and Chestnut that once was home to one of the only Black pharmacies in the city and remains a potential cornerstone of that neighborhood.

Hidden in the plan also is $50,000 for a consultant to help the city establish an independent police after-action citizen-review committee.

That committee is one of the major demands of citizen groups protesting for police reforms and racial equality. Gorton has promised such a committee.

Of the rest of the roughly $15 million, $7 million would got back into the economic contingency fund and $2,153,924 would go to the budget stabilization fund.

In the end, the Council agreed to set aside $1.9 million now toward the household assistance program but only after a plan is in place. That gives the city both a financial stake and an incentive to get started on a plan, which would be modeled in ways after the $2.5 million small business stimulus plan that was included in the current budget and has so far been a success.

The rest of the proposal, along with other potential budget priorities such as road paving and public safety capital demands will be considered by the Finance and Budget Committee starting when it meets later this month.