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Charles Smith – 2020 Primary Questionnaire

Running for: 3rd District Council

Campaign Website: https://www.charlieforthe3rd.com/

1. What do you see as the single most important issue facing your district?

The economic downturn is of particular concern to the 3rd district because of the many downtown projects still to be completed. Once finished, downtown activities will become more diversified, much more inviting and will enrich the lives of all residents. The opening of these projects will breathe new life into the local economy, tourism will increase, downtown’s appeal will be renewed, Lexington will be energized and businesses reinvigorated. I support the completion of these projects.

What is your plan to address this issue?

Previous councils have struggled with making Lexington’s revenues less dependent on payroll taxes and net profit taxes on businesses. The pandemic gives us a chance to think about other options for the budget. Local sales tax on restaurant sales might be a future option. An increased city tax on insurance or raising the payroll tax have been mentioned. I have proposed a citizens’ fee to help cover the deficit in the short term, and to allow revenue for other projects in the future.

2. In recent years Lexington’s budget obligations have outpaced its ability to generate revenue. In the FY 20/21 budget, this has dramatically impacted everything from economic development to social services. What strategies do you recommend to address revenue shortages while balancing spending priorities?

There are great opportunities during these difficult days to rethink some of our ways of doing things and to come up with new ideas and solutions.

I propose levying a citizens’ fee that would be equally charged for each resident of Fayette County older than the age of 21. As an example, a universal $10 per month fee could raise close to $30 million.

The increased revenue would aid in the current shortfall and, as the economy improves, be a way to fund some wish list items.

3. Lexington’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan encourages infill and redevelopment as Lexington’s main growth strategy. What specific implementation aspects of the Comprehensive Plan are working and what challenges need to be addressed?

I am an avid proponent of building up and not out.

I think the aspect of the Comprehensive Plan that’s working is its flexibility. I think, also, that’s one of the plan’s challenges. That conflict was evident at a recent zone-change hearing for an apartment building on Maxwell Street. A Herald-Leader editorial pointed out that the planning process costs time, money and creates confusion.

There’s no way to stop Lexington from becoming denser, but the increased density must be managed.

4. Lexington faces challenges across districts with regard to housing affordability, diversity and accessibility. What is the City’s role in addressing affordable housing and how would you recommend prioritizing policy change to address these challenges?

The city plays a huge role, along with other partners, in addressing affordable housing issues.

Throughout downtown there are acres of vacant property and parking lots. Many of these are owned by the city. The city needs to encourage building on these underutilized properties. And, of those projects that include housing, a certain percentage should be affordable housing.

Policy changes should be prioritized with the help of those community housing partners to reach the most vulnerable first.

5. The impact of COVID-19 on local businesses and non-profits will be significant and long lasting. What will you do as a council member to support their recovery and foster their resilience?

The impact of the virus could be a catalyst to change government. A recent plan to allow restaurants to use more sidewalk space, and even portions of the roadway, to create social distancing seating for their customers is a great idea. So is the mayor’s recently convened COVID-19 response committee designed to create a plan for reopening Lexington. The city needs to continue this kind of work by partnering with Commerce Lexington, non-profit executives and others to mobilize our resources.

6. Over half of the city budget’s General Fund is allocated to public safety, yet those needs are different in each district. How will you address the specific public safety needs of your district while ensuring that those services are responsive to and effective for the community as a whole?

The 3rd district includes downtown, UK, and many unique neighborhoods.

Despite that, the specific safety needs of the 3rd district are not that different from the community as a whole – except for an occasional Final Four or large downtown event.

Public safety personnel seem to be very responsive and proactive with their outreach into all of the County. Programs are in place to target specific needs within our community such as neighborhood policing units and outreach programs in our schools.

7. Revenue shortfalls have made it difficult for the city to continue supporting external social resource agencies at a time when they are needed most. What specific city-level policies do you support to ensure that every resident has access to a basic quality of life?

The city needs more stable revenue sources.

I recently read a report that says disasters can bring about growth of goodwill and community spirit. The city needs to tap into that sentiment and create ideas that will be beneficial to those underserved in next year’s budget.

Ensuring that every resident has access to a basic quality of life is the on-going work of the city.

Foundations and private philanthropists should be called upon to step up until Lexington can get the economy back to normal.

8. Lexington’s tax revenue base is dependent on a thriving and sustainable local economy. What are your top three priorities for helping the city promote and support economic development?

There are many on-going projects that will update and enhance downtown. They need to be completed for us to reach our potential. Other priorities include better signage, an improved transportation system that will reduce our carbon footprint and tourism promotions to attract out of town visitors.

Since the LFUCG – UK land swap, Coldstream Research Park is capable of generating lots of good paying jobs. Collaboration between the city and UK is important to attracting those jobs to Lexington.

9. In light of the COVID-19 crisis and new voting regulations, what can you do as a council member to improve voting access, education, and security?

Kentucky law mandates what takes place with voting regulations: the governor’s new executive order set the guidelines for June’s primary. As a council member, I would follow those regulations, ensuring that voting access, education and security are a priority.

The Fayette County Board of Elections does a good job of running our elections.

And I support organizations such as the League of Women Voters of Lexington that advocate for voting rights and encourage informed participation by voters.

10. The agricultural sector has a $2.3B economic impact on Fayette County, accounting for over $8.5M of the city’s payroll revenue. It is poised to grow with the support of Mayor Gorton’s Administration for making Fayette County a center for ag-tech. As a councilmember, what are your priorities for the agriculture and
food system economy?

At the 2019 ONE: Alltech Ideas Conference, speakers discussed Lexington’s assets that make it ideal for an ag-tech center. My priorities for the agriculture and food-system economy include diversity and a willingness to innovate.

The PDR program has been great for Lexington at both protecting land for agricultural purposes, but also helping to make Lexington a tourist destination. UK’s decision to use more locally sourced food for its dining service is a great example of what can be happen.

11. Well-planned infrastructure strengthens communities, boosts local economies, expands opportunity, and promotes equitable development. What policies would you support to achieve a more accessible, efficient, and sustainable transportation system in Lexington and the Bluegrass region?

Imagine Nicholasville Road suggests we could try an express bus service from Brannon Crossing to downtown. I would like for Lexington to try that for six months to see if it would increase ridership and be economically feasible.

With the anticipated completion of many downtown projects, Lexington is poised to take advantage of its central location and the unique landscape it has to offer.

A thriving convenient and affordable mass transit system would only augment Lexington as a destination.

12. Meaningful public participation is vital to a responsive local government. What are three innovative approaches that you would advocate for to make government processes more accessible, equitable, and transparent?

I have proposed a neighborhood resource center which would help level the playing field when development plans involve changes within a neighborhood.

It would be staffed by city employees and services would include: printing of development plans and zoning maps and staff who are able to assist neighborhood associations with questions about zoning, historic preservation and code enforcement, etc.

A more accessible government center would give more people a feeling of ownership in the LFUCG.