Funding the Future: Lexington’s Dilemma of Parks Versus People

During a legislative luncheon in Frankfort on February 7, First District Councilmember Tayna Fogle made a poignant observation about the priorities of Lexington city leaders. “We have parks, dog parks, everything going on,” she remarked while speaking on the topic of homelessness, “but people are more important.”

It may seem incongruous to bring up parks when speaking on homelessness, yet, to some, the issues are deeply intertwined. Councilmember Fogle’s remarks touch on a growing tension within the city: the stark divergence in the priorities of city leaders and the urgent social needs of its working class. Her observations reflect an undercurrent of frustration that, though seldom acknowledged publicly, is increasingly resonating with her constituents.

Tayna Fogle
First District Councilmember Tayna Fogle speaks at a press conference following the “See Me, Hear Me, Know Me” legislative luncheon in Frankfort on February 7. (The Lexington Times)

So far this school year, Fayette County schools’ McKinney-Vento program has identified a staggering 770 children experiencing homelessness. In response, the “Give Kids a Home Fund” was established in 2023 to cover essential move-in costs for these families, including first month’s rent and security deposits. Despite noble efforts, the fund has only managed to raise approximately $70,000 from private donations—a figure that pales in comparison to the $39 million funneled into the development of Lexington’s Town Branch Park, a project flush with local philanthropic dollars.

This juxtaposition starkly illustrates the city’s skewed priorities. As construction on the park progresses, the Salvation Army shelter on West Main Street—the only facility in town that accommodates families—regularly has to turn away those in dire need.

From the rear windows of the overcrowded shelter one can see the heavy equipment and truckloads of material staged for the burgeoning park’s construction, a bitter reminder of the city’s distorted allocation of resources and attention.

Town Branch Park
The view of Town Branch Park from the Salvation Army Shelter, the only shelter in Lexington that accepts families. On the day the photo was taken, the shelter was full. (The Lexington Times)

Recently, Councilmember Fogle proposed allocating $9 million to the Fayette Education Foundation for a new family shelter during the city’s budget reconciliation. However, the council opted instead for a more passive approach, earmarking $200,000 for a “study” of the matter, the results of which will not be available until May 2025. Consequently, as city budgets are typically proposed in early spring, any potential funding for a new shelter may not materialize until the fiscal year 2027 budget. This delay underscores a troubling trend within the city’s governance: an over-eagerness to invest in aesthetically pleasing, tourist-attracting projects while neglecting the immediate needs of its most innocent, vulnerable residents.

The findings of the shelter study will not be presented until May 2025, which may be too late for a shelter to be included in the Fiscal Year 2026 city budget. (LFUCG)

The disparity in funding allocation raises critical questions about the values and vision guiding Lexington’s development and philanthropy. While parks and recreational areas are undeniably valuable for community well-being and city appeal, the urgent necessity of providing stable housing for homeless children cannot be overstated. This issue transcends mere policy debates; it is a matter of human compassion and social justice. Ensuring every child has a safe place to call home should be an incontestable priority, reflecting a community’s moral and ethical stance.

Lexington finds itself at a crossroads, with an opportunity to redefine its priorities and commitments. The contrast between the lavish investment in Town Branch Park and the modest fund to house homeless children illuminates a broader societal issue: the often-overlooked plight of those living on the margins.

It is not too late for Lexington to realign its priorities. The city must earmark money now for a new family shelter. If funding for the new shelter is not included in the Mayor’s proposed Fiscal Year 2025 budget, the Urban County Council should amend that budget to include it. By doing so, we can ensure that construction on the new shelter can begin as soon as the feasibility study is complete.

Investing in shelters and affordable housing initiatives should be seen as equally vital to the city’s growth and prosperity as parks and cultural projects. The utilization of public funds, which are the collective property of the community, demands a conscientious approach, especially in a city as resource-rich as Lexington. Sometimes our leaders need to be reminded, “people are more important”.

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Paul Oliva is the Lexington Times Editor Emeritus. He grew up in Lexington.