• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Versailles mayor plans list for needy

On Aug. 8, Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott was with his mother when she underwent knee replacement surgery, and while she was recuperating, he had a little extra time on his hands. Eight days later, there was an unusual agenda item on the docket for the Aug. 16 meeting of the Versailles City Council: "Discussion of services for those in need." After taking office in July of 2013, Traugott's self-assigned homework included examining the difference in income and poverty levels in Versailles and the rest of the county. The most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau paints a picture that may surprise those who know Woodford County as one of the richest in the state: Outside of Versailles, including Midway, the per capita income was $32,930. In Versailles, it was $24,652 - 25 percent lower. Outside of Versailles, the poverty rate was 6.8 percent. In Versailles, it was 19.2 percent - almost three times higher. Traugott said he knew there were pockets of poverty in his hometown, but was surprised at the disparity between Versailles and the rest of the county. As a mayor who doesn't have a receptionist, he fields the occasional calls from people who need assistance but aren't sure where to turn. "People will call wanting help, wanting at least a direction of where to go. People who are in need, who are legitimately in need, I believe, and I don't know where to direct them," Traugott said. "We have a hodgepodge of resource providers available . and the ones I know about do a great job. The problem is, I don't know about eligibility, I don't know what exactly they (the providers) do ." He mentioned the problem to city council members, pointing out that many of the calls he received were from people who are employed. "And there's a lot of the working poor - people who go to work every day who earn a low wage who are unable to really do anything more than subsistence, and should something happen - a medical bill or something - it really messes, when you're dollar-for-dollar on your budget, it messes you up," Traugott said later. On Aug. 16, Traugott made his case to the entire council. "You see the second or third-wealthiest county in the state, you imagine poverty is not common here, when in fact, out of 3,000 people in Woodford County living under the poverty level, 1,700-plus of them live right in this three-square acre piece of God's country (Versailles) we inhabit," Traugott said. Traugott's proposal was to build a website listing the wide variety of public (local, state and federal) and private help available to the needy. The site could be accessed through the city's website (and, with permission from county and Midway city leaders, those websites, too). "People call, they'll have needs, whether they'll be utility needs, rent needs, . drug abuse and people seeking help for that, all sorts of social services people need, and I'm not familiar with a centralized way to share who does what .," Traugott told the council. Traugott had invited recently retired clinical social worker Rita Soper to speak at the council meeting. "To my knowledge, there isn't a centralized place," Soper said. "Folks do get confused, because everybody has their own little pocket of services that they can provide, and reasons they're mandated to do something and the reasons they cannot. People used to call us at Bluegrass.org all the time, wanting us to do things that we (couldn't) . So I think it would be a wonderful idea." Chris Johnson, an attorney with the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC), said KLC officials don't know of any city in the state with such an offering and called it "a fantastic resource." The proposal was met with general approval from the council, with council member Ken Kerkhoff saying, "I think it's a great idea. Who would you suggest coordinate it?" He and other city employees would, Traugott said, if the council approves the cost of purchasing a domain name and maintaining the website. By Monday, Traugott said his list of groups that help the needy was at 45 - and climbing. He said he'd ask for approval from the many churches and other private groups that do such work before including them on the list. "I would imagine most would be willing to participate - eager to participate," Traugott said. He hopes to unveil the by-then much larger list at a "Community Needs Forum" sponsored by the Bluegrass Community Action on Sept. 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Woodford Senior Citizens Center. After the input from that meeting, with council approval, the site could be operational by mid-October, Traugott said. "I'm disappointed with myself, that it's taken me this long to get this initiative going. Anybody who can empathize ought to . say, 'What can I do to make this person's life better, to make this group of people's lives better?'" he said. If the site works as Traugott and others hopes it will, Woodford County residents presently unsure of where to turn for help may never realize the debt they owe to a woman who needed a new knee - and her son.

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