Under new policy, Douglas County could soon pay people with ‘lived experience’ to work with its advisory boards

photo by: Journal-World

The west side of the Douglas County Courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., is pictured on Sept. 23, 2021.

When people who have firsthand experience with homelessness, criminal justice issues and more share their perspectives with Douglas County’s advisory boards, they could soon get paid $25 or $50 per meeting by the county for their input.

That’s according to a new policy that county commissioners unanimously approved at their meeting on Wednesday. The policy spells out guidelines for compensating people with “lived experience” who participate in the work done by certain county boards and committees — in other words, people with personal experience with the issues who give input on the county’s policies.

Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur told the commission that the idea was to foster input from people directly affected by the issues “in a way that meets folks where they are — and compensates them for their time and expertise.”

For those who qualify, the policy would pay $25 per meeting for participating once a month or less in board meetings and $50 per meeting for actually serving on a board, and it would cap the payments per person at $599 per year, because that’s the threshold above which people would be required to report it on their taxes.

Nobody on the commission disagreed with the amount of the payments, but there was a lot more discussion on who was eligible and what types of commitments would be expected.

Right now, Jolicoeur said the policy was designed to apply to four specific committees — the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, the Douglas County Food Policy Council, Entrepreneurship Community-E3 Cities and the Housing and the Homeless Stakeholder Group. And while she said it could grow to include other boards in the future, Jolicoeur also said that “these are the ones we (thought) we could immediately apply to now.”

There weren’t many concrete examples shared at the meeting of what kinds of stakeholders might be eligible, but Jolicoeur said the policy was designed to “be reflective of community members or stakeholders that face barriers” to contributing to the county’s policy decisions.

One thing Commission Chair Patrick Kelly said was that the payments would be for more than just showing up at a meeting and speaking.

“The compensation isn’t just for the meeting,” he said. “There is also prep work that needs to be done prior to the meeting. So this isn’t like an hourly payment. This is for all the prep work, all the time they spent in the community listening to others.”

And Commissioner Shannon Reid said the $50 payment was “fair in my mind” for “occasional, periodic engagement, usually in a group roundtable full of other people who are being paid to be there as part of their professional jobs.”

While paying people for their “lived experience” may be a new idea in Douglas County, working to incorporate more people with “lived experience” in the county’s policy-making isn’t. Jolicoeur said community members with firsthand experience provided “real direct feedback” during listening sessions on housing and homelessness earlier this year, and that there has already been “a designated spot on the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for a good amount of time for an individual with ‘lived experience’ to be one of the members of that council.”

Now that the policy is approved, the next step will be to “come up with a plan for where we will begin to integrate folks with lived experience into our organizational structure,” Jolicoeur said, “whether that’s having one or two people on the different focus areas or an advisory group.”

In other business, the commission:

• Unanimously approved a tax incentives request for an affordable senior housing project proposed for downtown Lawrence.

Developer Tony Krsnich is seeking a 15-year, 95% tax rebate under the city’s Neighborhood Revitalization Area program for the project, which would build 48 rent-controlled affordable housing units for people 55 and older at 1000 New Hampshire St.

The request received a preliminary approval from the City Commission on Sept. 5. Next, it will go to the Lawrence school board for a vote, and if it’s approved there it will return to the City Commission for final approval.

• Unanimously approved a conditional use permit for equipment storage at 1805 East 200 Road, southwest of Lecompton. The property owners are seeking to use the property to store mowing equipment for a landscaping business, Right Way Solutions.


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