Douglas County commissioners on Wednesday approved a policy for county staff to pay people who have lived experience for their time and work on boards.
“The policy is a mechanism that we needed to have in place to operationalize what this looks like in a more authentic way; to address the barriers that individuals face in participating in policy and budget decisions, opportunities for the design and development of programs and services,” Assistant County Administrator Jill Jolicoeur told commissioners during their Wednesday meeting.
County staff members want to seek input from people who are experiencing homelessness, in particular, and the new policy is in hopes of addressing barriers that prevent people from participating in listening sessions and work group meetings.
Jolicoeur said the discussion of paying people with lived experience is not new, and that it was part of a recommendation from a homelessness needs assessment the county received in 2022. She said the best example she had was that while she was working on the strategic plan to address the local homelessness and housing crisis, the county had direct feedback in listening sessions in the springtime, “compelling us to engage our individuals with lived experience,” she said.
“We’d like to be able to do that in a way that meets folks where they are, compensates them for their time and their expertise, and recognizes what is at times an emotional and traumatic experience for them to discuss with us what they’ve experienced,” she said.
Commissioners were receptive of the policy, which would allow payments of $25 for participation in a meeting, or $50 per meeting for people who are serving on a board. Nonmonetary compensation — such as food, transportation vouchers or parking vouchers — would also be allowed, but it all must be tracked, and the maximum an individual can be paid in a calendar year will be $599. People will need to opt in if they want to receive payments, and people will be able to opt out, too, Jolicoeur said.
“I recognize that on one hand, it feels like a privilege to serve on a committee and speak into your community,” Commissioner Karen Willey said. “It’s also that it’s very much based on privilege, who gets to be there and speak into your community, because of just time availability and other barriers.”
Examples of some groups for which participants could be eligible for compensation would include the Housing and Homeless Stakeholder Group, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Douglas County Food Policy Council, and Entrepreneurship Community – E3 Cities.
Commissioner Shannon Reid said that $50 per hour in terms of a full-time job is significant, but she thought it was fair for periodic engagement, and she was excited about the policy.
“I was glad to see that it was not a small number and that we were not undervaluing what those positions bring to to our boards, and that we are trying to be more intentional about being accessible for more people in the community to really participate in their community government and shaping of policy,” Reid said.
Douglas County Commission Chair Patrick Kelly clarified that there’s more than just the hour or two spent in a meeting for people who commit to serve on boards, but also legwork and preparation ahead of meetings, plus other duties that arise as part of the commitment.
Willey said, too, that for people who don’t live close to the meeting location, a one-hour meeting can be a two-hour time commitment, and $50 is about what it would cost to pay a babysitter, and it was “not an excessive amount.”
County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said the payments will only be for people who are serving on a board specifically because of their lived experience. People who serve on a board as part of their employment who also happen to have lived experience, for instance, would not be eligible for payments.
County staff members will consider next steps. “We’ll come up with a plan for where we will begin to integrate folks with lived experience into our organizational structure,” Jolicoeur said.
Commissioners approved the policy on a 3-0 vote.
Commissioners also unanimously approved the county’s role in tax breaks for the New Hampshire Street Lofts, an affordable housing project for people ages 55 and up that is planned for a long-vacant lot at 1000 New Hampshire Street.
Sam Camp, economic development analyst for the City of Lawrence, said the county would receive $1,000 per year for staff members’ work to administer the tax incentives for this project and any others going forward, up from $500 that was approved with the last project that sought similar tax breaks.
Read more about the New Hampshire Street Lofts project in the articles at this link.