I recently appeared before the Lincoln City Council – on behalf of LIBA – to talk about the city budget. Below is a summary of my comments.
The Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA) applauds the Mayor’s office and City Council for not raising the property tax levy or wheel taxes in the new budget. While holding the line on the levy, the city will still receive and spend $7.3 million more than it did last year. This allows the City to increase services and keep Lincoln a city on the move.
With this in mind, LIBA endorses three themes for this coming two year budget cycle.
1. Dedicate less spending towards administration and more towards workers who actually provide the services:
a. Parks and Rec – Rather than promoting an executive secretary at an annual cost of $17,400; and spending $15,000 to co-fund a new Public Information Specialist, the Parks and Recreation department should invest in workers who take care of landscapes and parks.
b. Citizen Information Center – It’s unwise for Lincoln to be adding a Public Information Specialist while its facilities are neglected. The City has about 36 concrete tennis court surfaces that are essentially unplayable (Henry Park, Densmore Park, and others), basketball rims without nets, new green spaces with high weeds, and parks with high grass. If Lincoln invests in its facilities public perception will take care of itself. Eliminating this position from the CIC budget will save $20,000.
c. Personnel Costs – Part of the city’s problem is our personnel costs. In 2011-12 City personnel costs averaged $80,893 per employee.i In 2015-16 City personnel costs are $94,070 per employee. ii
2. Wants versus needs:
a. Tax Increment Financing Fee – LIBA is concerned about the 1% TIF surcharge and about where the “extra” funds will be spent. The City Council has voted to take any surplus TIF funds and apply them to a problem property fund. LIBA would like to express frustration with this decision. For the past few months, city leaders have asked community groups to support a sales tax increase to fund roads, parks and sidewalk repair. These three items were identified as the highest “need” in Lincoln. If the funding shortfall for roads, parks and sidewalks is important enough to consider raising taxes, shouldn’t the City dedicate “extra” funds to these needs? Sending surplus dollars to anything other than roads, parks or sidewalks will only feed into the community skepticism about the real need to raise our sales tax.
b. Streets – Is a Median Maintenance Administrator really needed? The community seems to be in agreement that fixing our roads should be a priority. The Mayor even has a recent scientific poll showing that 89% of the people want the street to their home repaired.
c. Retirement Plans – LIBA believes that city leaders should propose a resolution to solve our $65 million dollar defined benefit retirement plan problem and move toward the very generous defined contribution plan that is offered to all other city employees. Otherwise, the City will always have an unpredictable retirement program and taxpayer liability.
a. Parks and Rec – LIBA supports Council Member Baird for eliminating the entrance fee for Pioneers Park Nature Center
b. Landfill – LIBA is concerned that the increased landfill fees will result in higher garbage service fees to Lincoln citizens. Has the City explored all alternatives? Do we need retain a Senior Policy Aide for Sustainability? Lincoln needs to control costs to avoid this tax increase.
(Note)The $2 increase in Occupation Tax could generate $300,000 to $900,000 and will fund “recycling education.” In September of 2013 the city increased garbage fees 19% and this would be another 16% increase, or a total of 35% since last year!
c. Landscape compliance fee – LIBA requested more information about this fee including the dollar amount of the fee to be charged to developers. No information has been provided, therefore, LIBA requests elimination of this fee.
In closing, LIBA would like to remind the City that Lincoln weathered the recession by shrinking city government: the Mayor eliminated 139 city positions. There is no reason to abandon this successful formula. Today Lincoln thrives – our city is growing and highly rated by many magazines and web sites. Let’s sustain the momentum by exercising caution when adding government positions.
i City of Lincoln Biennial Operating Budget 2014-2016; All Tax Funds Expenditures By Category; p.29
ii City of Lincoln Biennial Operating Budget 2014-2016; All Tax Funds Expenditures By Category; p.29
by Coby Mach, President & CEO
Lincoln Independent Business Association