Lincoln City Council members at odds with each other and Mayor Chris Beutler over proposed reductions to the mayor’s budget aren’t likely to find a compromise by the time the council votes on the budget Monday night.
The council delayed a decision on the budget earlier this week after Councilman Roy Christensen, a Republican, proposed to cut spending by about $2 million and reduce the city property tax by 1 cent per $100 valuation.
Christensen, who met with the mayor’s chief of staff, Rick Hoppe, on Thursday, said he expects Monday’s vote on his proposal to fall along party lines, with the seven-member council’s three Democratic members voting against it and its four Republican members voting for it.
That would send the revised budget to Beutler for approval.
Should Christensen’s proposed cuts remain intact by the time the budget hits Beutler’s desk, Beutler could choose to veto it, forcing the council to reconsider it. However, the council then would need five affirmative votes to pass the budget over a mayoral veto.
“It’s been a very short and furious process,” Christensen said. “I’m looking forward to seeing it end.”
He said he has decided to restore several cuts he initially proposed after talking with department heads, including $116,000 to the Downtown Lincoln Association for operating costs and money for dental equipment for the Health Department. He also plans to restore funds to market the Lincoln air show and the USA Roller Sports National Championships.
Christensen said he built a $200,000 cushion into his proposed reductions to allow him to restore needed funds and still cut $1.8 million -- enough to achieve the 1 cent property tax reduction.
Christensen had cut money department heads had saved or hadn't spent from the 2014-15 fiscal year and that they had reallocated to the 2015-16 budget.
Some of the cuts were specific, like removing money for the Downtown Lincoln Association. But others were more general, like cutting the broad $7.9 million general fund reappropriation by more than 10 percent.
For example, the police department has about $3 million in unspent funds that will carry over.
Christensen’s plan did not remove the money Beutler has earmarked to buy six new fire trucks and engines to replace equipment that is 20 years old, and expensive to maintain.
Hoppe didn't respond Friday to request for comment from Beutler about Monday's vote.
Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird, a Democrat, said the budget restorations Christensen made this week prove that he failed to first talk to department heads affected by his proposed cuts.
“Those are changes that definitely need to be made,” she said of the budget restorations.
She said she is still concerned by Christensen’s unwillingness to identify ongoing budget reductions that would help the city reduce its budget by $1.8 million in future years.
“He’s proposing a package of one-time expense reductions,” she said. “That creates a structural deficit in the budget for future years.”
She said the $1.8 million in reductions may force the mayor and council to cut funding to valuable city programs -- like the city libraries or neighborhood swimming pools -- in future years in order to maintain those reductions.
The council adopted a two-year budget in August 2014. Beutler's plan makes modest changes to that budget for the second fiscal year, which begins Tuesday.
A failure to approve this year’s budget would only affect budget changes Beutler had proposed, but those changes include such items as funds for the N Street bikeway and for a project that would replace the bubbles at Woods Tennis Center.
Gaylor Baird said she doesn’t know yet how she’ll vote Monday but it likely will depend on Christensen’s final list of reductions.
“I want to wait and see what he does,” she said. “I don’t support a budget proposal that puts us in the hole for $1.8 million next year.”
She said she is offering her own proposed changes to the budget, as well, including setting aside more money for street repair and for the fire and police pension fund and making sure that city keno profits earmarked for the Parks and Recreation Department are used for park maintenance.
She compared Christensen’s reductions, amounting to about $15 of property tax relief for the owner of a $150,000 home, to the city buying each property owner a large pizza.
“I think that a lot of people would rather pass on their pizza and have their potholes filled and the pension and parks’ needs addressed,” she said.