City Council members who refuse to accept a 1 percent budget growth factor and who vote against annexations are anti-growth, Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said during a Thursday morning news conference.
“During my time in office, a short-sighted and anti-growth minority of the City Council has chosen to restrict the city’s budget authority and impose a barrier to growth,” said Beutler, naming the council's three Republican members, Jon Camp, Roy Christensen and Cyndi Lamm.
“This anti-growth position is hard to understand,” the mayor said, pointing out that most other cities across the state routinely approve giving themselves authority to grow their budgets by an extra 1 percent, and the GOP-dominated Lancaster County Board has approved a similar measure every year since 2003.
Lincoln council members responded that they are not anti-growth.
"It is a mistake to equate growth in city spending with growth of the city," Christensen said. "It’s businesses and entrepreneurs and people who live and work in the city who create growth."
Christensen said he was also disappointed in the mayor’s tone: “I have tried to not assign motive to other people’s actions, and I would appreciate the same in return."
Lamm said her positions are not anti-growth, but aimed at controlling government spending.
"The city is facing a budget problem because of a failure in leadership and a failure to build consensus over the budget during the last seven or eight years," Lamm said.
She told the administration last spring she probably would vote to increase the city's budget lid by an extra 1 percent if the administration did not raise the actual budget, she said. But the Beutler budget was $1 million higher to pay for additional police officers and fire equipment.
"We are fiscally responsible city council members," Camp said in response to the mayor's comments. And he pointed out that the county board has not spent much, if any, of that additional 1 percent authority, while the city has almost used up its previously accumulated authority.
In his Thursday message, Beutler said city spending provides services needed for growth.
Restraining city spending on operations, through the budget lid, means the city cannot hire more police officers and firefighters, and the limitation handicaps maintenance efforts on roads and parks.
Beutler has been talking about the growth issue for several weeks, hoping to get six of the seven City Council members to approve expanding the city’s budget lid by an extra 1 percent for the next two-year budget. Right now, it doesn’t appear he could secure that support.
That additional 1 percent authority “is the difference between reasonable growth and unacceptable stagnation,” Beutler said.
Under state-imposed lids, the city can spend on capital projects — new roads, park shelters, basketball courts and trees, for example — but has limited room to grow its operational expenses, such as maintenance and staffing, Beutler explained.
He expanded his comments Thursday to include an annexation vote Monday, where the three Republican council members voted against annexing property at the northeast corner of 40th Street and Yankee Hill Road.
The annexation, which passed on a 4-3 vote down partisan lines, was for land that is surrounded on three sides by the city, Beutler noted.
Annexations that grow the city’s tax base should not be contentious, since they reduce the tax burden on current residents, Beutler said: “It is an issue of fundamental fairness."
The annexation included a small farm whose owner said the higher taxes he will pay as a city resident would drive him out of business.
Lamm said her vote on that one annexation related to the farmer's situation.
"He is being told he must sell his land," she said. "I voted against annexing one man's property."
And Camp said that vote was about "one house, a barn and a golf course," not about annexation policy itself.
Beutler said the annexations bring in properties that benefit from city services but do not pay city property taxes to help maintain those services.
Over the past year, it has become increasingly clear that growth is not valued by some members of the City Council, he said.
“Voting against annexations, unwisely constraining our budget authority and imposing harsh restrictions on revenues strangle growth,” Beutler said. "These anti-growth positions threaten the city’s future."