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Public Works and Utilities staff defended rising fees in water and wastewater services as a necessary part of a growing city, as the City Council looked at proposals to limit growth in all city fees to 3 percent.

Donna Garden, assistant director of Public Works and Utilities, said the proposed 5 percent fee increases for water and wastewater are necessary to build up funding for a future project that will be necessary when the city outgrows its water supply coming from the Platte River in Ashland. Lincoln is contemplating getting additional water from the Missouri River.

“Growth (in population) isn’t going to pay for a second water source,” said Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird.

The higher fees would also allow the city to use revenue bonds in the next few years to install the sewer system necessary for growth into the Stevens Creek area east of Lincoln, Garden said during Monday’s budget discussions.

Council members discussed two sets of proposed changes to Mayor Chris Beutler's budget plan — one from the four Democrats proposing some increased spending and one from the three Republicans proposing less spending — during a Thursday afternoon meeting.

The council is looking at two philosophically divergent proposals, said Roy Christensen, a Republican. “But they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive." There could be a blend of both proposals, he said.

The Republican plan calls for reducing the city property tax rate by a half-cent, limiting all fee increases to 3 percent and delaying a major traffic project at 14th Street and Warlick Boulevard and using that money, between $5 million and $7 million a year, for other city street projects.

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm, who authored the Republican plan, is recommending delaying the 14th and Warlick project until after the South Beltway is finished in 2023.

Lamm says studies indicate the South Beltway will relieve traffic in the area of southwest Lincoln where 14th Street intersects with Warlick and Old Cheney Road. 

But Lonnie Burklund, assistant director for Public Works and Utilities, says studies show traffic counts continuing to rise at that intersection, from about 74,520 cars in 2016 to 100,190 in 2045 at 14th and Old Cheney and 40,530 to 64,820 at Old Cheney and Warlick. 

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The Democrats' plan, offered by Gaylor Baird, would increase city spending using about $5 million in cash reserve funds and some additional keno revenue. Much of the money would be used to buy additional firetrucks and engines, and six new police cars for the new school resource officers.

The city would also create a $1 million challenge fund that would be combined with private donations to pay for park renovations, under the Democrats' plan.

The council will vote Monday on which changes they want to make in the mayor’s proposed budget. That budget plan will be discussed at a July 30 public hearing.

The council will make final decisions on the two-year budget in August.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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