Lincoln City Council members have proposed changes to the mayor's budget plan that range from reducing the city levy by a half-cent to spending additional money for new firetrucks and engines and police body cameras.
Council members, asked to hand in their proposals by Wednesday, offered two separate plans. One is from Cyndi Lamm, representing ideas from the three Republicans on the council, and one is from Leirion Gaylor Baird, with buy-in from the four Democrats.
Council members will discuss the ideas Thursday and will vote on tentative changes to the mayor’s two-year budget plan before Monday's council meeting.
Lamm recommends reducing the city’s property tax rate by a half-cent, which will save the owner of the average $184,200 home about $9.12 in property taxes.
She is also suggesting the city delay the project to rebuild 14th Street intersections with Old Cheney Road and Warlick Boulevard and redirect money earmarked for it to other street projects over the next five years.
"We are in a unique position because of the increased property valuations to lower our tax rate if we simply work together and consider proper priorities that keep the taxpayer's bottom line in mind," Lamm said.
She also pointed out the city is expected to grow by about 4 percent, yet the proposed budget grows spending by nearly 6 percent.
"That is not sustainable, it is not fiscally responsible, and we are in a position to limit spending to our growth. We should do exactly that," she said.
Lamm said the city should delay the 14th and Warlick roundabout project until after the South Beltway is built to see if the city needs that new intersection.
Studies indicate the beltway would reduce traffic at 14th and Warlick, she said.
Lamm would use that money — $7.2 million the first year and $5 million to $7 million in future years — for other street projects.
Gaylor Baird recommends reducing the city’s cash reserve fund by about $4.9 million over the two years and using that money for several one-time spending projects.
Some of the money would be used to replace about six firetrucks or engines ($2.54 million), plus make repairs and modifications to older fire stations ($1 million).
Twelve of the city's 17 fire engines and two of five firetrucks need immediate replacement, she said.
One truck, purchased from the Hickman Rural Fire Department, is 21 years old. "It’s old enough to drink but is in better condition than a lot of our city’s front-line apparatus," she said.
The city's older fire stations, some with peeling linoleum and floor-to-ceiling cracks, also need repair, she said.
Many were built before women began being hired and at least one has a single communal sleeping area with makeshift partitions, she said.
Some of the cash reserve fund money would also be used to buy six new cruisers for the six additional police officers proposed in Mayor Chris Beutler's budget and to purchase 10 body cameras ($370,000).
About $1 million would be set aside for a challenge grant program that would be coupled with donations and used to undertake renovation projects that are now set for bond issue votes.
For example, Auld Pavilion and the Teacher’s Fountain near the Children's Zoo both need work and are listed for potential bond issues, Gaylor Baird said.
The challenge grant would leverage limited public resources and work with generous community members to get some of these things done without raising taxes through general obligation bonds, she said.
Gaylor Baird also proposes being less conservative in keno revenue projections, which would allow increased spending for libraries, human services, and parks and recreation maintenance.
She would also send $50,000 to The Bridge Behavioral Health to help make up for the loss of state funds for the civil protective custody detox program. That money would come from the City Council budget, money proposed for a second City Council staffer, who has not been hired.
Lamm's plan would reduce proposed fee increases in Beutler's two-year budget plan to no more than 3 percent.
It suggests reducing spending, to cover the half-cent drop in the property tax rate, through any combination of several ideas:
* Reduce future raises for nonunion employees, particularly mayor appointees.
* Limit hiring of new staff, funded by the general fund, except in public safety and transportation.
* Reduce department budget growth to 4 percent, except for police and fire.
* Sell Pershing Center, thus saving about $100,000 a year in maintenance costs.