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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.

LIBA and the city administration continue their battle over the old Pershing Auditorium and the downtown library.

The city library board would like to turn the now-vacant Pershing Center into a new downtown library. That’s not new.

The Lincoln Independent Business Association board dislikes the idea of morphing and wants the Pershing block sold to private business and put back on the tax rolls. That's not new either.

In a news release on Tuesday, LIBA points out that the city is getting more serious about a new downtown library at the Pershing site.

What's new is that the proposed Capital Improvement Program, an official wish list of major construction projects, lists using the site for a new downtown library for the first time.

That mention in this official document implies the administration of Mayor Chris Beutler doesn’t object to the idea of using Pershing and likely favors it.

And timing for starting the project has moved from fiscal year 2019-20 to 2017-18.

That's in the next two-year budget. And any project in the two-year budget cycle is more likely to move ahead.

The cost for a new downtown library has grown, from about $42 million in the previous Capital Improvement Program to $50 million in this proposal, LIBA points out.

That's $42 million from a general obligation bond, which must be approved by voters, and $8 million in donations.

In addition to opposing the use of the Pershing site for a library, LIBA is consistently leery of expanding the city’s debt.

Coby Mach, president and CEO of LIBA, points to the other bond issues proposed in the latest version of the six-year Capital Improvement Program, spanning 2016 to 2022.

The plan includes about $77 million in potential bonds -- more than $20 million for fire department projects, almost $18 million for police department projects, $13 million for parks and recreation, $20 million for future stormwater needs and $6 million for updates to branch libraries, in addition to the $42 million for the downtown library.

The six-year Capital Improvement Program is always heavy on yearning. It gives residents an idea of what city departments would like to do.

What gets done depends on the economy,  tax receipts and lots of other factors, including support from fans of projects and objections from groups like LIBA.

There will be a public hearing on the proposed Capital Improvement Program before the Lincoln/Lancaster County Planning Commission at 1 p.m. on May 25.

One ticket for every six residents

City police wrote almost 44,000 tickets last year, for a variety of crimes, from traffic citations to assaults and felonies.

About 80 percent of the tickets went to people with a Lincoln address.

Many of the tickets listed more than one offense. For example a speeding charge and seatbelt violation will go on one ticket. Or someone may get a drug-related charge and an assault on the same ticket.

Last year city police wrote citations for about 44,000 individual traffic violations, another 19,000 misdemeanor offenses and around 3,500 felony offenses.

Wandering pets brought to shelter

Each year the city’s animal control staff brings about 3,000 wayward or homeless pets to the Capital Humane Society for temporary shelter.

That’s mostly dogs and cats, though it also includes birds, reptiles, livestock and fish.

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Around half the dog owners (a high of 61 percent in fiscal year 2014-15) eventually claim their pet. Generally around 10 percent of the cats get claimed, based on city statistics.

The city taxpayers pick up the tab for the animals whose owners do not claim them. That cost is expected to run around $483,434 next year, based on the recently approved contract with the local humane society.

Next year’s contract cost is about $40,000 less than this year’s, pointed out Judy Halstead, director of the city-county Department of Health.

The city also spends about $2.1 million a year on animal control staff equipment and members who pick up live and dead animals, handle licensing and investigate animal complaints. That is funded through licensing and other fees.

The Capital Humane Society was the only bidder on the four-year contract, with a four-year extension option.

Police to get raise retroactively

City police will be getting a retroactive raise -- 3 percent for officers and 2.5 percent for sergeants.

Now, base police pay without overtime or other incentives ranges from $47,812 for a beginning officer to $78,979 a year for a veteran sergeant.

The city police union and city negotiators agreed to the raise as the only change in the contract, which covers the current fiscal year that began Sept. 1. It is the same raise they received for the 2014-15 fiscal year.

The six city unions are just beginning negotiations with the city for the next two-year budget period, and firefighters have not yet settled for the current fiscal year.

These contracts play a major role in city finances. Wages and benefits for employees make up about 70 percent of the expenses for tax-supported city departments.

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

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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