A proposal to spend almost $5 million from Lincoln's cash reserve over the next two years, primarily for new police and fire vehicles and renovating old fire stations, is now part of the city’s tentative budget plan.
The council spent more than two hours reviewing and voting on potential changes to Mayor Chris Beutler’s two-year budget plan Monday afternoon.
The council, which has no staff for budget research, made no major changes to Beutler’s large tax-funded budget plan to spend about $205 million the first year of the biennium and $212 million the second year.
Its changes affect less than $6 million in funding over the two years.
The council, on a partisan 4-3 vote, rejected a proposal by Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm, a Republican, to reduce the city’s property-tax levy by a half-cent, a move that would save the owner of an average-priced home of roughly $182,400 about $9.12 a year.
The council rejected Lamm's proposal to delay construction of the Warlick Boulevard, 14th Street and Old Cheney Road intersection, an elevated roundabout, and use the money for other street projects.
It also rejected the suggestion of Councilman Jon Camp to put the almost $5 million in cash reserve funds into the fire/police pension fund, which still hasn’t recovered from the 2008 stock market crash.
The council, on divided votes, accepted most of the ideas offered by council member Leirion Gaylor Baird, a Democrat, with the four-member Democrat majority routinely supporting her suggestions.
The budget proposals included what appeared to be digs at the Democratic administration and at the council’s Republican minority.
Lamm’s proposal included freezing the salaries of department heads who received more than 3 percent raises during the current fiscal year. That money would be used to help offset the loss of revenue from the half-cent property-tax reduction.
Gaylor Baird’s plan included removing some of the money set aside in the council’s budget for a second staff person, a position Republicans believe is needed.
That new staff position was part of a compromise, negotiated by former council member Trent Fellers, on the recycling ordinance that banned cardboard from the landfill.
Republicans agreed to live with the cardboard ban and the administration agreed to fund a second council staff person.
That staff position has remained open while council members hired a replacement for a long-time secretary and debated the best way to fill the new position.
“Those (unspent) tax dollars are not serving anyone,” said Gaylor Baird, who proposed using $50,000 from the council staff budget to help pay for the city’s detox unit, run by The Bridge Behavioral Health.
The detox unit lost about $150,000 annually in state funding, and Lancaster County commissioners have tentatively agreed to pay $100,000 of that loss.
But Republicans argued the council needs the additional staff support.
“We need these dollars to do our job better," said Councilman Roy Christensen.
Councilman Carl Eskridge, a Democrat, is supportive of finding $50,000 to help the detox unit remain open. But he voted with Republicans, agreeing to keep the council position funding and honor the compromise.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for July 30, beginning at 2:30 p.m. The hearing will break at 6 p.m. and resume at 6:30 p.m. if there are people wanting to testify.
The council will vote on final changes to the budget at its Aug. 8 meeting.
The mayor’s plan will keep the city’s tax levy stable at 31.648 cents per $100 of assessed property valuation. But the city will be taking in more revenue because of growth in property values for tax purposes. That includes a county assessor's reassessment of commercial property this year and a planned reassessment of residential property next year.
Beutler's budget plan adds 12 police officers and 15 firefighters over the next two years, and provides for more than $66 million a year for street maintenance, repair and new roads.
It includes raising many fees, including 5 percent per year increases in water and wastewater fees.