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Lincoln residents created a very strong mayor form of government decades ago.

Lincoln’s mayor is a full-time position, not someone on the council who acts as mayor.

The elected mayor controls all city departments, develops the blueprint for the city budget, creates committees that give advice and proposes most ordinance changes.

And the mayor has a powerful budget veto tool.

The Omaha mayor and the governor have line-item veto power, allowing them to veto segments of the budget and put in a lower number. The council can then override that veto, line by line.

The Lincoln mayor cannot make line-item vetoes, and instead must veto the entire budget. However, if the council fails to get the five votes to override the veto, the mayor’s proposed budget becomes the city budget.

That’s a win/win for a mayor.

Budget frustration spills over

A traditional contract between the city and the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District became the scapegoat for city budget squabbling Monday.

The contract included costs for specific stormwater projects that are joint NRD and city projects, costs that will also be included in the mayor’s budget proposal.

For 15 years, City Council members have been approving the contract, ahead of the budget, with no concerns.

But this year Republican council members are frustrated by the budget process, where the mayor has the upper hand.

Some of this money will come from the operating budget and "we haven't seen that budget. This is a little premature," said Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm.

Mayor Chris Beutler has said council members can’t get information on department budget proposals until he is finished with his plan in early July.

Though the contract includes only $70,000 in general funds and that money can't be spent until the council also approves the budget in August, the Republicans on the council said they didn't want to approve the contract until they get budget information. 

The three Republican council members at the meeting -- Lamm, Roy Christensen and Jon Camp -- asked to delay the contract decision until July 11, after they have the mayor's budget proposal. Republican Councilman Trent Fellers is on vacation.

Staff member Ben Higgins pointed out the NRD board approved the contract before it approved the NRD budget.

"Maybe they’ve seen their proposed budget," said Lamm.

When it was clear the council would not have the four votes necessary to approve the contract, Councilman Carl Eskridge, a Democrat, agreed to the three-week delay.

No farming allowed

You cannot farm in Lincoln’s residential neighborhoods.

You can plant a garden in your backyard and give away, even sell, some of the radishes and tomatoes.

But you cannot plow up a vacant lot to plant tomatoes and cucumbers or corn for sale -- in most of Lincoln -- under current zoning ordinances.

Lincoln’s leaders probably didn’t mean to exclude farming across most of the city when they created zoning laws, said Brandon Garrett, a city planner. It was likely an oversight.

Zoning ordinances list what is permitted. If it’s not on the list, it’s not permitted. Farming didn’t get on the permitted list for land zoned for residential or business use.

But the zoning question has come up now that more people are looking seriously at providing more locally grown food.

Garrett has prepared a chart showing what is allowed by zoning designation.

Farming in areas zoned for residential and business use? No. But farming, or growing food for sale, is OK on industrial zoned land.

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Farming would likely be permitted on land owned by churches and government, with the owner’s permission.

Those big tracts of land turned into large gardens across the city are likely community gardens, where a number of individuals have their own small gardens. These urban gardens are allowed just about anywhere.

The planning staff is working on an ordinance that would add farming to the permitted use for many business and highway commercial zones.

It might be a little more tricky -- and likely less popular -- to change residential zoning ordinances to allow farming. Plus there are not large parcels of land available in areas zoned residential, Garrett noted.

If you want to find out more about local food production, including community gardens, log onto a new website developed by the Lincoln-Lancaster County Food Policy Council: LetsGrowLincoln.wix.com/home.

Mayor supports library vote

Mayor Chris Beutler said he supports allowing residents to vote on a bond issue for a new downtown library.  

Beutler's confirmation that he's OK with a bond issue vote came during an appearance on a morning radio show. The mayor did not mention a bond issue amount nor any specific location. 

The library board supports converting the Pershing Center block in downtown Lincoln to a new library and has talked about a potential $50 million cost. 

Pick of the litter

StarTran, the city’s bus system, was a favorite for future priorities with about 55 people who attended the mayor’s community conversation on the city budget Saturday. Least important was capital replacement and repair to golf courses.  

In-home services for seniors was voted most important of current services used in the survey. Having police attend to parked and abandoned vehicles was the least important service. 

People can still weigh in on the budget survey, which is available on the city website, lincoln.ne.gov (keywords: Taking Charge), through June. 

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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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