Shortly after Lincoln Mayor-elect Leirion Gaylor Baird is sworn in Monday, her administration will begin seeking input for city street repairs and bracing for budget adjustments to address a possible $3 million shortfall.
Sales tax receipts in December, the busiest shopping month of the year, came in lower than projected, and city finance staff members said net sales tax revenue through the beginning of May continued below predictions used in this two-year budget.
City Finance Director Brandon Kauffman said he expects some improvement in the next few months, but still projects a $3 million revenue shortfall.
That could lead to spending cuts when the mayor and council consider adjustments needed to balance the budget. The city is in the middle of a two-year budget cycle, which runs through 2020. Changes to ensure a balance between revenue and expenses must be finalized later this summer.
Gaylor Baird said she hopes the downward revenue trend reverses, but she will strive to protect city services while meeting the mandate that city budgets be balanced.
"We're going to have to be confronting those challenges right away because, if in fact they're still proving true, then we're going to have to look at how we address them responsibly," she said during a recent interview at her campaign headquarters at Eighth and L streets.
Last week, Gaylor Baird won election by capturing 54 percent of the vote and beating fellow City Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm in the contest to succeed term-limited Mayor Chris Beutler.
Gaylor Baird and newly designated chief of staff Jennifer Brinkman had already begun assembling the mayor's staff and interviewing department heads last week.
A former budget analyst for San Francisco, Gaylor Baird has started conversations with department directors about their visions so her staff can best communicate where "things stand" across city government.
A major priority will be jump-starting the work on street repairs voters asked for in their April 9 approval of a new six-year, quarter-cent sales tax, she said.
"That's the really big task before us," Gaylor Baird said.
She will soon name members to a citizens oversight committee, which will recommend where street repair work funded by the tax will be carried out.
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She'll also begin holding open houses so her staff can pair comments from residents about pressing street needs with the maps and data Lincoln Transportation and Utilities staff have, Gaylor Baird said.
The new sales tax collections won't begin until Oct. 1, and based on weather, the repair work is likely to start in April 2020, she said.
Ballot language requires the city to use the money only for street improvements, not for sidewalks, trails or signals, and mandates the city spend at least 25% of the money on new construction that promotes growth.
Gaylor Baird has pledged that most of the money will go to neighborhood streets.
Addressing staffing needs at the fire and police departments will also be an early priority of her administration, she said.
She hopes to use the salary of former Public Safety Director Tom Casady to pay for two new police officers, but she'll discuss that further with Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister, she said.
Before retiring in April, Casady was paid more than $172,000, which Gaylor Baird estimates may pay for two officers' salaries and benefits.
City growth and the departure of Lincoln officers for the Omaha Police Department have made police hiring and retention an issue Gaylor Baird hopes to address, she said.
Her staff will also begin thinking about long-term funding for 15 firefighter positions added through the use of a federal grant last year, she said.
And as she gets to know the new City Council, she'll be talking with them about how the city should spend the $2.162 million surplus collected during the three-year public safety sales tax, which ended in October.
In her conversations with department directors, Gaylor Baird will also be discerning who wants to stay on in her administration, who she wants to keep and whether there is a need for a national search for any positions, she said.
But first, "I want to get my bearings," she said.