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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.

Every year, Lincoln Fire and Rescue squads race to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln more than 350 times.

Last year, LFR responded to 219 medical incidents at the UNL main and east campuses; 105 fire incidents; 39 hazmat incidents and 15 motor vehicle accidents, for a total of 412 unit hours spent.

That's about 1.5 percent of the department's workload for 2018, according to Fire Chief Micheal Despain.

Councilman Roy Christensen thinks UNL should help pay for those services. The university pays no property taxes and limited sales tax. 

A resolution laying out the issue and recommending the city and UNL negotiate a “fair and equitable” reimbursement is scheduled for a public hearing at the council’s meeting Monday.

Other Big Ten Conference universities pay an average of $450,000 for city fire and medical services, according to the resolution.

UNL pays nothing for those services.

UNL does pay about $16,000 a year for the prorated annual cost of using the city’s computer-aided dispatch system and criminal justice information system, according to Tom Casady, the city's public safety director.

In 2012, the city asked UNL to help with the costs of dispatch and the information system and asked for slightly more than $1 million for fire and rescue services. UNL agreed to $16,000 for dispatch and the information system, but nothing for fire and rescue. 

UNL provided a two-sentence response to Christensen’s resolution. “We value our strong working relationship with the City of Lincoln and Lincoln Fire & Rescue. We continue to gather information and evaluate this proposal.”

Christensen points out that the resolution doesn’t demand anything — it simply asks the mayor to open negotiations with UNL.

Clear that fire hydrant

Snow-covered fire hydrants can mean lost minutes in fighting a fire.

So Lincoln Fire and Rescue staff is asking property owners to scoop out the hydrants on their property. 

It’s not unusual for some fire hydrants, particularly at apartment buildings, to be covered by snow mounds, LFR's Nancy Crist said.

Fire crews keep shovels on their rigs to prepare for that problem. “But that can add 2 to 2 1/2 minutes to the set-up for the fire,” Crist said.

Voting on fairness ordinance

Individuals in the LGBTQ community have differing opinions on whether it is a good idea to ask city voters to make a decision on the so-called fairness ordinance in a citywide election.

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The proposed ordinance would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations in the city.

A successful citizens petition drive stopped the ordinance from taking effect after it was initially passed by the City Council in 2012.

Since then, the council has neither repealed the ordinance nor put the issue up for a citywide vote.

Mayoral candidate Jeff Kirkpatrick ran into that difference of opinion on how best to handle the fairness ordinance when he sent out a news release suggesting the City Council should put the issue on the May 7 ballot.

He later changed that news release to reflect putting the fairness ordinance on either the 2019 city election or the 2020 statewide ballot, after learning that many in the LGBTQ community didn’t think they could raise money and mount a campaign in time for the May city election.

Mayoral candidate Leirion Gaylor Baird said she believes many in the LGBTQ community, at this point, would prefer a legislative solution — where the Legislature makes discrimination the law statewide — rather than the potential divisiveness of the conversation that takes place around a popular vote.

Both Gaylor Baird and Kirkpatrick support prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Facebook posts on the issue indicated some in the LGBTQ community believe the opposition, including evangelical and Catholic groups, would raise a great deal of money to defeat the ordinance in a campaign based on their attitudes about homosexuality. So the supporters need to be ready with money for a campaign.

“You aren’t going to pass this with hope. You need resources,” said one commenter on the Facebook conversation.

But another said the fairness ordinance would pass in Lincoln, where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump in 2016 and Democratic candidates ruled in Lancaster County in the last election.

Mayor’s field stands at five

Former County Treasurer Andy Stebbing announced on Facebook he will not be running for Lincoln mayor in the spring election.

Stebbing said he and his wife, Erika, reached the decision after much thought.

“It is our goal to distance ourselves from the attacks of the past two years, to grow and prosper in our new marriage while focusing on our children and our future,” he wrote.

That leaves five candidates for mayor.

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm is the only Republican running in the Lincoln primary. Gaylor Baird and Kirkpatrick are Democrats.

Two people registered as nonpartisan are also running: Krystal Gabel and Rene Solc. Gabel has run for Omaha City Council and for governor. Solc ran for Lincoln mayor four years ago.

The top two vote-getters will move from the April 9 primary to the May 7 general election.

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

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks. Reporter Riley Johnson contributed to this column.

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