Presidents often measure their success at accomplishing priorities within their first 100 days in office.
It’s not a very large window to achieve noteworthy goals in a four-year term. Yet, even fewer days after being sworn in, Lincoln’s new mayor, Leirion Gaylor Baird, has to amend the second half of a two-year budget, present it at a public hearing and bring it before the City Council for a vote before her 100th day.
The budget proposal brought forth by Gaylor Baird struck the Journal Star editorial board as mostly sound. With limited time to transition, the amendments to the biennium to be voted on Monday are reasonable and deserve approval.
These adjustments do a good job of addressing shortfalls responsibly through a mix of cost savings and spending reductions, in addition to new revenues from property revaluations, without jeopardizing sorely needed street repairs.
From a pragmatic standpoint, the lines of communication between Gaylor Baird, a former city councilwoman, and the seven-member council seemed to be wide open on the budget. Republicans and Democrats alike commended her for involving them early in the process.
Furthermore, her approach with department heads eased what could well have been a difficult process in closing a $6.79 million shortfall. Rather than pushing for across-the-board cuts, she brought all the city’s agencies together to ascertain where money could be saved with minimal effects on city services.
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With that being said, a few items generated concern – first and foremost were sales tax receipts, the city’s single largest source of revenue, falling well short of forecasts. While City Finance Director Brandon Kauffman told the editorial board that the numbers have improved in the past couple months, shifts in consumer habits and the retail landscape could create future problems that must be studied.
Another worry is that the city budget once again dips into its cash reserves – this time, for $1.9 million. Last year, a compromise to help improve Lincoln’s public safety fleet drew $5 million from the fund. We editorialized then that was it needed because of grave safety concerns with aging Lincoln Fire and Rescue vehicles but warned against using reserves too heavily.
All this in a time with a relatively strong economy, even as Lincoln’s reserves remain healthy. Fears of a recession loom, however, so it’s imperative to keep the next budget – the first full cycle in Gaylor Baird’s tenure – from repeating this trend, when the city may find itself handcuffed.
To ensure future flexibility, we encourage a supermajority of the City Council to increase the city’s spending authority 1% beyond the 2.5% allowed under state law. It doesn’t have to be used immediately and can be saved for times of need – precisely why the greater lid should be approved and banked, as we've written before.
Digging into something as complex as the city budget is difficult in the limited space of an editorial. This summary can’t do justice to the full nuances of such a document, but the proposal certainly works for now, though more difficult work lies ahead.