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Council Members Comments




by Terry Werner

The voters of Lincoln are very clear in telling public officials that they are not in favor of using property taxes to pay for streets, roads and trails. Many seem to be focusing on who to blame for the failed bond issue. I believe we can do better than just point fingers and place blame. We must do better.

I believe the voters made many things clear to us. They were loud and clear that they do not want to pay more property taxes! They resented the special election, perceived it to be paid for by special interest groups and questioned voter intelligence. They also made it clear that those who benefit most from new streets should pay the most. In the voter message was a sentiment that only parts of the city were benefitting. I am sure there were other very reasonable concerns, but elected officials were definitely sent a message and I hope we all respond to that message.

So where do we go from here? We still have a need to finance our infrastructure. However, I do not believe that infrastructure issues exist within a vacuum. The Streets Roads and Trails Committee did an honorable job. These volunteers literally worked for nearly four years on resolving this issue. They should be publicly thanked, especially Brad Korell, Russ Bayer, Jan Gauger and Dan Marvin, the committee co-chairs. However, there charge was very limited and did not include all of the services and responsibilities the city must offer. I believe we must do financial planning by looking at the entire picture and not just a piece. We must earn the public's support for any future plans.

There are many creative ways that we can approach our financial difficulties without raising taxes. Our leaders need to have a vision as to where this city is going and how are we going to get there. My vision for Lincoln is one that promotes a diverse, sustainable, beautiful and prosperous community. A city that cares about the environment, equity, justice and affordable housing. In my mind the best transportation system is one that provides for the least transportation.

So how do we formulate a City Vision? I plan to call upon Mayor Seng and my Council Colleagues to do the following:

The 25 Year Comprehensive Plan set some very specific benchmarks for growth and expansion throughout the city. We must look at where we are after only three years and perhaps make some changes that reflect our actual growth rates. That could reduce our projected need for more street construction and review the need for other types of infrastructure.

We must develop a comprehensive financial plan that looks at all services and infrastructure needs. Many city departments are enterprise funds and are not tax supported, but everything must be on the table. We must look at how we are going to fund additional fire stations, additional police officers, parks, senior services. streets and even schools. I believe we have to include schools in the mix. We must work closely with Lincoln Public Schools so that we are working together instead of competing for the same tax dollars. I understand the difficulty in making this happen, but shouldn't we begin the process?

Even though the city portion of the property tax rate has not increased since 1994 (except for voter approved bond issues), people are paying more property taxes because of other entities that affect property tax and higher assessments. We must look at the benefit to different payers. Those who benefit the most should pay the most. Additionally, we must look at more user fees. For example, those who drive cars should pay more for streets and roads.

I believe that most of us really love living in Lincoln. We have a wonderful quality of life that we all want to maintain. I also believe that it is not paying more taxes that necessarily concern people, but guaranteeing value for what they pay. I believe that the community does receive value for the city taxes they pay, but perhaps we should hire an independent auditor and prove it to the community.

We have a responsibility to leave a functioning, attractive city to our children and grandchildren. Building six lane freeways throughout the city is unlikely to help with the ‘brain drain'. We must step back and do things differently. We must be creative and cognizant of what the future will bring. Maintaining the status quo is not going to work. How can we make Lincoln the ‘Boulder of the Plains', or the creative City of Austin, Texas? I call upon small and large business, neighborhoods, the arts community, the bicycle community, the university, young and old to come together and dream what our city could be.

Terry Werner was elected to an at-large seat on the City Council in 2001.

Council Comments