Proposed budget includes reduction in City property tax rate
In her first State of the City address today, Mayor Coleen Seng outlined her balanced budget proposal for 2003-2004 and a related initiative called “Building Lincoln,” a balanced, comprehensive approach to finance City growth.
“As Mayor, I want to bring everyone together to build all of Lincoln – older, newer and brand-new neighborhoods; businesses and community; private and public – all working together in partnership to keep Lincoln growing,” said Mayor Seng.
The Mayor’s recommended operating budget for the next fiscal year beginning September 1 includes a property tax rate decrease estimated at 7.7 percent and no reductions in services, such as library or pool hours. Mayor Seng also proposes:
“The budget I propose today calls for a reduction in the City property tax rate,” said Seng. “I know many homeowners are reeling from the new valuations the County Assessor sent them. I promised during the campaign that I would not take advantage of the higher valuations, and I think you know I keep my promises. The growth in next year’s property tax revenue is limited to what the City will receive from real growth in the tax base, plus the cost of the storm sewer bonds voters approved in May.”
In the “Building Lincoln” initiative, Mayor Seng outlines an aggressive plan to finance streets, water and wastewater as the City grows. This initiative will be proposed as separate legislation, but for the first time in City history, the Comprehensive Plan and the six-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP) are linked to the budget.
In addition to the impact fees and water rate increases approved earlier this year by the City Council, Seng is proposing the adoption of key recommendations from the Infrastructure Finance Committee:
Other cities have used general obligation bonds to fund construction, but this would be the first time Lincoln has used them. Seng said current conditions for a bond issue are very favorable with the low interest rates and the recent upgrade in the City’s bond ratings.
“If the financing strategy is not approved or if parts of it are not adopted, then the CIP clearly shows which projects will not be built,” said Seng. “In the end, it comes down to a simple choice. Either we decide to achieve the growth called for in the Comprehensive Plan or we do not. If we do, the path is clear: we must provide the new revenue to pay for the growth. If we do not, that path also is clear: together we must scale back the Comprehensive Plan to what we can afford.”
Mayor Seng said Lincoln must continue to grow to remain strong and create jobs, and that growth must be guided by the Comprehensive Plan. She called for “carefully planned and financed growth,” with the Comprehensive Plan supported by a logical, realistic capital construction program.
“If we come together to provide sound financing, we all can be proud of how we are ‘Building Lincoln,’” said Mayor Seng. “No one enjoys paying the bill. But the financial support we provide today really is about preparing a community for the next generation. We must give our children and grandchildren the quality of life they deserve. We must ‘Build Lincoln,’ and we must provide the resources to do it.”
The $121 million tax-funded budget is a 4.7 percent increase in spending without the recently passed storm water bond and the Antelope Valley property acquisition expenditures. The voter-approved bond issue and the Antelope Valley cost would add 2.4 percent to overall spending. The budget includes a total of 29.5 new full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, with 22.5 of those FTEs in public safety positions. In addition, 12 FTEs that were added in the current fiscal year will be fully funded in the next year for the first time.
The City Council will meet with department directors over the next few weeks before voting on tentative adjustments to the Mayor’s budget July 28. The public hearing on the City budget is August 11. The Council is scheduled to vote on final changes to the budget August 13 and formally adopt the budget August 25.
The Mayor’s State of the City address is available on the City web site at www.lincoln.ne.gov.