Mayor Chris Beutler said today that his proposed budget for the 2016-2018 biennium focuses on "keeping the community safe, building transportation and infrastructure to support growth, and taking care of what we have." At the same time, he said, it deals with several major challenges, including the Police Fire Pension Fund, the Emerald Ash Borer and a $1.7 million drop in revenue from telecommunications taxes and fees.
"Keeping Lincoln on the right path is a choice," Beutler said. "When we choose to invest in a safe and secure community, a strong economy and a high quality of life, we continue the progress that has made Lincoln a national leader. The investments proposed in this budget will help us accomplish our goals and ensure a bright and dynamic future."
The proposed tax-funded budget for 2016-2017 is $180.5 million, a 4.21-percent increase over the current fiscal year. (Without the 27th pay period, the increase would be about 2 percent.) The proposed tax-funded budget for 2017-2018 is $182.9 million, a 1.32-percent increase over 2016-2017. The two-year average change is 2.79 percent.
The Mayor's proposed budget calls for a City property tax levy increase of 1.17 cents:
Voter approval of a stormwater bond issue in May will add .24 cents. The impact of the combined property tax levy increase on a $150,000 home is an additional $1.76 per month. Of the 15 largest cities in Nebraska, Lincoln's property tax levy ranks tenth.
The City receives only 15.7 percent of the total property tax dollar.
Since Beutler took office in 2007, Lincoln's population has increased 13.3 percent and the City's area has grown by 10.1 percent. At the same time the City's civilian workforce has declined. Beutler's budget proposes adding about 33 employees over the next two years. Ten positions are additional Police Officers, Firefighters and Firefighter Paramedics, and eight positions are added in StarTran to improve service and reduce more expensive overtime. "Even with the staffing increase, we will still have 67 fewer employees than when I took office in 2007, and our civilian workforce is 6 percent smaller," Beutler said.
The Mayor's budget also proposes a shift of $1.8 million from street funds to the snow removal fund, freeing those dollars to fund the public safety personnel increase, better StarTran services and parks maintenance and to preserve other City services. The budget also calls for using $600,000 of the available $1.2 million cash reserve in the second year to maintain programs.
Changes in the non-tax funded budget include a 5-percent water rate increase to boost annual water main replacement from 5.5 to 7 miles. A 5-percent wastewater increase will fund continued expansion into Stevens Creek and other new growth areas.
Mayor Beutler said increasing property taxes is not a popular step, but other options are not viable. The City's sales tax is at the maximum 1.5 percent allowed by State law. Other sources of funds like fees can only be used for their intended purposes. With 53 percent of the budget dedicated to public safety, the Mayor said the City has few places left to cut. Programs at the bottom of the prioritization list include many quality of life services such as neighborhood swimming pools, library hours and neighborhood snow removal.
"We cannot address the growth in our community, the telecommunications revenue shortfall and the twin crises of EAB and the Police Fire Pension without further cuts in service or additional revenues," Beutler said. "I am not open to budget gimmicks and unrealistic promises. I oppose those so-called solutions that promise we can have it all without a measure of sacrifice, that mislead the public into believing that we can reduce taxes, increase public safety and meet our growth challenges without having to cut beneficial programs or services."
The Mayor will present his 2016-2018 budget to the City Council at 8 a.m. Monday, July 11 in the City Council Chambers. The presentation will be carried live on 5 CITY-TV and available at 5tv.lincoln.ne.gov. The budget will be available at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: proposed budget). The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Monday, August 8. The new fiscal year begins September 1.