Mayor Chris Beutler today said several actions taken by the City Council majority yesterday and on July 25 are not "sustainable or responsible." Changes to the 2016-18 City budget approved on 4 to 3 votes include a reduction in funding for Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) response, postponing the financing of street lights, and the one-time use of funds intended for another purpose.
"My Administration has worked to maintain a balance between keeping the City's property tax rate low compared to other cities and providing the services that support our high quality of life," Beutler said. "The key to that balance is fiscal responsibility, and that's where the Council falls short. When faced with tough budget decisions, they chose not to choose. They have blown a million-dollar hole in future budgets because they don't want to raise taxes or take responsibility for cutting programs. They cobbled together short-term solutions to long-term challenges."
The Mayor said the EAB is likely already in Lincoln, and the $29 million dollar problem will become more expensive the longer the City waits to respond. Postponing the financing for street lights, he said, will result in larger budget increases in the future. And he said diverting $300,000 that homebuilders, developers and contractors paid in fees to the Building and Safety Department breaks a promise to those groups and creates a even bigger gap in future budgets.
The Mayor commended the City Council for agreeing to his budget proposals to add new Police Officers and Firefighter Paramedics and to increase water and wastewater rates to improve the infrastructure needed for growth. But on other issues, he said, the Council is "substituting political expediency for leadership."
"Lincoln is the envy of cities across the country because we have made responsible fiscal choices and met our challenges head on," he said. "The Council's budget does neither."
The Mayor's proposed budget called for a 1.17-cent increase in the City property tax levy, an increase of $17.58 cents per year on a home valued at $150,000. Of the 15 largest cities in Nebraska, Lincoln's property tax rate ranks tenth. The City receives only 15.7 cents out of every local property tax dollar. The Council is scheduled to adopt the 2016-2018 budget at its meeting Monday, August 22, and Mayor Beutler will wait until that vote before deciding whether to sign or veto the Council version.