Mayor Chris Beutler today said the community's commitment to growth determines how successfully Lincoln meets future challenges. And he said the anti-growth positions of some City Council members are threatening the future of Lincoln. Beutler cited the City Council's past failure to approve a one-percent increase in City spending authority and recent split votes on annexations that would grow the tax base. He called on citizens to insist City leaders not veer from the proven path of success.
"Council members cannot say they are pro-growth when their actions stifle it," Mayor Beutler said. "If they continue to vote against growth they must take responsibility for the consequences.
Voting against annexations, unwisely constraining our budget authority and imposing harsh restrictions on revenues strangle growth."
The State only allows city budgets to grow 2.5 percent each year. City governing bodies can vote to allow a budget to grow 3.5 percent per year. That extra one percent requires approval by 75 percent of the Council. For most of the last decade, the Council has not approved the one percent. Council members Cyndi Lamm, Roy Christensen and Jon Camp have consistently voted against the additional one-percent budget authority.
The lid applies to revenues that fund 80 percent of the tax-funded operating budget, but the lid exempts capital expenditures. Beutler said that means the City can continue to build new roads and other City facilities, but does not have the revenues needed to maintain them. The restrictions on spending authority also impact public safety services, which are funded with property and sales taxes, two of the restricted revenues.
"If the anti-growth faction on the Council continues to restrict our budget authority, we may be able to hold police, fire, and 911 harmless from cuts," Beutler said. "But these Departments will not be able to grow to meet the public safety needs of a City that is steadily adding more people and more square miles every year. Does it really make sense to restrict the revenues that fund our most important public priority?"
The one-percent increase in spending authority is routinely approved by hundreds of Nebraska governmental entities, including Omaha. The Lancaster County Board has approved it every year since 2003.
Mayor Beutler said annexations that grow the City's tax base should generally not be contentious because they reduce the tax burden on current residents.
"When considering these types of annexations, fundamental fairness is also at issue," he said. "These properties benefit from the City's growth, but do not pay City property taxes. When we annex areas like this, we help neighborhoods across the City by generating new tax dollars to help pay for current services. How does it make sense to slow the annexations that help us pay to maintain what we have? We cannot continue to be a prosperous and successful City if we miss opportunities to build our economy and grow our tax base."
Beutler said cities that don't grow intentionally become stagnant, or worse, decline. "Smart growth is the foundation of a successful City," he said. "Smart growth is how we create jobs and opportunities for our families. Smart growth is how we generate the funds to build and repair roads, hire police officers and firefighters, and take care of our parks. Smart growth is what takes pressure off the property tax levy. In short, growth is the essential difference between a thriving community and a struggling community."