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Mayor Coleen Seng
State of the City Address


Mayor Coleen J. Seng
State of the City Message
June 26, 2006

Nearly a quarter million people choose to call Lincoln their home. Their choice is what makes Lincoln a vibrant and growing community. The choices we make today will determine whether more people will choose Lincoln. Those choices will determine whether we face a future of growth and opportunity or leave us wondering where we went wrong as a community.

As your Mayor, I have faith that we can be all that we aspire to be and more. I reject the notion that we should choose to be less. Over the last year, we have reached for the pinnacle of success, and we have achieved. Lincoln is growing. Lincoln is thriving. The choices we have made are paying dividends.

In many ways, Lincoln is the economic envy of cities around the country. According to the State, there are 2,300 more jobs in the Lincoln metro area than there were one year ago. National business magazines rate us as one of the best places for personal careers and startup businesses. Twenty-one hundred acres of land are in different stages of annexation, increasing the tax base and offering new opportunities. Lincoln is truly a community on the go.

In the past year, we chose to make Lincoln even more business friendly. I have reached out to all sectors of the community to build an inclusive positive attitude to move ahead. The mission of the City in economic development is to offer a welcoming climate and make sure the sewer and water public infrastructure is available to encourage job creation and business investment. That requires an open and logical development process. That is why I ordered an audit of our development processes. The implementation team is concluding its work, and I am awaiting that report. The choice to further streamline our processes can reduce the bureaucracy and save time. This will reduce costs for both private developers and the public. It will enhance the climate for locating and expanding businesses in Lincoln.

With the designation of additional industrial areas, the City chose to create an ample supply of available zoned industrial land and built new roads, sewers and water lines to encourage job creation and business expansions. This year, we were successful in securing an additional $1 million in motor vehicle sales tax revenue from the Legislature to build arterial streets. We chose to begin sewering the 52 square miles of Stevens Creek for future development. Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, is an effective method to pay for public infrastructure to help encourage job creation and foster a friendly business climate. I will continue to use TIF aggressively to encourage infrastructure investment and job creation.

The construction of the main sewer lines to open the 52-square-mile Stevens Creek basin for development is all about growing the economic base of the City for the future. Other communities would be envious of having a 52-square-mile area available for future growth. And our opportunity is not restricted to only one direction. Lincoln is growing in all directions.

We learned lessons from the past, and we chose to protect our investments in new areas by not continuing to widen the floodplain. Our choice to enact floodplain standards for the new areas was the right one and will result in a better future that reduces the risk of being flooded.

We chose to provide quality community services as a means of attracting jobs. Quality schools help attract businesses to Lincoln. Quality neighborhoods are a factor in attracting new employers. The school construction bond approved by the voters last February sends a strong signal to potential employers that Lincoln is a growing city with a bright future. Strong, safe neighborhoods served by strong local schools and popular, family-oriented services such as parks and libraries are a winning combination. These efforts will pay off for us when employers consider Lincoln for their expansion or location. These efforts show we care about our City and our employers alike.

We chose to create new opportunities for growth and investment in new areas on the Cityís edges as well as continuing to reinvest in our existing built areas. We need both, and we have been successful.

The new 800-acre industrial park on West ďOĒ Street will expand job opportunities. Contrary to recent reports, the sewer and water pipes are going in the ground to the industrial park. We have conquered more than a decade of blight at one of the Cityís busiest corners, 48th and ďO.Ē You already can see the progress on the south side, and street widening projects are ahead of schedule. Just last week, a major developer announced plans for a 78,000-square-foot store on the north side at 50th and ďOĒ Street.

Near downtown, the Antelope Valley Project is changing the City for the better. It will improve flood protection and open new areas for public and private investment and job creation. In downtown, we are moving ahead with an innovative project encouraging developers to invest above our next parking garage, which will make better use of space in the downtown area. And the results of the Arena Task Force will offer us a choice of how to be competitive for conventions, tourism and events well into the future.

We chose to make Lincolnís neighborhoods safer. We chose to invest in public safety and emergency services, and we have a low crime rate and quality emergency services. We want homes where our children can play near parks, not liquor stores. Thatís why I chose to pursue tough rules that stopped liquor sales next to residential areas.

We want streets and public places that are safe and secure. Thatís why I called on the City Council to implement sex offender residency restrictions near schools, to protect our children going to and from the classroom. We have acted to improve neighborhoods and make our community more inviting for families.

We have a diversified economy that helps protect Lincoln from wide economic swings and maintains a strong economy. Similarly, we have a growing and diverse population, where more than 40 different languages are spoken in the schools. That diversity also makes us a stronger community.

I am proud of every positive choice weíve made. As our choices about the future do become more difficult, I will continue to provide the leadership that guarantees that Lincoln always makes the choices that create prosperity and investment. But I ask, will we dare to dream big and meet those dreams? I know I will. Thatís why this budget contributes to growth and builds on our momentum. We cannot back away from progress. I will not let others choose the path of least resistance and let Lincoln go down. I am a Mayor that thinks positively and seizes the day. I have shown that I am willing to take on the difficult issues because the benefit of having an even better community is well worth the risk. Some may want to choose to neglect our streets and sewers. Some may want to choose to neglect parks, libraries and pools. Some may want to choose to make do with fewer Police Officers and fewer Firefighters. But those are the choices of a community in decline. They are the choices of a community unwilling to build a better future for its children. They would send the Lincoln we love on a downward spiral.

For elected officials, the biggest decision we make concerns the upcoming City budget. Last December and January, I sought the Councilís input on the process and priorities for this budget, and you provided it. We applied that advice in prioritizing this budget.

Record-high fuel prices have hit the Cityís budget hard, just as they have our own family budgets at home. The City uses more than one million gallons of fuel each year, as police cars patrol the City, rescue vehicles rush to emergencies, and public vehicles maintain our streets and parks. With no indication that fuel costs are going back down, I am directing the City Finance Department to begin exploring the purchase of more fuel-efficient vehicles, flexible fuel vehicles or hybrid vehicles to offset those higher costs.

Right now, Lincoln sales tax revenue funds about 42 percent of City government, which is more than most cities. When sales tax lags, as it has this year, the City has two choices: cut spending or rely more heavily on property taxes.

Obviously, spending cuts must happen first. I want to highlight a few choices I have made to save money for next year.

As sales tax revenues slowed, I instructed City departments to tighten their belts and do with less. We cut more than $8 million from their requests. I also decided there will be no new programs or new employees next year.

Health insurance is a significant expense to the City budget. To save money, I directed City staff to increase deductibles, increase prescription co pays, and convert to a self-insured health plan. In taking this step, City insurance is like many private sector health insurance plans. Those changes will reduce the projected cost of health insurance more than $1.2 million.

I cut $640,000 from personnel costs and am instructing the Directors to review their departmentsí organization and, if possible, restructure them to operate with fewer employees. When there are vacancies, departments must determine if they need to fill the position. The departments will have to manage their funds to deal with the cut. City hiring will be limited, and vacancies may remain unfilled as departments work to stay within their reduced personnel costs. This change wonít be easy, but I have told departments to accept this challenge because the savings is significant.

We have cut costs and created savings. But Lincoln families donít stop striving for a better tomorrow when times are tough. Neither will we, so the City of Lincoln must keep moving ahead as well.

We must build new infrastructure because that is what helps attract new jobs. We have to pay for the police and fire services that protect us. We have to provide the civic amenities that attract families and encourage businesses. That is our challenge. We have to choose to do it even when it seems difficult.

Now, you, the City Council, must face this challenge. Council members may score political points by adopting a budget that loots Lincolnís future, but condemning us to a path of least resistance leads nowhere. Without infrastructure investment, jobs will go elsewhere. Without a strong commitment to public safety, we can not encourage home sales in safe neighborhoods. Parents want opportunities for their children in the hope they will remain in the community as adults. Our property tax base could begin to decline instead of expand, and fewer opportunities will exist to keep our young people in the community.

As Mayor, I choose to keep Lincoln confident, strong and growing. I donít accept the status quo when I know we can achieve more. We need a City budget that invests in our future. Here is what I propose for the 2007-2008 budget and future City action:

Today the City provides $255,000 each year to the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development (LPED) to be the communityís leader on recruiting and expanding jobs. As part of this growth-oriented budget, I propose to increase the Cityís commitment to economic development by earmarking $250,000 in land acquisition funds for LPED-related job creation projects. This additional economic incentive for the private sector could go toward the purchase of right of way for the sewer, water or roads needed to make a project feasible and to make new jobs happen. It could also be used to acquire land in an industrial park if needed to help attract a major employer creating jobs. Earmarking these funds is one more way the City can meet its obligation to infrastructure, which is the key to private sector job creation.

Because neighborhood safety remains one of my top concerns, my proposed budget protects key public safety services. While both the Police and Fire Departments made cost-saving changes for next year, we did it while maintaining the number of Police Officers patrolling the streets and maintaining critical emergency response services. And to make their jobs easier, today I am introducing a ban on concealed weapons for the City Council to consider. Our Police Chief and a vast majority of our Police Officers believe this choice will make Lincoln safer. I agree.

Libraries, parks, pools and senior centers are the cornerstones of our quality of life. They are the popular family-oriented services, and they help attract more families to Lincoln. I asked these departments to tighten their belts, and we were able to maintain most of the services our families and seniors demand.

We must continue to invest in our infrastructure because new roads mean new growth. Allowing our commitment to infrastructure to wane would send the wrong message to future employers. Thatís why I adopted a market-oriented approach to deal with pending annexations. This market approach to annexation helps us to provide as much growth as possible.

If the market is ready to move ahead with development faster than the Cityís schedule for building infrastructure, I will support them. This innovative approach to encouraging growth opens up new areas faster and expands our economic base.

This approach is a temporary solution designed to react to the strong growth in the City. It does not fix the growing crisis facing the City because of the increasing shortage of infrastructure funding for streets. The lack of street construction funds is holding Lincoln back. The permanent solution to meeting our infrastructure needs will involve changing how the State distributes gas tax funds to communities and a commitment from the public to long-term financing for arterial streets.

In the next session the City will go back to the Legislature. We will keep working for a more fair State gas tax distribution formula. We will continue seeking new ways to expand local revenue options for economic development and infrastructure.

Lincoln residents pay way more in gas and motor vehicle sales taxes to the State than we get back in road construction money. While Lincoln is adding jobs, we know that Lincoln could grow even faster with a better share of street construction money.

The success of the school construction bond demonstrated Lincolnís commitment to the future, but it also places more pressure on building new infrastructure. As the community grows we need a road map to coordinate these needs. I have assembled a cross section of residents to take a look at the need for bonds and create a long-range plan that the community can support. The road map will include using the new authority we obtained from the State to lease purchase some needs that will then reduce the need for some bonds.

Lincoln has momentum. The City is growing at a solid pace. We have instilled a vision focused on quality and dedicated to job creation, quality services and planning for the future. We are a community that moves forward by providing a higher level of excellence with each year. The question becomes: how do we continue building the City we aspire to be?

The answer is investment by City government. We have to continue funding the programs and services that make Lincoln attractive to new employers and the new opportunities they bring. Investing in Lincolnís future during difficult financial times takes tremendous willpower. Because sales tax revenue -- our largest source of revenue for the last ten years -- has declined, we need to rely on the valuation increase to maintain services and a commitment to growth.

The Chamber of Commerce calls this strategy the ďgrowth dividend.Ē We must choose to invest this dividend in the future to keep Lincoln a strong and vibrant community.

Earlier this year, the majority of the City Council told me they wanted to invest the community dividend to maintain important public services. Unfortunately, the personal ambitions of some may be getting in the way, and some have begun to backtrack from earlier statements.

The community is now watching. Lincoln residents are not easily fooled. They will not let you sacrifice their future for personal political fortunes. Together we must set aside elections and work together on a budget that achieves goals for a bright future for Lincoln.

If you have changed your minds, be prepared to propose deep changes in City services. The alternative is to cut at least an additional $3.1 million from current services. That is roughly equal to eliminating all the recreation centers, all the summer playground programs and all the swimming pools. Or cutting tax support for the library system by half. Or firing at least 60 City employees.

In closing, I issue a challenge to you, the Council, and the entire community: Be courageous. Aspire to do more. See Lincoln as the great City we all want it to be. Donít let politics and personal ambition prevent Lincoln from becoming all we can be. Embrace our challenges and be part of the solutions. Choose a Lincoln that strives for excellence, moves forward with confidence, and creates a future as grand as our past. Donít be afraid of the risk; accept the challenge because we can succeed.

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