Taking Charge 2012-2013
While not as severe as past years, the City of Lincoln faces another challenging budget. Initial projections indicate that Lincoln will be facing a budgetary deficit of about $2 million, largely due to a projected 24% increase in health care costs.
The City has faced budget deficits for several years in a row, and has balanced budgets through a combination of eliminating job positions, cutting public services and finding new revenues. Recent budget reductions include the elimination of Aging Partners' senor volunteer programs, StarTran route cuts, ending the middle school resource officer program, reductions in parks mowing and privatization of downtown parking enforcement.
Lincoln's budget constraints are a result of a number of historical factors, including declining sales tax revenue (NOTE: recent sales tax numbers have shown strong growth), labor cost increases as mandated by state comparability law, cuts to local government revenues at the State level and rising fuel prices.
There is reason for optimism however.
Lincoln has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation — only 3.7%. This is a testament to the city's relatively strong and stable labor market as a government and education-focused community.
The cranes on the downtown horizon demonstrate that Lincoln's increasing economic growth. In 2010 voters approved the construction of a new Haymarket arena, a project which supporters argued will increase revenue from visitors and create a number of new permanent jobs. Additional Haymarket development and expansion at the University of Nebraska are also creating new growth.
Lincoln's economic success indicates that better fiscal times are ahead for City Hall. In the short term, city leaders still must contend with a challenging budget. The question for Lincoln's residents is how they want our elected officials to address the upcoming 2012-14 budget and what services they believe are crucial in maintaining Lincoln's high quality of life.