Mayor Chris Beutler gave a preview of his budget proposal, scheduled to be presented to the Lincoln City Council at 1 p.m. Monday, July 14.
When Beutler took office in 2007, he faced what he called a “structurally imbalanced budget.” The recession led to a period of "lean years" with decreasing revenues, employee and program cuts, less investment in capital projects and sudden pension losses.
Beutler’s administration says they’ve made more cuts than any other administration so far.
The Calvert Senior Center was closed, hours were reduced at the Bennett Martin Library, police officers in middle schools were eliminated, the Star City Holiday parade was eliminated and hours were reduced at recreation and community learning centers. And that was just a few of the major cuts Beutler had to make to balance the city budget.
The Health Department has had their responsibilities grow as the city has grown. Yet, 33 employees were cut the last few years.
Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Johnson said, “It’s been tough.” As miles of trail and more parks were added in Lincoln, they had fewer employees to maintain them. Parks and Recreation also went from having 311 employees in 2007 to 258.
Johnson says he still remembers having to fire several employees because of budget cuts.
Johnson said, “It is painful. I have relationships with all of those people and you hope that there's healing that has gone on in the number of years, but to have lost a job during the recessionary period…has had to be a challenge.”
After years of major cuts, Mayor Beutler said his budget for the 2014-2016 bienniums will allow some flexibility that could help get back some of these important services and programs. It's also a light at the end of the tunnel for the city's budget.
According to Beutler, the economic success in Lincoln is resulting in higher property and sales tax revenues, which make up 71% of Lincoln’s revenue. There’s been $750 million in private-sector development city wide from 2007 to 2013. And that new investment is driving strong growth as people invest in property.
“The estimated $750 million invested by the private sector coupled with the community investment in the Pinnacle Bank Arena and other improvements is creating new prosperity,” Beutler said. “Our sales tax numbers are nearly 5.5 percent over the prior year, and we are projecting sales tax growth at 4.5 percent for each of the two years of the budget. New investment is driving strong growth in property values. For the biennium, we are projecting growth in the property tax base both from revaluation and new construction.”
Beutler's proposal does try to reverse some of the recession’s effects. It adds nine city jobs in the next two years – if it’s approved on Monday.
The Health Department would be able to hire new people for dental services, and restaurant inspections. (Correction: in the video above, it incorrectly states that the landfill inspections are under the Health Department; they are not).
Parks and Recreation would also be allowed to hire more people to help maintain the city's trails and parks.
And as for infrastructure, the budget for sidewalk funding would double from $500,000 to a million. Parks and Recreation would receive about $1.5 million to fix and maintain their playgrounds.
The Beutler administration already issued $4 million of bonds to fix nearly all of the worst sidewalk sections in 2014 and 2015. That's something they say voters have been asking for after voters took a survey online.
The proposed tax-funded budget for 2014-2015 is $166.5 million, a 4.28-percent increase over the current fiscal year.
The proposed tax-funded budget for 2015-2016 is $172.58 million, a 3.65-percent increase over 2014-2015. Over nine budgets, the increase averages 3.64 percent a year.
The Mayor’s proposed budget calls for a city property tax levy of about 32 cents, which includes a .378-cent tax rate increase for the storm water bond issue voters approved in November 2012. Lincoln’s property tax levy is the fourth lowest of the fifteen largest cities in Nebraska.
The property tax levy has declined 38.5 percent since 1993 in Lincoln and the city receives only 15.6 percent of the total property tax dollar.
The Mayor will present his 2014-2016 budgets to the City Council at 1 p.m. Monday, July 14 in the City Council Chambers, 555 S. 10th St. The public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Monday, August 11. The new fiscal year begins September 1.