Lincoln City Council Primary Candidate: Mary Hilton
Twelve candidates, including three incumbents, are running for the three Lincoln City Council at-large seats. Voters will cast a ballot for three candidates in the April 6 primary election and six candidates will advance to the General Election on May 4. 10/11 NOW sent a questionnaire to all candidates and we did not edit responses. View other candidate profiles here.
- Name: Mary Hilton
- Occupation: Educator and Issues Advocate
Why are you running for a seat on the city council?
Following the civil unrest in our city late last spring, I was moved to get involved more directly in our city government. I began attending weekly City Council meetings. Since then, I have diligently reviewed the budget and each new ordinance, proposal, and plan presented before the council. I have also met with department heads and studied the city’s municipal code and charter. In so doing, I discovered that City Hall is missing an effective system of checks and balances. The City Council, as the legislative body, should be a voice for the people and a check on the executive branch. I am running for a seat on the Lincoln City Council to restore balanced leadership and to put our city on a better path forward. My background in accounting and municipal auditing, along with my passion for good government, have equipped me to spearhead effective public policy that will make Lincoln an affordable, prosperous, peaceful, and growing city.
What are your key issues in this election and why are they important to address?
My campaign theme is “Back to Basics.” The City Council, as the legislative body, must work early and diligently with each department to ensure that essential city services are budget priorities, with a particular emphasis on funding public safety and maintenance of roads and other infrastructure. Going door-to-door, I have listened to citizens, and their top concerns are high taxes and street maintenance. Pot-holed, unsalted, poorly funded and maintained roads are a direct result of misplaced budget priorities. Vehicle owners pay a Wheel Tax, a Motor Vehicle Tax, and a Gas Tax, yet the essential city service to maintain our streets has not been fully-funded in decades. Citizens feel betrayed. Streets are a necessity which taxes are intended to fund. The City Council must use its investigative and budgetary powers to fund the necessities without increasing taxes. My other priorities include cutting unwieldy regulations, ending business-killing mandates, promoting our local economy, and fighting for tax relief. It’s time for our city government to get back to basics.
Higher property tax valuations continue to lead to higher property tax payments in the city of Lincoln. Does this concern you? Why or why not?
Yes, it concerns me. The city budget should not expand at a faster pace than those of the city’s families and businesses. Instead of lowering the tax rate when properties are reevaluated, our city takes the windfall. The Lincoln City Council is responsible for passing a budget that meets the needs of the city and properly funding essential municipal services. The city collects plenty of money to pay for “needs.” I agree with columnist Jim Geraghty, who wrote, “There is always some aspect of government that can be trimmed, rethought, and eliminated.” This principle should especially apply to the “wants” of the budget. The City Council should use its investigative and budgetary powers to keep taxing in line with the actual growth of the city. High property taxes are part of the reason we are experiencing a housing affordability problem. When neither the old nor the young can afford to live in Lincoln, the entire city suffers.
Do you support a recent effort by the Lincoln City Council to keep an emergency declaration in place for Lincoln during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ninety of ninety-three counties in Nebraska have an emergency declaration in place as a result of COVID-19. We still have an emergency declaration from the 2019 flood. As others have observed: “Nothing is so permanent as a temporary government program.” While I do believe that emergency declarations should eventually go away, the emergency powers do not concern me nearly as much as the COVID-19 restrictions still in place even as our local cases plummet. The government’s job is to protect personal liberties and promote the economy. Carefully lifting COVID-19 restrictions will be one of my priorities, so that life can return to normal.
Would you do anything differently in terms of the city’s response to the pandemic?
COVID-19 has been a tragedy for us all. I have had family members who have been sickened and others who have had to quarantine, including my daughter and husband. I have lost a close personal friend, Perry Gauthier, who died with COVID-19 in December. The local health director plays a key role in public safety, but she is an appointee. When that role goes beyond education, sanitation and waste disposal, and clean food, air and water, and dips into legislative power, there should be a public concern. The City Council is the legislative branch that should bear the responsibility of making laws; they are representatives of the citizens, the one to whom citizens directly seek redress. Ultimately, citizens must take responsibility for their health and do what is in their best interest all the while caring for those who are the most vulnerable among us. While hindsight is always clearer, we should acknowledge that some of our responses to the pandemic were an overreaction. Great personal and economic harm has resulted from the COVID-19 restrictions and mandates. Our Lincoln leaders must justify why we have more restrictions in place than any other city in Nebraska.
Did you support a recent effort to recall Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird and four city council members?
When elected officials overreach, they must be held accountable. Outside of direct elections, our city charter affords citizens an opportunity to hold elected officials accountable by organizing a recall petition. Though this effort was not successful, I believe that it opened the eyes of many citizens, making them aware of what is going on in their government and the importance of being involved.
Does Lincoln have an affordable housing shortage? If so, what do you think should be done to fix it.
Access to safe, welcoming, and affordable housing is essential, and Lincoln will not be able to reach its full potential so long as this remains an issue. As a member of the city council, I would support policies to incentivize housing developers while protecting the rights of property owners and tenants.
High taxes and expensive regulations are partly to blame for the high cost of housing in Lincoln. Working to lower the tax burden and cutting building code regulations that go beyond necessary safety measures will help to ensure that housing is available at all price points. I also believe that affordable housing happens when the local economy is flourishing and when people can work and afford to pay for their own homes and apartments.
A specific policy goal to make Lincoln affordable is to allow Sanitary Improvement Districts (SIDs). By limiting the debt that SIDs can incur and ensuring that good engineering and solid board management happens with each SID, we can safely promote the natural growth of our city. For each house that is built, two jobs are created in the local economy. Omaha has successful SIDs, and so can we.
The most recent budget in Lincoln came with $12 million gap filled by fee increases in 15 different areas, as well as department budget cuts. Do you support the effort made by the council? Would you have proposed other changes?
I do not believe that the City Council is adequately involved in budgeting, though they should be as the city’s legislative body. Last year’s budget was passed by the city council with a vote of 6-1. Every tax, user fee, and franchise fee increased in the most recent annual budget. The budget was handed down to them by the executive branch and passed (in full) by the City Council. Because the City Council does not work early enough in the budget process with department heads, they make a minimal impact on the budget. The status quo needs to change to control spending and bring accountability with checks and balances back to city hall.
If elected as council, how will you apply your experience to address future budget negotiations?
My background in accounting and municipal auditing has provided me the skills and discernment to examine budgets and work with those who will be impacted. As a mother of seven children, I have spent most of my life as a listener, and consensus-builder, and decision maker.
Is there anything else you’d like to include?
I was born in McCook, Nebraska, and grew up a farmer’s daughter. As a child, I loved competitive swimming and running on country roads. My political philosophy matured in college while I was working towards a business degree and majoring in accounting at Kansas State University. My husband Jon and I met in a Money and Banking class at KSU. We married shortly after I graduated, while I worked as an accountant for Kansas Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance. My husband’s engineering job took us to Little Rock, Arkansas where I began auditing at a CPA firm. After 9-11, Jon received a direct commission as an officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He served in Iraq and continues to serve as the Naval Academy’s Blue and Gold Officer for Lincoln. Together, we have seven children, three born in Lincoln.
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