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October 22, 2010

5

State of the city: In denial

by Deena Winter

Mayor Chris Beutler


Here’s another reason the re-election rate is so high for incumbents: They get to have numerous events which are unabashed boosterism but are covered by all the local press even though there is no actual news.
To wit: The mayor’s “state of the city” address on Thursday. I had the honor of covering the past five of these annual events in which the mayor gives a speech about how things are going down at city hall.
As you can imagine, things are always going great!
The press shows up and dutifully takes pictures, video and audio — and the mayor gets nothing but positive press all over TV, radio and the paper. I always hated covering these events because there was rarely any real news being made. Let’s face it: They’re glorified press conferences.
The president of the United States gets to do it (the state of the union), the governors get to do it (the state of the state), so of course mayors like to get in on the action. It’s a tradition.
Mayor Chris Beutler talked about how Lincoln is “back on top,” and listed all the various groups that have ranked the city high in those rankings you now see on every website imaginable. I happen to think these rankings are a cheap way for magazines and organizations (Next Generation Consulting? Expansion Management?) to generate free publicity in every hamlet they recognize. It works: Most media outlets in every city on their list will hungrily pick up the story, because it’s one of those “freebie” stories that don’t take much work.
For example, I was in Fort Collins, Colo., last week and their visitors’ guide touts a long list of accolades too: No less than 19 were listed, from the top 30 “fast cities” (I have no idea what that means) to “great places for entrepreneurs to retire” (what makes a great place for an entrepreneur to retire, I wonder?) to “Top 20 places to thrive” (by Best Boomer Towns, whatever that is).
If you’ve ever perused a magazine rack, you know magazines (and newspapers, to a lesser degree) LOVE to make Top 10 lists. Apparently, readers like them.
But when there are 4,585 lists out there, do they really mean anything anymore? At this point, I’d bet every city with at least 50,000 people is on several “best places” lists.
But I guess it makes us feel good about ourselves. And feeling good about ourselves is what “state of the city” addresses are all about, baby!
However.
To provide some balance to all the rainbows and butterflies floating around city hall yesterday, I think it should be noted that the city has faced multi-million-dollar budget shortfalls every year since before Beutler took office, and he continues to have to scrounge around to plug the holes every year. Despite his much-ballyhooed move to “outcome-based budgeting,” the city budget is still structurally imbalanced, just as it was when he got elected, despite his campaign promises to fix everything.
The city has changed the process for putting together a budget, but the end result is the same every year: The mayor proposes cuts, the public protests, the mayor withdraws most of those proposals. And so even though Beutler used to chastise the City Council for using “one-time gimmicks” to balance the budget, he has done the same thing every year since arriving.
He has admitted that next year — when he will be up for re-election — the city will have yet another multi-million-dollar budget shortfall to deal with.
This is because Lincoln has not faced the fact that there simply is not enough money to pay for all the services the city provides. That leaves two options: raise taxes or cut services. Beutler has not had the intestinal fortitude to really make cuts, and so the parlor game continues.
Meanwhile, bridges are falling down, streets are pocked with potholes and the city’s infrastructure funding gap continues to widen into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Personnel costs continue to skyrocket, thanks to a state law that virtually guarantees they will, and city officials have not been able to convince lawmakers to fix that, either.
Lincoln is a good city — maybe even one of the top 10 places to locate a company or be a baby or retire. But it’s in a state of denial.

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5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jane H Kinsey
    Oct 22 2010

    At Jon Camp’s request for help in stopping the purchase of the Experian Building,
    I will be speaking on Monday, October 25 in the open microphone section of the City Council meeting at 5:30PM. Besides pointing out the folly of this purchase, I will be speaking to the negative side of the “State of the City” and the indebtedness that we have already incurred . I ask that as many of you out there who can, also attend as a protest against the purchase. Mayor Beutler even says the money is not now available to buy it. Where is his mind?

    Reply
  2. Tony Porto
    Oct 22 2010

    Deena, what i,m ticked about is the special olympics. We were told 20-40 million impact. From what i read about in paper, sales tax was 168 thou. forget all the feel good stories, this was so over rated and nobody says a thing. Arena went a another mil over what we were told, but all thats being talked about is how much we saved on bond interest, what a crock. The Pershing is still going to be on the books after arena gets built! when will it stop? I also think you will not be getting the parking garages around the arena because they dont have the land bought yet. And the ice rink is way over the 14 mil, plus now there moving it! Who has made the interest on the 7 mil gift?. We need to get the group together and soon, Imagine 2020 needs to get fired up big time.

    Reply
  3. Oct 22 2010

    What’s Imagine 2020?

    Reply
  4. Roger Yant
    Oct 26 2010

    Let me count the ways we can save money and balance the budget. How about not buying the Experian Building. First we buy the building, for many millions, then we have to do some remodeling, more millions, then we have to move there, more millions, then we have a partially vacant building we have to rent out. Good God, we talk about saving money, this is a no brainer. If my memory doesn’t fail me I remember a building that sits NW of city hall that holds records, a very large building, close to city hall, why not move those records to a storage facility, maybe reduce space needed by putting most on computer files, keeping the actual files that are deemed historic, then remodeling that building, move those people there. Shucks, we own that building, but that has never stoped politicians from doing stupid things.
    Another thing, instead of ripping down some perfectly beautiful buildings on the corner of 13th & “Q” St to make room for a parking garage, retail space and condos and thus taking more spots off the tax rolls, maybe we could put all this at the corner of 14th & “Q” St, I seam to remember the rush the city was in to rip those buildings down to put up a parking garage and retail and condos three or four years ago, what happened city, where is that development? Finish what you have started before making even more stupid decisions. The Arena is the biggest, look at the money being blown on it already. And an even bigger joke is the Ditch? Yes, the Antelope Valley Project that they can’t account for all the money that has been spent on that, my guess is over $400 million and we are not done. God I could go on forever, remember the Centrum back in the 70s? What a joke that was.
    I could go on for a long time on mistakes the city has made with OUR tax dollars. When are the people of Lincoln going to see what is going on. It’s us the tax payers who actually work for a living paying for all this un-necessary stuff. Until the people can’t take the spending spree the city is on and vote the council and the mayor out we will continue to spend like drunken sailors, no offense to you Navy guys, it’s just a saying. I agree with Tony and Jane, now those are the type of people we need to elect to office.

    Reply
    • DT
      Oct 26 2010

      Roger,

      While I agree with you on some things, the amount of money to move the records storage out of the K Street Plant to another climate controlled center would make Experian seem cheap. The same goes for any scanning project of said records.

      That being said, the Experian building is amazing overkill for what they want to do.

      Reply

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