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City budget survey makes it clear: Tax increase coming

The mayor’s office is doing its annual tradition of surveying Lincolnites about their budget priorities, and it’s pretty clear what the aim of the survey is.

Now that Mayor Chris Beutler is safely ensconced in his (newly built, at taxpayer expense, I might add) office for four more years, he wasted no time before testing the water to see how a tax increase will play in Lincoln. Right on the primer page, the introduction bemoans the state of the budget (funny we never heard any of this during the campaign) before saying,

This leads to an important question affecting the current fiscal situation: Would Lincolnites be willing to support another increase in taxes to address the city’s budget shortfall? This remains an open yet critical question.

Then you go on to take the survey and learn that if we don’t raise taxes, libraries, swimming pools and even fire stations could close unless the city raises taxes enough to come up with $2.8 million — just to keep funding at current levels.

Faithful Winterized readers won’t be surprised by this — but some of those LIBA members who endorsed Beutler might be. (See my story way back here.)

Beutler has done this survey several years in a row now, and I always find it to be most useful for giving insight into what he’s thinking about doing with his next budget — which will be released this summer. He’s testing the water, and he’s proven to be the type of mayor who will back down if there’s enough controversy. So which of the mayor’s potential budget cuts are likely to stir up controversy?

• Closing the fire station that gets the least calls — which I believe would be in the Airpark area. This surprises me, considering the city is also looking at asking voters to approve a bond issue to build a new fire station.

• Closing the Pioneers Park Nature Center.

• Discontinuing funding for the Bethany, South, and Williams neighborhood branch libraries — although this threat is often wielded, it is seldom delivered. (Can’t tell you how many times Councilman Jonathan Cook has saved the South Library from closure.)

• Cutting the forestry budget by a half million dollars — again. Recall the brouhaha last year when the city forester’s job was effectively bagged.

• Ending funding for Airpark, Ballard, Belmont, Eden and Irvingdale neighborhood pools.

• Cutting $200,000 in programs for seniors, the Retired Volunteer Services Program, Foster Grandparent Program and Senior Companion Program.

• Eliminating the No. 54-Veteran’s Hospital bus route.

Radio talk show host Coby Mach was in a dither yesterday over some of the weird statements in the survey that people were asked to rate your level of agreement with — such as this one:

In these troubled times laws have to be enforced without mercy, especially when dealing with the agitators and revolutionaries who are stirring things up.

and this one:

Atheists and others who have rebelled against the established religions are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who attend church regularly.

And this one:

The self-righteous “forces of law and order” threaten freedom in our country a lot more than most of the groups they claim are “radical” and “godless”.

My personal favorite:

“Thinking is not my idea of fun.”

(You had to think to answer the question.)

However, those questions were part of research being done by the Nebraska Public Policy Center — which conducts the Taking Charge surveys for the city — on public engagement. Yes, your tax dollars paid for the whole survey, but those questions are not really part of it. Still, they were kinda weird, huh?

I think no matter how you slice it, a tax increase cometh to fund the next budget. The budget deficit is just too big ($6.3 million not counting most employee raises and lost state aid) and those pots of money are getting too small to raid (I believe there’s only like $4 million left in the economic development fund that would be about the only pot of money left). Last year, the mayor was able to avoid a tax increase because he really, really didn’t want people to think taxes were being raised as a result of the arena project. Now, that danger has passed (I guess) and he’s been safely re-elected.

I’m not saying it’s right or wrong to increase the tax levy, I’m just saying I told you this was coming…

(Illustration by jscreationzs)

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