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May 17, 2011

17

City budget survey makes it clear: Tax increase coming

by Deena Winter


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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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Publius
    May 17 2011

    Is there anyone of the electorate out their enjoying their “voter’s remorse”?

    Reply
  2. CS
    May 17 2011

    Good. Im glad he’s raising taxes. Too many people think that there is graft and waste and corruption all over the place yet never name these scofflaws so that they can be rooted out. Others think that the city must run on air and services are great to have provided that THEIR taxes don’t have to be raised to cover any of it. Cities run on money, growing cities run on more money. Id rather ferret out issues that I have with LPS’s levy than whine over what the city levies collect.

    Reply
  3. porcupine
    May 17 2011

    I think we should adjust the levies. For one, the city keeps growing (whether you want it to or not) and the levies stay the same. The city has more to take care of, the county has less. I believe the schools should give up 5% and the county 1% on their levies and give it to the city! I would rather see that than schools getting built just to close another and an empty lot at 67th and “O” Street. Or, for that matter, more equipment sitting unused 95% of the time across from Lincoln High.. Just an afterthought: maybe it’s to pay for the legal action P.A.G.E. Union said they were bringing forward.

    Reply
    • mmh
      Jun 22 2011

      So, if our city is growing, then the tax base is growing. The city should not have to increase the levy, but they are so used to their revenues going up (years and years of it going up) that they don’t know how to live off of what is coming in. Why in the the world do we want our city managers to spend differently then we would in our own homes? Less money coming in = less spending. It really is simple and forces priorities to be established!

      Reply
  4. May 17 2011

    CS, I believe there is waste. Let’s start with LFR, the average employee at LFR makes $80k per year. The average employee at LPD makes $62k per year. The average LFR employee gets to sleep on the job. When you are sleeping on the job (on call) you should be making less, not more. When we have hundreds upon hundreds of qualified applicants for every LFR job opening, we are paying too much! We need CIR reform so we can undo the long time mess at LFR. I don’t have a problem with Teachers or Cops. I want to see a natural balance of supply and demand of qualified Labor for our city employees, just as we have in the private sector. The waste we have at LFR is forcing us to cut services and possibly raise taxes.

    Reply
    • Gene
      May 18 2011

      I hope Michael James is at every fire call screaming that the firefighters make too much money.

      Reply
      • ej
        May 18 2011

        So we should just hand them the checkbook, Gene? Weak.

      • Gene
        May 19 2011

        Those figures include extra pay and overtime, so obviously we have a need for a certain number of firefighters and police officers. You’re either going to have to hire more employees or pay the current employees overtime.

        I have no problem with our public servants making a good wage. Expecting quality candidates for those positions to work for $12.00 an hour is pure fantasy.

  5. porcupine
    May 17 2011

    The SS minnow went down once, it looks like the SS is headed for another storm. Loose lips sink ships.

    Reply
  6. CS
    May 18 2011

    Really? Every time they sleep, then get woken up, the sleep again, they should be paid at at different rate?

    Maybe Ill float that one up the chain of command too, after all, what’s good for LFR is good for the Army,Navy,Marines, and Air Force.

    We have thousands and thousands of ‘applicants’ for those jobs too. I guess we pay them too much.

    More likely, and stay with me here, there are hundreds of applicants because the job has a certain status to it, and appeals to a certain kind of person-that probably isn’t going to be working at your local Wal-Mart. It requires a lot of training that you won’t get anywhere else. It requires a certain kind of attitude. It requires a little bit of innate stupidity-would YOU go into a burning building? Someone has to.

    Reply
  7. May 18 2011

    Oops I forgot to add AFL-CIO rebuttal in 5, 4, 3, 2 .

    Reply
  8. May 19 2011

    Bellevue firefighters start at less than $12 per hour. Please Gene, tell us why LFR employees are averaging $18k more per year than LPD employees? I’ll start with my theory. LFR employees have tons of free time between calls. They put this time to good use by organizing their union and working the political system. We only have so much money for government services and the AFL-CIO is taking more than their fair share in Lincoln.

    Reply
    • Gene
      May 20 2011

      They’re averaging $18k more per year because those figures include extra pay and overtime. Jon Camp said so himself.

      Reply
  9. Dean
    May 20 2011

    Michael, how about this for a theory, Firefighters are paid well because they’re a skilled profession that requires you to run into burning buildings and rescue people for a living. If you’re in an emergency situation, I hope you don’t call LIBA.

    Reply
  10. Political Observer
    May 21 2011

    It’s evident that Michael James didn’t hire a political consultant for his campaign, going on these blogs and badmouthing groups like the firefighters and making enemies for no reason is dumb, dumb, dumb.

    Firefighters sleep on call because they’re on call for days at a time.

    Reply
  11. Jane H Kinsey
    Jun 22 2011

    If CS and Porcupine are so sympathetic to paying more taxes, I will sent them my bill when it arrives.
    Then I will include the Federal tax increase also

    Reply
    • porecupine
      Jun 22 2011

      I am in no way saying more taxes, what I am saying is an adjustment is need.

      Reply

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