Don’t want your taxes to go up? Tell the City Council
What would you say if I told you you were about to see your property taxes go up 10 percent, the tax for having cars go up $20 (more for big cars), the price of a parking ticket double to $20, your LES rates go up 2.5 percent and your water and sewer rates rise 5 percent each?
Oh, and the fees for many city services — like park programs — will go up too.
That’s what’s on the table today at the Lincoln City Council, where the public finally gets its chance to weigh in on Mayor Chris Beutler’s $144 million budget proposal. The budget isn’t finalized until the public has its say and then the City Council can make changes to the spending blueprint.
So if you have a problem with all those tax and fee increases, head on down to city hall (555 S. 10th St.) for the budget hearing which begins at 2:30 p.m. and goes until they run out of people who want to testify. Then the City Council makes its final budget decisions on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.
I expect to see people lobbying to keep the buses running for 10 hours on Saturdays (StarTran cuts always bring out bus riders in force), keep the Airpark fire station open and leave library hours alone.
You might see people lobbying against cutting 10 firefighter positions and eliminating the city forester position — but it will be interesting to see if any people show up to say, “Please don’t raise my taxes and fees by this much.”
Although people write a lot of letters to the paper and complain on radio talk shows, not many actually go down to the City Council to talk about taxes at this budget hearing — where they are specifically invited to state their case for or against anything in the budget.
If you testify against the tax and fee increases, be prepared to say where you’d like to see the budget cut, because that’s the alternative. I think that’s an unfair question to ask of a citizen who does not have the budget at her fingertips and frankly, that’s not their job. That’s the council’s job. But some council members have been known to throw that in a citizen’s face anyway.
Here are a few potential places to look for savings:
• Rather than spend $1.2 million on a new computer software system for the Development Services Center, do what city employees wanted to do and let them design the software. The city plans to buy the software through its new favorite financing plan: a rent-to-own type of setup. Next year, the city will begin making $300,000 annual payments on the software. Why the city is stuck on buying this software — come hell or high water — is beyond me. Employees wanted to do it themselves, but the administrators insisted on this particular system.
• Don’t tuck $230,000 into the parks’ capital budget for a bike shop in the Antelope Valley Project park, Union Plaza. Right now, the so-called CIP has $50,000 in keno funds and $180,000 in “other funds” slated to be spent on the bike shop in 2012-2013. The city solicited bids for a private operator to put a bike shop in the building which will also be the new home for the Community Health Endowment of Lincoln. Nobody responded. So why should the city spend $200,000 to provide a service that the private sector won’t even touch?
• Speaking of the CHE, does it really make sense for that entity to “invest” $600,000 in office condos in Antelope Valley for a new headquarters for the CHS’s handful of employees when they’re currently in a rent-free building? The endowment, you’ll remember, was created with $37 million from the controversial sale of Lincoln General Hospital in 1997. Whether they knew it or not, Lincoln voters gave endowments like the CHE the authority to invest in real estate last year. My sources tell me this new building at the new bike trail hub at 21st and R streets was little more than a way to get some development going in Antelope Valley. The City Council should have stepped in before it was too late, but didn’t. And now the city is considering setting aside another $200,000 for a bike shop in the same building.
• Reduce or eliminate the tax now being collected strictly for railroad safety projects, and instead make those project compete for city dollars.