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August 4, 2011

19

Don’t want your taxes to go up? Tell the City Council

by Deena Winter


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.

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19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jane H Kinsey
    Aug 4 2011

    The Watchdogs of Lincoln Government will be there to make waves. I have e-mailed the
    City Council to ask if there is not more in the “rainy day fund” to cover the short fall.

    Reply
    • ej
      Aug 4 2011

      Would not tapping the rainy day fund be just another short-term fix?

      Reply
      • Jane H Kinsey
        Aug 9 2011

        Hey, EJ,
        Have you ever heard that if government has money they will find some way to spend it?
        Now is the time to cut spending and preserve what we have. There is a
        mentality in City Hall called tax and spend. It is not sync with the times.

      • ej
        Aug 9 2011

        So you’re opposed to spending the rainy day fund? Or are you in favor of cutting spending (as am I)? If you’re in favor of cutting over spending, why would you email the council to find out if there’s more in the rainy day fund that could be used to cover the shortfall? I’m confused.

    • jim
      Aug 4 2011

      What is the e-mail address for the watch dog group?

      Reply
      • Jane H Kinsey
        Aug 9 2011

        Watchdogs will put you on our e-mail list. Send your e-mail address to us and you will learn a lot about what is really going on in Lincoln.
        jakin3@juno.com

  2. Roger Yant
    Aug 4 2011

    All I can ever say anymore is OMG! What is in their water?

    Reply
  3. J. Brown
    Aug 4 2011

    Do you think that the council will even listen? This is already a done deal.

    Reply
  4. Michael
    Aug 4 2011

    I guess I love this Comunity enough that I am willing to pay for it. Please raise my taxes!

    Reply
    • Publius
      Aug 9 2011

      Why wait? Send your check in right now. The city will gladly take it.

      Reply
  5. ej
    Aug 4 2011

    I suspect the mayor will have a group of supporters organized to speak just as he has had an organized letter-to-the-editor campaign throughout this process.

    Reply
  6. Aug 4 2011

    I would say “Good”. Lincoln is finally realizing that the ‘no tax’ idiots are running things into the ground.

    Reply
    • jim
      Aug 4 2011

      The only idiots in Lincoln are the people who think we can afford $350 million for a ditch and $800 million for an arena back to back. We know after you beg borrow and steal all you can the only thing to do is raise taxes. Let the 2015 group pay for their own dreams. I can’t afford it.

      Reply
  7. sf
    Aug 5 2011

    How about scrapping the proposed round about at 14th & Superior at a cost of around $13 million? The majority of people living in this area not only don’t want it but hate the idea including the unlit tunnels for pedestrians. There are elementary schools nearby & Goodrich Middle School is only a block away. The city really needs to rethink this one!!

    Reply
  8. sf
    Aug 5 2011

    The people from other counties that are employed in Lincoln, using the streets on a daily basis should share the responsibility of street repair through a wheel tax. Maybe this could be accomplished through their employers. In response to the gentleman from Gage county that called Drive Time Lincoln in regards to this matter. What difference does it make if you buy your gas & shop in Lincoln? Residents of Lincoln shop & purchase gas here too. That doesn’t exempt them from paying wheel tax & it shouldn’t exempt those that reside in other counties. They use the streets of Lincoln just as much as those who live here & should share the responsibility of their maintenance.

    Reply
    • Gene
      Aug 5 2011

      Just scrap the wheel tax and raise the gas tax.

      Reply
    • Sharon R. Nemeth
      Aug 8 2011

      Omaha recently tried this via employers, but was prevented from doing so because there are legal restrictions on tapping into employee paychecks. It was also suggested here in Lancaster County several years ago–maybe the 1980s–and viewed as unenforceable. It would also likely succumb to a legal challenge of taxation without representation. I’d be with Gene on raising the gas tax; it falls on those who are actually purchasing gas to drive the streets of Lincoln, although it might give rise to establishment of gas stations just outside the city limits.

      Reply
  9. Brad
    Aug 6 2011

    The Mayor reduced the city’s $500,000 contribution to Business Development to $200,000. I say let business fund it alone. If the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce can afford to pay Wendy Birdsall $200,000 annual salary to be their cheerleader, it doesn’t need any help from the taxpayers.

    Reply
  10. fedwayup
    Aug 7 2011

    A good solution to all of this would be to stop giving away tax payers money! There is so much waste in our city government. Everyone see’s, if it is something city officials want, there is plenty of money, if it is something citizens want, we have to pay dearly! When is our mayor going to address all the “FAT” that needs to be cut? Starting with his own administration!

    Reply

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