Looks to me like the Republicans running for office in the city election are about to launch a green grenade at Mayor Chris Beutler’s administration.
I received a copy of an email that’s circulating around town inviting people to a March 25 meeting to talk about what is portrayed as Beutler’s sinister moves to cram sustainable development down the throats of Lincolnites. The flier starts off saying, “Have you heard about the REAL cleaner, greener Lincoln?” “Where is Mayor Beutler taking US?”
It goes on to inform people that Beutler signed on to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, or ICLEI, an international association formed in 1990 to promote sustainable development. More than 1,200 cities, towns and counties and their associations are members of ICLEI, whose website says they are committed to sustainable development.
The flier says Beutler joined the group without a vote of the people or the City Council’s knowledge. It says Beutler has plans in place for “denser pack ’em, stack ’em housing” in Lincoln — which it says limits “freedom of choice of where we live.”
They also warn that the Beutler administration plans to increase government regulations to stifle entrepreneurs and business expansion and that “smart meters” will be in place by 2014, monitoring energy in Lincoln homes and businesses with “the ability to turn our power up and down without our knowledge?”
This sort of green grenade was also launched at a Denver mayor during the gubernatorial campaign in that state last October. According to the Denver Post, a Republican gubernatorial candidate said the mayor’s seemingly innocuous bike riding program and other environmental programs were actually intended to “convert Denver into a United Nations community” and were a threat to people’s personal freedom. He said ICLEI puts the environment above citizens’ rights.
Certainly, Lincoln’s green efforts have stepped up since the city received a $2.4 million federal stimulus grant in 2009 for efficiency programs. A new mayoral aide, Milo Mumgaard, was hired to launch the city’s “Cleaner, Greener Lincoln” program to make city government more energy-efficient — although as it has evolved, the program has expanded beyond city government to encourage all of Lincolnites to conserve energy. You’ve probably seen signs, billboards and advertisements around town.
However, alleging they’re part of some sinister plot to discourage development and submit to U.N. control — well, I’ll be interested to hear them connect those dots.
According to the flier, all of the Republican candidates in the spring city election will be at the meeting: Mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington and City Council candidates Chad Wright, Melissa Hilty and Travis Nelson. I asked Camp about it, and he said he was invited to a meeting about it — but couldn’t make it — and was surprised to see his name on this list.
The meeting is at 7 p.m. at Calvary Community Church, First and Superior streets. Don Raskey will be giving a presentation based on his research.
After recently filing an open records request, I learned the city of Lincoln has a projected $6.3 million budget shortfall, not counting the cost of raises that will undoubtedly have to be approved for many city employees, the loss of $1.8 million in state aid and the possible loss of about $1.2 million in telecom tax revenue forced by state lawmakers.
And the city budget officer projects the city’s budget gap will widen to a whopping $19 million in five years, unless the city takes action to fix its structurally imbalanced budget.
“The City Council and mayors have not had the political will to fix this structurally imbalanced budget,” I said during a press conference today. “Instead, they have chosen to balance the budget by finding and then raiding pots of money and relying on one-time budget gimmicks to make it through another year, always hoping next year will be better. Clearly it’s not getting better. It’s getting worse.”
If the projections are accurate, the city will have to find about $8 million worth of cuts or new revenue in order to balance the budget, as is required by law.
“The city’s infrastructure is deteriorating and the backlog of street and sidewalk work continues to grow, while city leaders’ continue to use a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ approach to budgeting every year,” I said.
If I were on the council, I would not have approved spending such as the $6 million purchase of the Experian building, which will incur $10 million in moving costs; the $2 million remodeling of city hall – including the construction of a new mayoral suite of offices and double-digit raises for some firefighters.
“It’s like a family who can’t afford to fix the roof going out and buying a swimming pool and a new car,” I said. “The city can’t afford to keep pouring money into downtown projects while the infrastructure in the rest of Lincoln slowly breaks down.”
As an example, I pointed to Penny Bridge — which spans the Rock Island Trail on Sheridan Boulevard. Last year, volunteers erected a chain-link structure over the trail to protect bikers and joggers after a bridge inspection showed problems. The parks director called it “another example of deferred maintenance” and the need for city funds to fix the bridge.
I support reform to the current system of setting public employees’ salaries, which does not allow flexibility during budget crises or recessions and said if elected, I will bring real, substantive ideas to the table during budgeting, such as:
• Looking into the legality and possibility of lifting the RTSD levy temporarily or permanently and instead shifting that tax into the city levy, so more money can go toward city needs. The RTSD was created in 1971 to deal with an alarming number of car/train accidents in the 1950s and 1960s by improving railroad safety. Originally, RTSDs were authorized until 1996, and then indefinitely. The RTSD is authorized to tax up to $4.7 million annually and last I checked, had $11 million in cash and investments.
• Exploring the possibility of creating an employee savings incentive program that rewards employees who come up with ways to save money with a portion of the savings.
• Exploring whether some of the Community Health Endowment Fund (which was created with $37 million from the controversial sale of the city-owned Lincoln General Hospital to Bryan Memorial in 1997) could be used to help fund health department programs currently funded by city dollars. Nearly two years ago, an accounting firm said the CHE fund was bigger than it needed to be and should dole out more money annually.
• Tapping into the Library Special Trust Fund to pay for one-time expenses in the library system, freeing up more city dollars. The same accounting firm said the trust fund was equal to three years of operating expenses, and could be more freely expended.
Lincoln mayoral candidate Tammy Buffington today said if elected, she would do performance audits of mayoral staff and make real cuts in the mayor’s personnel budget.
Mayor Chris Beutler announced last week that he and his 19 directors and aides would take a .5 percent pay cut, saving the city less than $11,000.
“We’re long past the point of making symbolic gestures that won’t help solve our budget problems and put tax dollars back in the voters’ pocketbooks,” Buffington said in a press release. “My staff will be subject to performance audits and the mayor’s office will be no different than any other part of city government. The mayor’s office won’t get special treatment and have salary advantages that other city employees don’t have.”
Buffington again criticized the mayor and his cabinet and aides’ retirement benefit of 12 percent of their salaries — with no matching funds required — given the mayor’s push for other employees to reduce their 2-to-1 match to a 1-to-1 match.
“The mayor must think that he and his top staff don’t have to play by the same rules as other city employees,” Buffington said. “It’s this sense of government entitlement that voters are getting tired of and want to see changed. The last three mayors have been from the same party and some senior staff have been in multiple administrations and real change is needed and expected by the voters,.”
While out on the campaign trail, I was told the Democrats are doing some kind of polling about the mayoral and City Council races.
A man told me he was asked if he’s decided who he’s voting for in the races. Did you get a call? If so, email me and tell me about it — email@example.com.