Lincoln City Budget Comments by Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird

On Monday, the City Council cast the votes that determined Lincoln’s 2016-2018 biennial budget.  I’m writing to share with you the highlights and how the budget serves all of us in our growing community for the next two years.

What Happened – In short, here is what happened during this year’s budget process. In July, the Mayor proposed a budget that included a small property tax increase (1.17 cents per $100 of home valuation or $17.50/year on a $150,000 home). The Council majority made cuts to the budget and adopted an amended budget that would have left fiscal holes for future Councils to fill. The Mayor vetoed the Council budget last week, and, on Monday, Councilwoman Jane Raybould, Councilman Carl Eskridge, and I voted to uphold the mayoral veto. With this veto, the budget reverts back to the Mayor’s original proposal, and that is what will go into effect this fall.

Where We Agreed – Both the Mayor’s and the Council’s budgets included great things for our city.

  – We invested in people – From hot meals for senior citizens (aging services) to library hours that educate and engage, from playground and pool house repairs to parks maintenance, to later and more frequent bus service, both budgets prioritized people. I cannot praise the Council and the Mayor enough for their commitment to ensuring we address the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.

  – We invested in public safety – Both budgets included new funding for six police officers and six firefighter/paramedics. As Lincoln grows, keeping up with our public safety needs is crucial.

  – We invested in infrastructure – We are increasing the number of water mains we repair each year and devoting historic levels of resources to our roads. In this budget, we set aside $15.5M in arterial and $5.4M for residential street improvements and committed full funding for the local match of the South Beltway in our six-year Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

Where We Differed – The Mayor’s budget pays down our debts on schedule, saves the city money in the long run, and doesn’t make it harder to balance future budgets by delaying expenses that we should start paying now. 

The Council budget’s left two big holes to fill in future years. 

First, for those who feel the city should work to minimize its debt, the Council budget should have raised a red flag. This budget would have postponed paying debts until the next biennium, foregoing payment now and forcing us to pay more later. 

Second, the Emerald Ash Borer crisis, an issue facing communities across the country – Lincoln being no exception, is about public safety and spending money now so we don’t have to spend more later. The Council budget simply did not put enough funding into averting this crisis.

Closing Thoughts – I worked hard to try and find a compromise during this budget process. I spent hours with department heads and city staff to understand how cuts would create trade-offs in the services that their departments provide. I spent time working with my colleagues to understand their priorities and to try to find middle ground. In the end, we did not get to a budget up0n which everyone could agree. That said, I still believe that the time spent looking for compromise was a worthwhile and important effort. 

Compromise is key to good governance. I intend to continue working with all of my colleagues to find the middle ground on other important issues facing our city. 

In the case of the 2016-2018 budget, I supported the Mayor’s version in the end because I want to grow our city, not grow a budget deficit. A budget that faces the fiscal facts and increases revenues to support a growing city may not score political points, but the hard thing to do is often the right thing to do.

All my best,

Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird

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