Mayor Chris Beutler today said user fee increases helped his administration meet its main objectives for the City's first biennial budget - no property tax increase, no major program cuts and no use of one-time money for ongoing programs. The City Council today holds its public hearing on the proposed 2012-2014 City budget.
"The substitution of user fees for property taxes in this budget helped us meet our objectives and properly assess the cost of government services to those who benefit directly," Mayor Beutler said. "It doesn't always make sense to ask all taxpayers to fund services they may never use when costs can be recovered from those who do."
The Mayor said creating a structurally sound budget has required sacrifice - since he took office in 2007, about 140 jobs and $7.6 million have been cut from the budget. The cuts have reduced the City's workforce by more than 6 percent total and nearly 10 percent for non-public safety employees. At the same time, the City grew 12 percent in population and 7 percent in area. All civilian labor unions also have agreed to reduce the two-to-one retirement match for new employees, the first change since the match was implemented 40 years ago.
Personnel costs make up about 70 percent of the City budget, and State law mandates that City salaries and benefits be comparable to other cities its size. The cost per FTE (full-time equivalent) has increased 15.72 percent over the past four years, outpacing the Consumer Price Index (8.95 percent) and sales and property tax revenue (6.47 percent).
"We have made hard choices on revenues, putting in place the increases that prevented the closure of parks and libraries across the City and prevented devastating cuts in police and fire services," Beutler said. "At the same time, we have made several bold choices to invest in Lincoln's future. We have put more funding into roads which are opening Lincoln to new economic opportunities. The Pinnacle Bank Arena, the Innovation Campus, and numerous private sector investments across the City are helping to generate sales tax at a rate that is 6 percent higher than last year and creating good jobs for our citizens."
Beutler said public involvement has been very important in creating the City budgets. Through the Taking Charge public engagement process, 3,900 people have taken the budget surveys in the last two years.
"In the past only a handful of people were able to make their voices heard because of the challenge of missing work or family time to come testify at a public hearing," Beutler said. "As a result, those paid to offer opinions on behalf of interest groups dominated the conversation. Now thousands are relaying their budget priorities, and it is making a difference in creating a broad consensus for success."
Out of every property tax dollar, the City receives about 15.6 cents, and Lincoln's property tax rate ranks 12th when compared to the State's 15 largest cities. The proposed tax-funded budget for 2012-2013 is $153.6 million, a 4.98 percent increase over the current fiscal year. The proposed tax-funded budget for 2013-2014 is $158.8 million, a 3.43 percent increase over 2012-2013. Over seven budgets, the increase averages 2.89 percent a year
The City Council will vote on final budget changes at its meeting beginning at 3 p.m. Wednesday, August 8. The City Council will vote on adopting the budget at its meeting beginning at 3 p.m. Monday, August 20. These meetings will be in the City Council Chambers at the County-City Building. They will be carried live on 5 CITY-TV (government access cable channel 5) and will be available through video-on-demand at lincoln.ne.gov.
Budget information is available online at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: budget).