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TAKING CHARGE:
Progress Measures & Program Prioritization 2009 - 2010

Taking Charge: Progress Measures & Program Prioritization 2009 - 2010

Questions & Answers From Taking Charge Community Conversation

Question 1: Since our group feels that libraries are important in these hard time, what other options have been explored; both within the library budget itself and within the government to help cut costs without closing or cutting hours?

The libraries are committed to providing a minimum level of service at all of our locations. Generally, this means having enough staff in place to serve customers, and enough new materials to satisfy customer demand. Libraries have been accomplishing this task despite declining resources. Compared to five years ago, the libraries have 14.2 fewer FTE positions, an 11.8% decrease while circulation of materials has grown by 5.5%.

Like most City departments, the most expensive portion of providing library service is staffing costs. In order to achieve any sort of substantial savings, library hours must be a consideration. However, we have also pulled back many miscellaneous expenses in recent years and made other changes, such as:

Many people asked whether the libraries could stay open using volunteers. We appreciate that people have offered to support libraries this way. The technical demands of modern libraries make it difficult to depend on volunteer labor. Our previous experiences have demonstrated that it is difficult for volunteers to stay trained in the use of the library's automated circulation system and catalog, its Internet reserve system, and its money-handling system in order to provide customer service. There may be increased roles for volunteers such as in bolstering employee safety at closing time or assisting with special events.

The question of whether to close neighborhood libraries or to reduce hours at all branches is dependent on the size of the cuts libraries are being asked to assume. The neighborhood branches, Bethany, South, and Williams account for 136 of the 450 hours currently offered weekly at City libraries Cutting hours equally across all branches would have required at least a 17.5-hour per week reduction at each one. We felt this approach would have far greater impact on community access to services than closing the neighborhood libraries. Had the projected budget shortfall been smaller, pulling back at all locations may have been feasible.

In the previous years, the libraries have made the following adjustments to hours of service to address budget shortfalls:

Question 2: Regarding resource officers and recreation: what evidence is there regarding the need for officers in middle schools? Our sense is that the recreation hours are more important, but information was lacking. Could you please provide for information: i.e. financial?

About 780 elementary and middle school students participate daily in Parks and Recreation school's out (morning and afternoon) programs. In addition, on average about 150 youth participate daily in "drop-in" programs and activities at recreation centers during evening and weekend hours. The focus of these supervised programs is academic support and activities that foster social, physical and character development. About 60% of participants are from low and very low income families. The net cost of providing school's out programs is about $100,000 annually to provide scholarship assistance to low income families. In addition, the net cost of operating Air Park, Calvert and Irving Recreation Centers on evenings and weekends is about $43,000 annually.

Four school resource officers split their time between 10 middle schools. This costs $281,318 per year. Lincoln Public Schools pays $96,178 of this cost, the remaining $185,140 is paid by the City of Lincoln. I think all the principals would tell you that their school resource officers are important, and that they need them. We handled 372 incidents on weekdays between 7:00 AM and 4:00 PM at middle schools during the 2007-2008 school year. By comparison, there were 1427 at the six high schools. I feel that it is not a very efficient use of the limited resources, and if something has to go, this would be a prudent program cut.

Question 3A: Neighborhood Libraries - Pat Leach
What is the fiscal impact for each program? What are the measurable impacts of each program?

Arnold Heights Library, $71,067.00 estimated annually
(will open as the Dan A Williams Branch Library in the new Arnold Elementary School)
This library has been housed in a former Air Force duplex, and at 28 open hours per week could be considered an "outreach library." It's about 2500 square feet, and will be the same size when it re-opens as the Dan A. Williams Branch Library in the new Arnold Elementary School. This part of the city is geographically isolated from the rest, and the Library has considered this location critical. This library probably has the largest proportion of customers who walk to the library, and it has a large percentage of its circulation from youth materials. Its nearest other library is the Eiseley Branch Library at 1530 Superior Street, 7.75 miles away.

Hours: 24 per week
Number of items owned, 2008: 7,609
Circulation in fiscal year 07-08: 14,434
Percentage of circulation that is youth: 84%

Bethany Branch Library, $156,881 estimated annually
This library is 3800 square feet, and part of its original construction in 1959 was paid by individuals of the neighborhood. It retains a strong connection to its neighborhood. Many people walk to Bethany Branch Library from the nearby Cotner Center. Its nearest other library is the Anderson Branch Library at 3635 Touzalin Av., 1.85 miles away.

Hours: 48 per week
Number of items owned, 2008: 22,925
Circulation in fiscal year 07-08: 89,675
Percentage of circulation that is youth: 48%

South Branch Library, $303,434 estimated annually
This library opened in 1955, and is 4900 square feet. It, too, retains a strong connection to its neighborhood and has the highest use of the neighborhood branches. Many people walk to South Branch Library. Its nearest other library is Gere Branch Library, 2.09 miles away.

Hours: 64 per week
Number of items owned, 2008: 37,852
Circulation in fiscal year 07-08: 125,411
Percentage of circulation that is youth: 47%

Question 3B: Middle School SROs
What is the fiscal impact for each program? What are the measurable impacts of each program?

The cost of four school resource officers for middle schools is $281,318 per year. Lincoln Public Schools pays $96,178. The remaining $185,140 is paid by the City of Lincoln. There are no measurable impacts of the program. Without school resource officers in middle schools, we would have dispatched other officers to the 372 incidents during the school year and school day at middle schools. In theory, the presence of a school resource officer helps not only allows for him or her to handle these incidents, but also prevents some incidents from occurring, enhances safety, and builds relationships between police officers and youth.

Question 3C: Accident Reports
What is the fiscal impact for each program? What are the measurable impacts of each program?

There were 7,110 non-injury traffic crashes reported to the police in 2008. The time spent in the investigative tasks and report writing is approximately 45 minutes for each, a total of 5,333 hours. Additionally, traffic citations resulting from accident investigations also accounts for overtime expenses. Although these cannot be broken out separately, it is my belief that the net impact of no longer conducting these investigations is the equivalent of three FTEs, so the fiscal impact (salary and benefits) is $159,681. There is no measurable impact. In theory, crash investigations resulting in traffic citations help ensure compliance with the law, reduce future crashes by negligent motorists, deter traffic violations, provide data for traffic crash analysis and engineering, and help owners and their insurance companies settle damage claims.

Question 3D: What is the fiscal impact for each program? What are the measurable impacts of each program?

The estimated cost for snow removal on arterial streets and bus routes assuming 2+ inches of snow is $91,000 per event, excluding materials spreading operations which occur prior to snow removal. The measurable impacts of arterial street plowing include increased public safety, a reduction in the number of snow days for school, and increased convenience. The estimated cost for snow removal on residential streets is $270,000 per event, assuming 4-6 inches of snow. The measurable impacts of residential street plowing include a reduction in the number of snow days for school and increased convenience. None of these figures include the cost of complete snow removal from business districts such as the downtown and Havelock districts, which is also part of the City's snow removal service. Annually the City typically spends between $2.5 million and $3 million total on snow removal. If the standard of snow removal were reduced, there would be some cost savings and some shifting of staff resources to other street maintenance services.

Question 3E: What is the impact for each (Parks and Recreation youth) program? What are the measurable impacts for each program?

About 780 elementary and middle school students participate daily in Parks and Recreation school's out (morning and afternoon) programs. In addition, on average about 150 youth participate daily in "drop-in" programs and activities at recreation centers during evening and weekend hours. The focus of these supervised programs is academic support and activities that foster social, physical and character development. About 60% of participants are from low and very low income families.

The Parks and Recreation Department has developed and is implementing an assessment tool that measures the following outcomes:

During the first quarter of 2009, 87% of youth program participants found activities to be useful and interesting. During the same period, 95% parents and guardians rated programs as meaningful and high quality.

Question 3F
Health - Indoor Air Quality
What is the fiscal impact for each program? What are the measurable impacts of each program?

By ordinance, upon receiving a complaint, the Health Director must determine if conditions present in rental properties are detrimental to health. 90% of complaints are on mold and 10% are smoke, chemicals, unsanitary conditions, or other. The majority of complaints are handled via phone, but about 200 onsite investigations per year are completed and result in abatement of the mold or other conditions presenting health risks. About 50% of the population is highly susceptible to mold exposures due to asthma, COPD, compromised immune system, allergies of other health conditions. About 75% of all complainants live in rental properties, about 50% of which are multifamily. This work was proposed to be funded 50% by fees (via LMC 5.38) and 50% general fund.

Option 1: LMC 5.38.050 fees could be increased by $1.10 per unit, creating $29,150.

Option 2: Change program to respond to all mold complaints first with a letter to the landlord informing him/her of the complaint and ordering them to fix the water/mold problem. If the conditions are not repaired in a given time frame, onsite investigation would be conducted by Health and fees would be charged. Minimum fee would be $180, with any time beyond two (2) hours charged at a rate of $90 per hour. A very rough estimate of fees might be $2000.

Question 3G: Kids' Accidents

What is the fiscal impact?
Approximately $12,300 is spent specifically on staff activities related to pedestrian and bike safety for children. (The activities are identified below). The remainder of the funding focuses on other injury prevention activities (child passenger safety seats, swimming pool safety, fall prevention, etc).

What are the measurable impacts?

Question 4: Plow Removal. Is the city able to shift cost of transportation related sources from the general fund to wheel tax or other user fee?

There has already been a shift in the cost of transportation-related sources from the general fund to the wheel tax. Examples based on Public Works' 2009-10 budget submittal include the $1 million Sidewalk Repair program and the $1.1 million Street Maintenance program which used to be funded from the General Fund but are now paid for with Street Construction Funds. Other transportation-related programs which are still funded by the general fund include the $1.5 million Traffic Engineering program, the $820,000 Drainage Maintenance program, and the administrative portion of the Street Maintenance program, which is $650,000. A continued shift of these dollars from the General Fund to the Street Construction funds will only increase the gap between the funding needed and the dollars available to maintain and build new roads.

Question 5: Is too much being held in reserve as noted by the auditors?

The Auditors noted that the City Council should do further review to determine if there is too large a balance in some of the City's funds. The City has reviewed these funds and determined that the balances are prudent because of a need to have an adequate reserve to fund ongoing operations or in some cases, the timing of tax receipts temporarily created larger balances at the end of the City's fiscal year (August 31).

Question 6: What other revenue raising options are available? (Income tax, increase sales tax?)

The available revenue options include sources of revenue that provide funding for a relatively small portion of our tax supported budget. 73% of the City budget is supported by sales and property tax. The other 27% is made up of multiple sources. These include existing fund balances, interest income, recreation fees, interdepartmental billings to other city funds, Motor Vehicle Tax, State Aid, and occupation taxes. Of the list, the one that can most readily be increased and raise significant dollars is the occupation tax. Most of this comes from telecommunications companies and gets passed on directly back to their customers. This is one source of revenue where the rate charged is controlled locally. Other examples from the list are limited in their ability to generate more revenue.

Four examples: Interest income has fallen dramatically due to the current national economy. Interdepartmental billings can be only up to the actual cost incurred. Recreation fees are limited to what people are willing to pay, competition from other entities, and can only be increased to cover costs and cannot be an additional revenue source to subsidize other programs. Motor Vehicle tax is a $4.3 million source of funds, but the rates are set by the State, and we have no control over them.

The idea of a local income tax has been floated recently in the community. It is not specifically authorized in state statute but some believe it may be legally possible. However, the City would need the cooperation of the State, through the Department of Revenue, to collect such a tax. Whether the State would be willing to essentially grant cities an income tax by acting as the collection agent is uncertain.

Currently, no increase in the sales tax is legal under state law. Lincoln is at the maximum local rate of 1.5 percent. Traditionally, the Legislature has been very protective of any potential increase in the sales tax. Omaha may approach the Legislature about additional sales tax authority to deal with their ailing Police and Fire Pension system, giving us a more current read of the Legislature's position.

Question 7: How do we sell taxes as the pathway to provide a greater vision for the future?

A vision for the future isn't a matter of taxes. It is a matter of clearly stating the outcomes we want to achieve as a community and the programs necessary for the community to achieve those outcomes. Performance measures must be in place to ensure our programs are helping us progress toward those outcomes. Taxes are necessary to fund the programs that achieve the vision. If citizens are unable or unwilling to pay the amount of taxes necessary to adequately fund those programs, the vision must be changed to accommodate the fiscal situation.

Question 8: Why do we use external consultants so much?

City staff devote their time daily to the operation and maintenance of our existing infrastructure and systems. These are tasks well-suited for full-time employees to accomplish on a continuous basis. However, when specific projects or initiatives arise, we regularly employ the services of external consultants. If we were to hire all of this expertise to be part of our full-time staff, we would need to hire many, many more FTE's that would only be used a small percentage of the time. Hiring external consultants is actually a very efficient and necessary way to help the City meet the varied needs of the community.

These consultants are selected based on the specific expertise and qualifications needed to perform the particular task at hand. They provide technical expertise and manpower that is not available from existing staff. In addition, these services are not needed on a long-term basis. So, we are able to hire the specific expertise we need along with the appropriate work force, to meet our needs, whether it be data collection, analysis, research, design or production. In this way, we maximize both the quality and quantity of the work that must be done.

Question 9: How much property tax levy increased would be needed to maintain current services and how can you raise taxes and get re-elected?

Current estimates show we will need approximately an additional $4 million to $6 million to overcome increased costs and declining revenues and maintain current service levels. This amounts to an increase of approximately 2.6 cents to 4 cents of additional levy, an impact of approximately $39 to $60 per year for the average priced home in Lincoln.

Re-election should not be the primary consideration in balancing the City budget. Lincoln's future is more important than the next election. We believe Lincoln's citizens will recognize the City's needs, whether those needs are for greater revenues or reduced services, and judge candidates for office fairly, based on the facts of our budget situation.

Question 10: Pat Leach
What is usage of libraries (by particular library and historical trends) and what are other options to closing libraries.

Here is a chart showing use of libraries in recent years, as measured by circulation of materials.

Please refer to the information in question 1 regarding other options to closing libraries.

Question 11: What are pros and cons of having police respond to non-injury accidents and what do other cities do?

Pros: A traffic crash is one of life's minor crises. A police investigation and report provides information that assists motorists and vehicle owners in pursuing claims against an at-fault driver, or in seeking benefits from their own insurance company. The data is collected accurately, thoroughly, and made available in a standardized format very quickly. It can be accessed online, which speeds up insurance claims. The police investigation minimizes the chance that a driver provides false or inaccurate information. The police report helps citizens in completing their own State-required driver's accident report. The investigation underpins any citations issued for moving traffic violations. Without investigative steps such as interviews, measurements, and reports, moving violations that contributed to the crash could not be prosecuted. These citations are sometimes used as evidence in the claims process. The issuance of citations to motorists in traffic crashes facilitates their eventual loss of driving privileges if their violations are either frequent or severe. Data from police traffic crash investigations is used by traffic engineers to analyze crash patterns and suggest engineering improvements that reduce the likelihood of crashes. There is a possibility that an investigation and the production of a police accident report helps keep insurance premiums low for drivers that are involved in accidents that are not their fault.

Cons: Non-injury traffic crashes are a frequent and time-consuming police duty. The investigation and the subsequent reporting consumes an amount of police time equivalent to approximately three police officers. The investigation and report is only marginally related to public safety, and the primary function of these activities is to provide information that assists citizens and insurance companies in settling damage claims.

Question 12: What is the current level of service for arterial clearing. (8 hours, 24 hours, etc) and what would the cost per vehicle be to maintain the current level of service for arterial and residential snow removal?

The current level of service is approximately 14 hours to complete arterial street snow clearing (six hours to clear emergency snow routes and eight hours to clear the remaining arterial streets and bus routes). This does not include material spreading, which occurs prior to snow removal, and it does not include the complete removal of snow within the City's business districts.

The cost for plowing arterial streets and bus routes for one snow event is approximately $91,000. On average, the City plows snow on arterials and bus routes five times per year for a total of $455,000 per year. Thus, at the current level of service, the annual plowing of arterial streets and bus routes could be estimated to cost $2.20 per vehicle in wheel tax.

The cost to plow residential streets for one snow event is approximately $270,000. On average, we plow snow in residential areas two times per year, for a total of $540,000 per year. Thus, at the current level of service, the annual plowing of residential streets could be estimated to cost $2.61 per vehicle in wheel tax.

Question 13: What was the impact of community learning centers (CLC's) on recreation center participation?

Before and after school programs are provided at all 37 elementary and 10 middle schools in Lincoln by a number of community agencies including the Parks and Recreation Department. Community Learning Centers are located at 22 schools (17 elementary schools and five middle schools). The Lincoln CLC initiative is coalition of community agencies with three primary goals: 1) to enhance student learning and development, 2) to support families, and 3) to strengthen neighborhoods. Before and after school programs are a key activity at each CLC. The Parks and Recreation Department coordinates CLC activities at three elementary schools, and also provides before and after school programs at these three schools plus one additional elementary school. Parks and Recreation programs previously offered have been integrated within the CLC initiative. The CLC programs have not decreased recreation center participation.

Question 14: Can we outsource residential snow removal? Would this be a significant cost reduction?

The Department already utilizes all available private contractors in Lincoln and surrounding communities. Each year we advertise for bids for trucks to haul snow and for graders and agricultural tractors to plow snow. It has been our experience that all contractors who are willing to make their equipment available are already being utilized. This past winter, 20 out of 32 motor graders, 14 out of 21 agricultural tractors, and 60 out of 60 hauling trucks (for snow removal from business districts) were from private contractors. The bottom line is that neither the City nor area contractors have enough equipment to conduct complete snow/ice removal operations, so taking advantage of both makes good sense and allows the City to keep its overall overhead costs down.

Question 15: Tom Casady
-what does the law require now for accident reporting?

The operator of a vehicle involved in a crash is required to immediately stop and provide their identifying information to the owner of any property damaged. If anyone is injured, or the damage exceeds $1,000, the driver is also required to file his or her own report with the Department of Roads within 10 days. Nebraska law (60-695) also states:

"It shall be the duty of any peace officer who investigates any traffic accident in the performance of his or her official duties in all instances of an accident resulting in injury or death to any person or in which estimated damage exceeds one thousand dollars to the property of any one person to submit an original report of such investigation to the Accident Records Bureau of the Department of Roads within ten days after each such accident"

It would be our position or argument that although we may have responded to a crash scene, we did not conduct an investigation.

Municipal Ordinance 10.06.050 states that "It shall be the duty of the Police Department to investigate traffic accidents which are reportable under state law and to prepare reports thereof."

This would have to be repealed, in order for us to lawfully decline to investigate non-injury crashes in which the damage is greater than $1000 to the property of any one person.

-is there existing technology to streamline this process? Pdf's, scanners, etc.

Not at the moment. By law, Nebraska Department of Roads specifies the form. It is long and complex, and has grown considerably more so over time. Returning to a 1975 Accident Report form would probably cut the report writing in half-saving about 15 minutes. We scan the completed form and make it available as a .pdf on our website within two days of the crash. The Department of Roads maintains on online reporting module, and it is a relatively simple matter to recreate the form as a fill-in form as well. While this may improve penmanship and avoid some data entry at the Department of Roads, it is not a time saver for the investigator at all. Pre-drawn diagrams of intersections, however, do save a time, and are widely used by officers. The Department of Roads online application automatically populates driver's information and vehicle information when the numbers are entered. This saves time and improves accuracy, but does not make up for the sheer complexity of the form and the over 300 fields it contains. The online application can only be used from a web-connected computer, and requires more bandwidth than we have available in our current mobile data network. Every LPD officer who has tried the online version has concluded that paper is faster.

Question 16: Tom Casady
Do police view responding to non-injury accidents really simply as a convenience or as an effective tool for law enforcement and public safety?

We are not considering "not responding." We are considering not investigating and reporting. We think the public safety portion of traffic crashes can be taken care of quickly and efficiently: clearing the street, protecting the scene until a wrecker arrives, ensuring that the drivers have transportation, making sure no one is drunk and everyone has a driver's license and insurance. Beyond that, we believe that our role in detailed investigation, reporting, and issuing moving violation citations is almost exclusively for the purpose of helping owners and insurance companies settle damage claims-not public safety.

Question 17: Pat Leach
Are the small branch libraries being targeted simply because they are less economically efficient or are they proportionally underutilized?

In crafting our budget, we worked to impact as few people as possible while meeting the proposed cut. Our proposal is not a comment on the economic efficiencies of those locations, or on underutilization. Both libraries are well-used and well-loved. Their combined circulation is 7% of our total use. Based on other public libraries' experiences, we expect that half of that circulation will be lost, and half will migrate to other libraries. We realize and regret that the potential closing Bethany and South Libraries would place a heavy burden on users of those locations, especially those who are unable to drive to other places.

In responding to questions about these cuts, we have observed that the public is accustomed to seeing under-used or inefficient programs being cut. This year's proposed cuts put us at a new reality, where we may not be able to afford services that are well-used and efficient. In plain language, we have cut fat and muscle in previous years, and must now cut into bone.

Question 18: What impact would waiting until 8" of snow falls have on the responsiveness of emergency vehicles?

Wind and drifting aside, up to 6" of snow by itself would not be expected to prevent the passage of emergency vehicles. Once the snowfall is greater than 6", it is likely to become progressively more difficult for emergency vehicles to respond without delays. Depending on the nature of the storm, blowing and drifting snow could result in deeper areas to pass even with a 6" snowfall.


Mayor's Office