Mayor Chris Beutler
State of the City
October 1, 2009
Fifty years from today, another Mayor, who may not even be born yet, will have the honor of delivering a State of the City address. I predict some things won't change much. The Mayor will be lauding the Cornhusker fans for their 600th consecutive sell-out at Memorial Stadium. Most importantly, Lincoln will still have a strong core of generous, spirited, community-minded citizens. But what will our community look like at that time? And what will that Mayor say about our stewardship of the City he or she inherits?
That Mayor will have a perspective shaped by the many decisions made between now and then. The decisions of today mold tomorrow's reality. With hindsight, we see clearly the wisdom of many bold decisions made in the past, which were not so obvious or easy at the moment of decision.
Lincoln's history is filled with those decisions. In our early history, the decision of settlers to locate near a salt basin and form a community that might prosper by mining salt; the great compromise by the Nebraska territorial legislature that made Lincoln the Capital City; the annexation of College View, Havelock, Bethany and other small towns; the building of our State Capitol; the creation of a huge Pioneers Park way outside the City limits; the opening of various business facilities and shopping malls; and, in its time, the building of Pershing Auditorium - all good decisions in retrospect but tough decisions at the time.
In more recent times, the foresight of the Mayor and the Council during the Johanns administration to build SouthPointe and the creation of Haymarket Park baseball stadium during the Wesely years were big, difficult decisions that made a positive difference not only for our own citizens but for others who visit our City.
None of these events was accomplished easily. Nor without controversy. Some were called boon-doggles. Others were derided for their expense.
And yet today, after the years have allowed us to understand their true worth, all are cherished building blocks in the foundation of the Lincoln, Nebraska we call home.
So we return to the question, what will that Mayor of 2059 say about us?
My sincerest hope is that Mayor will say we showed the same wisdom or greater wisdom as those who preceded us, that we weathered the controversies of the present, and stood fast in our convictions, and built on a long-term vision that caused future generations to be as proud of Lincoln as we are today.
I hope the future Mayor will be presiding over a continuing economic boom created by our investment in new roads and new infrastructure that built new businesses and new homes. I hope that Mayor will mention the job creation engine of Innovation Park and how he or she respects the tough choices we made to make it happen. I know the Mayor will mention Antelope Valley and how that project generated the millions of dollars in investment that sustained our City.
I can envision that Mayor talking about Lincoln's world-class trails system, unparalleled parks and green spaces, crime-free neighborhoods, and the healthiest and most educated population in the nation, and how the generation that led in 2009 contributed enormously.
And I hope that Mayor talks about how the Lincoln Haymarket Arena has entertained our citizens with a national champion Nebraska basketball team, world-class concerts and community festivals while helping drive increased sales taxes and economic growth. I hope the Mayor mentions the respect felt by Lincolnites for their parents and grandparents who cast the votes in the 2010 election that made a grand dream into a grand reality.
That Mayor will talk about how Lincoln's diversity has increased our economic competitiveness in a world that requires us to do business across continents and across cultures. Lincoln is already an international City with over 60 languages spoken in our public schools. Our current commitment to supporting diverse leadership will ensure that Lincoln in 2059 can fully compete in a diverse world.
But most of all, I hope he or she calls on the citizens of 2059 to make generational sacrifices for their children and grandchildren in honor of the sacrifices we made in 2009 for them.
We are able to focus on the future this day because we have already made sacrifices and taken care of today's obligations. We faced another challenging budget for 2009-2010 and met it with the strong leadership needed to put us over the hump toward our goal of having ample future revenue increases to meet the increased costs of providing services. We kept police on the streets and firefighters on the trucks and ambulances, at a time when they were being laid off all over the country. We preserved our libraries, pools and recreation centers for our families, while many communities are doing with fewer.
We are capitalizing on the national green revolution by funding the Cleaner Greener Lincoln initiative, a local sustainability program that will preserve our environment, conserve resources for the future and save money. We created a cash reserve or rainy day fund to stabilize future City budgets. It is reasonable to expect that it will be funded by the end of this fiscal year.
While we may still face some challenges with the City budget, I am so certain of the results of our past hard work to correct the structural imbalances, that I am confident that we can choose to end my term in 2011 without a property tax increase during my Administration, maintaining for four straight years one of the lowest city levies in the State among the larger cities.
None of this was done without citizen sacrifice. Over the three budgets of my Administration, we have cut 143 jobs and tens of millions of dollars of spending. That is nearly 10 percent of the City's non-public safety workforce. Our employees are doing more with less and doing it very well. City government isn't alone. Lincoln's private sector has made tough choices that have helped us stay relatively stable during the national economic downturn. Families have tightened their belts and do with less. I believe the tough decisions made by all have positioned us well for future economic growth.
Evidence of a strong local economy abounds, even during this time of national economic uncertainty, earning national recognition for the business leaders and entrepreneurs who are standing fast in tough times. The list of accolades is long:
Forbes magazine called Lincoln the seventh best place in the country to ride out the recession. In April we were named the fifth best metro area in the U.S. to find a job or relocate a business and the best in the Midwest.
Just last week, Manpower's fourth quarter Employment Outlook Survey pegged Lincoln as the city where employers are most likely to add employees.
At City Hall with the support of the City Council and the Chamber of Commerce, we are doing our part to continue this incredible momentum, setting aside $6 million in the Fast Forward Fund to assist high- impact job creation and build the infrastructure businesses need to locate in Lincoln. In the competition for jobs, we have to be ready to provide help to companies that are willing to bring those high-impact jobs to the City. We have already let a company that is considering Lincoln know that the Fast Forward Fund is available to fill in the financial gaps, and make Lincoln viable for their new jobs and new opportunities.
Our homebuilders and Realtors are fighting back against the national market collapse and making undeniable progress:
Lincoln's housing sales are up 15 percent over last year, and our mortgage foreclosure rate remains low, leading Forbes magazine to identify Lincoln as the second most likely place in the nation to see an early housing recovery out of 161 surveyed metro markets.
Cyberhomes.com listed Lincoln as the seventh best place nationally for new homebuyers and third for first-time homebuyers.
We need to be celebrating as a community these national rankings and ensure that everyone knows that this is a place you want your business to be, and Lincoln is where you want to raise your families. Positively selling our community is one key to continued economic growth.
My administration will be ready to help our homebuilders capitalize as the industry sees an upswing. Homebuilding is a key to a wider economic recovery. That's why we are moving full steam ahead on the Development Services Center, so as the economy continues to improve, entrepreneurs and builders can spend less time at City Hall fighting red tape and more time out in the community creating economic growth.
This is an opportunity that cannot be wasted. We are uniquely positioned to time a much needed City Hall economic reform with an economy on the way up, rather than wondering afterward why we didn't take advantage of the opportunity. That's why I simply refuse to slow progress. As I have said before, in the competition for jobs and growth, Lincoln WILL NOT WAIT.
Projects continue to emerge because of our increasingly positive business environment and offer additional opportunities for economic success. After nearly 15 years of struggle and several missteps in the past, we have come to the end of the issues at 48th and "O" Street. A plan is in place to soon complete the final pieces.
We have received an exciting new proposal for the Catalyst One site near 13th and "P" Street in downtown Lincoln. Several other projects are at various stages of planning. Many existing businesses and agencies continue to prosper. Assurity Life Insurance, Fiserv, Perot Systems, Universal Companies, Tabitha and the Veterans Administration, to name a few, are expanding their presence. We thank them and our other businesses for the continued confidence they show in our City.
We are finding solutions to the problem of low-income people who need access to health care. I gathered all the community players to form the Mayor's Safety Net Task Force to make recommendations that will improve the health of our most vulnerable families. Those recommendations were sound and build up an already outstanding local health care system. We will work hard over this next year to implement those recommendations. Children's Health magazine, incidentally, recently named Lincoln the fourth best city in the nation to raise a family.
In the first two years of my administration, we took the first steps toward a City government that is measured by actual performance, rather than guesswork. This year, the steps have become long strides. We have implemented additional indicators of progress to better measure the achievement of our goals. We initiated the "Taking Charge" process and involved the public and the City Council in the details of the budget at a level the City has never achieved before.
We should never be afraid to look in the mirror, make an honest assessment of where we actually stand as a community and base our actions on those reflections. Only by constantly evaluating our progress can we hope to improve. Quantifiable progress calculations, rather than political calculations, should be our guide. We must be willing to constantly and resolutely face the hard facts in preparing for our future.
Crime is down 13 percent overall from one year ago. We are well under the average number of violent crimes per 100,000 people in comparison with cities our size. The same is true of the burglary rate, another significant indicator according to the experts. In short, you and your family are highly unlikely to be victims of a crime in our community. Our police are doing an extraordinary job but doing it with fewer resources than our peer cities. That's why I committed the City to adding four new police officers with funding from the federal COPS program in the upcoming 2009-2010 budget.
Our indicators show that Lincoln Fire and Rescue runs a top-flight safety organization. Deaths and major injuries due to fire are rare. Our survival rate for cardiac patients receiving care is comparatively very high. After several challenging years, our ambulance service will operate in the black for the third year running.
Our neighborhoods are great places to live and raise families. The Stronger Safer Neighborhoods program is focusing resources, bringing together nonprofit and government resources to create solutions and real change in our neighborhoods. Our partnership with the public schools in the Community Learning Centers are keeping kids engaged in safe and healthy activities. Our libraries, parks, pools and recreation centers are providing the services that keep neighborhoods strong and vibrant. The recent initiation of the Intersection Connection art project is one more means of creating neighborhood identity and encouraging neighbor interaction.
We will make significant progress next spring on street repairs and resurfacing with a $16 million package of investment consisting of both City and federal stimulus funds, but we are still not adequately addressing the backlog of new roads. Earlier this month, I joined with the Chamber and testified at the Legislature on the need for continued State focus on local road building assistance. We will continue to seek a solution to the recent State gas tax formula changes that have significantly diminished the revenues coming to Lincoln for roads.
During the last Legislative session, we were able to create a new financing tool for roads known as urban growth bonds. The method allows us to bond future sales tax growth for roads we need today. I will begin discussions with the City Council on this tool in the near future. Regardless of what tool we choose, the end result must be the same: Lincoln must find the funds to invest in our streets to accelerate our economic growth and prepare for our City's 21st-century transportation needs.
Converting our present momentum into a vibrant future requires a shared sense of mission and a shared commitment to cooperation. We are truly at our best when collaboration, not contention, is our mode of operation.
I know my colleagues on the City Council share that sense of mission and commitment. Every accomplishment mentioned in this speech is a collective one and the product of shared wisdom from one or more of our Council members.
Whether its Jonathan Cook and John Spatz advocating for neighborhood needs or Doug Emery, the Council's former boxer, never pulling punches and telling us what we need to hear, or Jayne Snyder and Gene Carroll's experience as business owners, or Jon Camp and Adam Hornung reminding us of the need for frugality, their advice is often the perspective that changes good decisions into excellent ones.
Too often our relationship is defined by media talk focused on and exaggerating our differences, rather than our similarities. That is a fairly natural outcome from City Hall debates because we are elected to strongly represent what we believe is right, but the overall picture is less accurate or full.
Consider this year's budget. While we ultimately disagreed on a few components, the Council, in the end, changed only a few hundredths of one percent of our budget's General Fund spending plan. We are working in partnership on changes to the City employee retirement match. We are all focused on finding new resources for street construction and rehabilitation. The list goes on and on.
If we are to fully achieve our future, we must continue working together. The Council and the Mayor must cooperate to ensure all ideas are put on the table. I am not afraid to hear and carefully consider all ideas because I know in the end it is the best way to bring about the best results.
And we must re-commit ourselves to seeking out the best in each other. Abraham Lincoln once said, "I don't think I like that man. I must get to know him better." Our greatest President was expressing one of the great assumptions of democratic society, that everyone has something positive to contribute. We should always strive to believe the best about each other and really listen. If we approach every problem with suspicion and distrust toward those who we count on for consensus, we will never achieve all that we envision.
It is the nature of the beast that the Mayor and Council members will be occasionally frustrated by the actions of the other. How we deal with those frustrations says a lot about how we govern. Let us heed the words of President Lincoln and find the avenues of cooperation and conciliation that lead to sound decisions.
I am taking another step in that direction. Today I sent an e-mail to all City employees regarding civil discourse and my expectations in this regard. It will also be shared with the public on the City Web site. I emphasized the need for respect in dealing with each other, the public and our elected officials. Too often, bitter personal attacks have become a substitute for reasoned debate. Shouting at each other, rather than listening to one another, seems to have become the norm at the national level and seems to be filtering its way to the local scene. We seem to talk more about one another in the media than to one another in the Council Chambers. We cannot forget our common interests and responsibilities in respecting each other and bringing civility to the debate on the direction of our City. Our citizens expect and deserve a level of debate reflective of their own values.
Our mutual cooperation is critical as we are now clearly poised to move ahead and address Lincoln's future and to create jobs and new revenues for the City. With a saturated retail market and business expansion temporarily delayed, one excellent strategy is to focus on new avenues to boost the number of people who spend their entertainment dollars in Lincoln.
While we will continue to be highly supportive of retail projects and business expansion, it is clear that the focus in achieving revenue growth will have to be pointed in part toward events and entertainment opportunities.
Let me share with you a couple of good small examples of how we have changed the thinking at City Hall to support entertainment events that involve new ideas for attracting people to Lincoln. Besides supporting ongoing events, we found a way to say "yes" to our nationally recognized blues music icon, the Zoo Bar, and its street festival. We found a way to say "yes" to a European Motorcycle Night, bringing hundreds to the Haymarket to view this unique display. We said "yes" to a big car show this month. And, finally we are saying "yes, yes, yes" to the Special Olympics 2010 USA National Games to be held in Lincoln in the summer of 2010 - a giant event. During the past, events like these faced unreasonable City Hall imposed barriers that I have dismantled in my time as Mayor.
But, the key to any sustained enhanced entertainment based plan for economic development is a modern arena equipped to compete. That's why the proposed Lincoln Haymarket Arena and the surrounding private development are critical to our future. The inadequacies of the Pershing Center have been discussed many times. National and regional events bypass Lincoln because of these inadequacies. Even State events like high school sports championships are finding new homes. A modern arena and associated amenities including, prominently, a wonderful new indoor ice rink, is one answer for enhancing our economic development, increasing revenues and speeding our population growth by encouraging our own kids to remain in our City. We must offer urban attractions similar to the Light and Power District in Kansas City or the Qwest Center. We grow and renew, or we get passed by.
The West Haymarket development coupled with the West Haymarket arena will be a powerful magnet to future job creation, growth and development.
That well-conceived project must be the major focus for our community in the coming months. We must find a consensus and work hand-in-hand to finally turn the concept of a West Haymarket arena into bricks and mortar.
Today, let us resolve that our actions will be reflected in the first paragraphs of the State of the City speech of my Mayoral successor in 2059. Let us make the choices that will be noted 50 years later. We are a great people, and because of the tough choices we have made together over the past three years, no community in America is as well-positioned as Lincoln, Nebraska to move forward and to take advantage of 21st-century opportunities. We can build a new Lincoln Haymarket Arena. We can build out the Innovation Park with the University, develop new infrastructure and create the conditions for accelerated growth. We can create a well-planned community that values commercial vibrancy, strong and, cohesive neighborhoods, libraries for the mind, recreational facilities for the body and green spaces for the spirit.
We have a fine City today because of past promises made and kept. Each generation quietly, but firmly and confidently, committed to the children and the grandchildren,"This place will be even better for you." There is a time for everything under heaven, and now is the time for us to make and to keep a few promises of our own. To paraphrase Robert Frost, "We have promises to make and to keep, and miles to go before we sleep - obstacles to leap and miles to go before we sleep."