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Council candidates discuss public safety, airport at Lincoln Hills forum

By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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About 100-plus residents heard the three Lincoln City Council candidates discuss a lack of public-safety funding, the airport’s future and a possible local sales-tax increase Oct. 3 at Orchard Creek Lodge.

Candidates Dan Cross, Alyssa Silhi and Holly Woods-Andreatta are running for two seats on the Lincoln City Council currently held by Mayor Stan Nader and Gabriel Hydrick. Neither Nader nor Hydrick are running for re-election. The election is Nov. 6.

The Lincoln Hills forum was moderated by resident Paul Gardner.

Public-safety funding

All three candidates said adequately funding the Lincoln Police Department and the Lincoln Fire Department is a top priority. They all support an intern program for the Fire Department and challenged city staff and the council to find $250,000 to fund the program.

Silhi and Woods-Andreatta said they would consider a half-cent sales tax increase while Cross said he would support a general tax, which is easier to pass. However, revenues from a general tax would not be dedicated to public safety.

“There isn’t enough money to bring levels up to where they should be,” Silhi said. “It’s time to ask staff to look at every solution, to ask what can we cut? The reality is we can’t bring (staffing) levels all the way up.”

Woods-Andreatta told the audience to vote the way of their priorities.

“If a tax measure comes from the citizens, I would support it,” Woods-Andreatta said. “The firefighters have stuck with us for years and they don’t feel supported.”

Cross said his public-safety priorities are the Fire Department, dispatch and the Police Department, adding that growing the community’s commercial and retail bases will lead to significant improvements in 10 years.

“I would not support a sales tax increase; I would support a general tax,” Cross said. “We need to be patient and challenge the department heads and managers.”

Economic development

Woods-Andreatta said City Hall needs to do a better job of welcoming new businesses.

“We need to make ourselves more business-friendly,” Woods-Andreatta said, “and lower fees.”

Cross said he would put together a team comprised of representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Lincoln Association, the city and the Lincoln Economic Development Committee.

“We should identify the types of businesses we want and recruit them,” Cross said. “I support the team approach and the proper execution of the General Plan.”

“We need to do a better job of educating citizens,” added Cross, the Lincoln Planning Commission chairman. “This isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Silhi, an Economic Development Committee member, said success in this area is measured by per capita revenue.

“If we’re not increasing per capita revenue, we are doing something wrong,” Silhi said. “We need to be strategic, focus on our core and do a better job of branding. Downtown Lincoln needs a zoning plan and we need better participation from all stakeholders.”

Lincoln Regional Airport

All three candidates said the airport has been mismanaged.

“With a $6-million deficit, I can’t say it’s an asset,” Silhi said. “It’s been mismanaged for a long time. It could be the jewel of the community but it’s not there yet.”

Woods-Andreatta was optimistic about the airport’s potential.

“The City Council needs to hire the very best city manager and work with the airport committee,” Woods-Andreatta said. “And don’t shift money to cover up the deficit.”

Cross said his initial reaction was to close the airport when he heard of its financial trouble.

“This is a liability that could be turned into an asset,” Cross said. “I am confident in the staff we have.”

Affordable housing

All three candidates said they are willing to look at all options that might make building affordable housing or apartments more attractive to developers.

“We need to get creative,” Silhi said. “Donate land, reduce impact fees, micro-level options; we could make it easier to build affordable housing.”

Woods-Andreatta said the council could consider waiving or cutting fees, change the ordinance for lot sizes or waive hook-up fees.

Cross said he would like to see more apartments built, particularly because he has family members who would like to rent in Lincoln.

“The people in charge need to make it a priority,” Cross said. “It’s a priority for me because it affects my family.”