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Stretching our dollars

City Council column
By: Dan Karleskint
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As the newest member of the Lincoln City Council, I am busily involved in the yearly budgeting process.  It is a process that consumes many hours of staff and council work effort over approximately a five-month period each year.

The budget creation immediately follows the Strategic Planning meeting in early January and continues until the budget is accepted before the start of the next fiscal year (which is July 1).

The council develops goals and priorities during the Strategic Planning meeting that guide most aspects of the budget. Using this direction, staff generates the draft version of next year’s budget for review.

The initial review process consisted of three council workshops, each focused on separate financial elements. The Capital Improvement Projects (CIP), the Enterprise Funds, and the General and Special Funds are uniquely analyzed because there are very different rules and/or processes for managing each one.

Currently, all of the departments are in the midst of tuning the budget, based upon the results of the council’s initial review.

The final review will come in June with the presentation of the full budget package for adoption by the council.

Since the outcome of these meetings have an effect on all of our families, people should be interested in learning where our money comes from and how decisions are made with regard to how to spend it. We have meager income streams in the city of Lincoln and our staff and the council does a good job of stretching your dollars to meet the community’s priorities.

I know people are interested in our finances because of all of the questions I received during meetings with citizens when I was campaigning. 

There was considerable surprise when the subject of taxes came up and the reality was presented.  A typical question started with, “I pay $3,000 in property tax. Why don’t we have more police (or firemen or recreation opportunities or hours at the library)”?  When I explained that, although the person paid $3,000, the city received only $510, they were surprised. By the way, the actual average property tax in the city is $3,709.89, which equals $630.68 in city income.

When I also told them that the average household paid only $192 in sales tax, which, for Lincoln, is the second primary source of income, they understood my position in concentrating on enticing more sales tax-generating businesses to our community.

So, between property tax and sales tax, the average household contributes $822 to the General Fund, which is the funding source for our public safety (police and fire), our parks and recreation department, and our library.

This discussion about the General Fund has been simplistic because of space and trying to keep the readers’ interest.  There are several additional sources of income for the General Fund (among them: grants, gas tax, license fees and franchise fees to name a few) in addition to the property tax and sales tax, which are the primary income sources.

One way of stretching our dollars was a hard decision made several years ago that stipulated all recreation offerings must be financially self-sufficient.  This has resulted in the city’s ability to maintain a recreation department during tough financial times.

Many state-of-the-art tools have been purchased and are being used to increase the efficiency of city operations.  The use of GPS and GIS systems make the maintenance and engineering functions more efficient in planning and in fieldwork.  A system that models pavement maintenance to achieve economy of scale while taking into consideration our priorities allows us to maximize the long term viability of our 216 miles of surface streets and will allow us to acquire grant funding under the transportation bill that was just signed.  This type of innovation is occurring in every city department and allows us to stretch dollars even more.

As I sat through the budget meetings, I was surprised that so few citizens attended the meetings. These meetings, like all of the regular City Council meetings, are open to the public.  Information presented at the meetings like the few items mentioned in this article and much, much more give an insight into how the staff and the council endeavor to provide effective and responsible stewardship over the resources entrusted to them.

Dan Karleskint is a Lincoln City Councilman.