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Council approves city budget

Two new police officers added
By: Steve Archer, Reporter
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Lincoln has a budget for 2016-2017, which includes the hiring of two more police officers, but approval of the spending plan Tuesday by the City Council was not unanimous and required five separate votes.

The Lincoln City Council unanimously approved both the hiring of a lieutenant for the police department, requested by Police Chief Rex Marks, and the balance of the budget as prepared by the city staff.

Three separate votes were required for the hiring of two additional police officers, increasing the hours at the library by eight and providing funding to three local nonprofit organizations. The three items were included in the budget by a vote of 3-2, with Councilmen Paul Joiner and Gabriel Hydrick voting no on each.

The Lincoln Community Foundation, the Lincoln Volunteer Center and the Gathering Inn of Roseville all received a portion of the money requested of the council. The budget included funding for the organizations at $25,000, $2,500 and $15,000 respectively.

Joiner argued for staying fiscally conservative and cautious.

“I’m not interested in digging into reserves to add officers,” Joiner said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting. “Let’s live within our means. I want additional officers if we can afford them.”

Lincoln Mayor Spencer Short said he was not suggesting the city pay for more officers with reserves.

“We are woefully understaffed and I’m afraid of what will happen if there is an incident,” said Short, who added two new police officers to the budget at the July 14 council meeting. “Adding more police officers is prudent.”

Although Short requested hiring two additional police officers, he was reluctant to fund the officers for part of the fiscal year.

“I disagree with how we are doing it,” Short said. “I want staff to get on this now; we are too fragile.”

Hydrick’s concerns were similar to Joiner’s.

“I would love to add officers but it’s not viable,” Hydrick said. “And the library, I don’t know that more hours is the greatest need.”

Councilman Peter Gilbert seemed to be the decisive vote in approving the hiring of two additional police officers and adding hours at the library. Gilbert, after a discussion of the police officer hiring timeline, suggested that the council approve funding the salaries for part of the year.

“We’ve been disciplined and have said no to a lot of important things during my time on the council,” Gilbert said. “I think I’ve heard enough information to cautiously open up our pocketbook. We won’t incur much of an expense until later in the year.”

Since the hiring process of new officers could take six to nine months, city of Lincoln director of support services Steve Ambrose said, the positions would not be filled on July 1. He said the council seemed to approve funding the salaries for new police officers for a portion of the fiscal year.

According to a budget report by Ambrose, the cost of two additional police officers will be $251,354 per year.

“New officers won’t start for six to nine months,” Gilbert said. “If we hire someone in the ninth month, we only pay them for months 10, 11 and 12.”

Councilman Stan Nader pushed early in the meeting for the hiring of new officers and expanding hours at the library.

“Over the last two years, we’ve generated an additional $1.2 million,” Nader said. “We’re not here to stockpile money; we’re here to provide services.”

Lincoln City Manager Matt Brower said approval of the city budget completed six months of preparation.

“This policy document will guide us through 2016-2017,” Brower said, after the meeting. “The community can be proud; this balances need with available funding.”

Brower, at the start of the budget hearing, said the city’s General Fund faced future challenges, including:

  • A $512,000 annual obligation to address Other Post Employee Benefits.
  • Contract negotiations with police and firefighter groups in September.

Brower also said the city has applied to a federal grant to help fund additional police officers.

In addition to a lieutenant and two new police officers for the police department, the budget also includes hiring a geographic information system manager and seasonal office assistant for the engineering department; a solid waste maintenance worker, a parks seasonal maintenance worker, a streets seasonal maintenance worker and a seasonal office assistant for the public services department.

The budget also includes hiring an associate engineer for the community development department and a construction manager for the engineering department. These two positions will be filled to replace contracted consultants.

The city budget, according to the budget report, will have a projected ending balance on June 30, 2017 of $6.9 million, which does not include a catastrophic reserve of $2 million and an economic reserve of $2 million.