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Budget discussed at town hall meeting

By: Brandon Darnell, News Messenger Reporter
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About 350 Lincoln residents crowded into the Orchard Creek Ballroom Monday afternoon for an update on the city’s financial situation and future plans in a town hall meeting. “Today’s topic is certainly very timely,” said Vic Freeman, the town-hall moderator. The panel was comprised of City Councilmen Paul Joiner, Kent Nakata and Tom Cosgrove with City Manager Jim Estep. “It’s an important time for all of us to step up,” Joiner said, urging audience members to join city committees. Joiner added that the city’s financial future’s brightest spot is the airport, and once the Highway 65 bypass is complete, the airport will be the “jewel we all know it is.” Nakata echoed Joiner’s passion for completing the airport-expansion project and developing the city’s industrial area, as well as increasing cooperation with neighboring cities. “In the past eight years,” Cosgrove said, “we have seen an increase in population that is almost fourfold.” In discussing the city’s recent growth, Cosgrove pointed out that tax revenues have not progressed at the same rate as growth. Agreeing with Joiner and Nakata, Cosgrove said the airport is integral to Lincoln’s financial future and that joining Nelson Road with the Highway 65 bypass will create a direct route to the airport, making it more attractive to businesses, which will, in turn bring more revenue and jobs to the city. “The first question everyone asks me,” Estep said, “is ‘What happened?’ and ‘Was it you?’” To clarify those questions, Estep explained that the General Fund, out of which public safety, parks and recreation, the library and several other services are funded, is only about 20 percent of the city’s budget. The other 80 percent is restricted, meaning it must be used for specified purposes. “What we are lacking in is retail and commercial development…and job base,” Estep said. Communities in the midst of growth were hardest hit by the economic downturn, Estep said, and Lincoln is one such community. While there are 40,000 residents, according to Estep, Lincoln has the “revenue pattern” of a city with 8,000 residents. That means the city’s income hasn’t caught up with its population increase. The recent cuts made to city services gave leadership breathing room, Estep said, which will be used to come at the budget from a whole new approach – something he said most, if not all, cities are doing. Part of that new approach will include a citizens’ budget task force, which was approved at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to provide feedback from the community and keep the process transparent. After the panel discussion, residents asked questions, which ranged from how the downtown area will move forward to concerns over where golf carts can be driven within the city. “I got some good information,” said Lincoln resident Joan Belshin. “It was new information.” Belshin added that the questions she had had before coming to the meeting had all been answered. Lincoln resident Jerry Johnson said he also got all the information he had hoped to learn from the meeting. “I wanted an update as to how the city is handling its finances and services,” Johnson said. Brandon Darnell can be reached by e-mail at brandond@goldcountrymedia.com.