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Budget process for next year begins

Know and Go: A budget review will be presented by the city manager’s office. The meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at McBean Park Pavilion.
By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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The city of Lincoln has four months to make some tough decisions for next year’s budget. City Manager Jim Estep said it’s not known yet what the budget will look like yet or what potential cuts will be. Estep said it is also unknown if the state will take additional monies from the city’s budget. “We know revenues are declining, and sales and property taxes are declining,” Estep said. The city’s operating budget was $17 million for the 2008-2000 fiscal year and the current year’s budget is $13 million. The city currently has $4 million in reserves, according to Estep. Property taxes have declined because the value of homes has dropped by 9 percent, the highest in the county, according to Estep. When it comes to the decline of sales taxes, Estep gave a couple of different reasons. “Several businesses have closed and left, like Panera and Chili’s,” Estep said. “On top of that, people aren’t shopping locally enough and are shopping less because of less disposable income.” Estep said the first step for putting together next year’s budget is to “do a mid-year review for current fiscal year to compare actual expenses and revenue next to what was projected” at the next City Council meeting, which will be at 6 p.m. Feb. 23. “The budget process is an ongoing process so (we are) always monitoring it. You don’t start preparing the actual budget until now,” Estep said, adding that expenses and revenue are monitored all year. The city is looking for “valuable information to know what their (residents) priorities are” when it comes to city services,” according to Jill Thompson, public information officer for the city of Lincoln. Those city services include police, fire, library and parks and recreation. A community-feedback survey was released by the city through the city’s e-bulletin, and asks residents to “take a moment to let us know what you think the funding priorities should be for the following City services.” The survey asks residents to rank nine items on the survey, and the items include “maintaining library services,” “restoring police officers,” and “preventing the city’s general fund from going broke.” “We have found that many of our citizens are unaware of the major cuts that we have made to community services over the past several years due to budget cuts of $4 million this year alone,” Thompson stated in a Feb. 12 e-mail. “We want to share this information with our residents in order to best solicit their input on how we can move forward with the additional cuts that are likely to be necessary this year.” “Beginning in late March, we will be conducting detailed budget hearings in order to explore these issues in much greater depth,” Thompson said. Three public budget workshops will be on public safety “from a police perspective,” community services, which include library and parks and recreation; and fire services, according to Thompson. “The ultimate goal through all of this is to create an open-budget process, with as much participation from our residents as possible, so that we can move forward in a way that the community deems best,” Thompson said. The News Messenger asked several Lincoln residents on Monday what city services were most important to them and which services should receive the least budget cuts. “Police and fire are ones I’d choose, only because they are needed,” said Bobbie Sliskevics of Lincoln. “We don’t want to ever see anyone die because of a lack of response or help.” Mark Devlin, who lives in Auburn but works at Lowe’s in Lincoln, replied “police and fire” when asked which services should receive the least budget cuts. “Do not cut what protects us. Give them a raise,” Devlin said. Lincoln resident Eddie Falcocchia also said police and fire should receive the least cuts but had a different idea of how to save the city some money. “The city workers need to take immediate pay cuts,” Falcocchia said. Falcocchia said the city workers include “higher-up guys” and the city manager. “Don’t cut fire and police. Fire and police are what we need.” On Friday, The News Messenger requested the salaries of the city’s department heads, including the city manager’s, but has not received that information from Estep or Thompson as of press time. Next week, The News Messenger will profile Anna Jatczak, who recently became the city’s new chief financial officer and assistant city manager.