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City heads push Tuesday’s meeting

They say residents should attend special budget talk
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Residents interested in hearing about an audited report of the city’s finances should attend Tuesday’s special City Council meeting. That’s according to both City Manager Jim Estep and Mayor Paul Joiner, when asked why residents should be there. Joiner said the meeting will cover three topics: a review of financial statements for the last fiscal year, proposed expenditure reductions for this fiscal year and an amendment to Estep’s employment agreement for a salary reduction. The public “as always,” Joiner said, will have an opportunity to comment. Joiner explained the urgency of the meeting. “It made the most sense to have discussions about the proposed expenditure reductions for fiscal year 2010-2011 after receiving the auditor’s report on fiscal year 2009-2010,” Joiner said. “The auditors were not available to attend the March 22 council meeting. April 5 was the first date that was available for all to attend.” The News Messenger asked Joiner why residents should be at the meeting. “Anyone with an interest in the independent third-party auditor’s report on fiscal year 2010-2011 financial statements should attend,” Joiner said. Estep gave two reasons. “One, to hear the financial status of the city from our auditors,” Estep said. “Anyone who has any interest whatsoever in understanding the city’s financial conditions as audited should be there.” The General Fund, which covers police, fire, library and recreation services, has a deficit between revenues and expenditures of “$1.5 to $2 million, depending on what cuts are made,” according to Estep. Estep said he and Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak will present the proposed budget cuts for this fiscal year while department heads “will be there to answer detailed questions.” The News Messenger spoke with Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren, Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt and Library Director Darla Wegener about what they will fight to keep and their feelings about going into next year with the budget cuts they will have to make. Assistant Director of Recreation Mandy Walker could not be reached for comment. “It’s hard to say fight to keep. We want to maintain staffing that we have, but with the situation with the budget and available money, I don’t know if fight is the right word,” Shelgren said. “The council and the city manager are fully aware of public safety needs for the community. We’re going to make our recommendations, and as far as staffing goes, we don’t want to lose anyone else.” Shelgren said the council will decide what is cut. “The council will make the final decision on what reserves are used and if we maintain police positions,” Shelgren said. Shelgren said he is “very guarded and very cautious,” and “concerned for the officers and for the city,” and “sure had a lot of sleepless nights.” “We are looking at every avenue we can find. One is to serve the community and, two, is to maintain our officers. They make a lot of sacrifices every day, put their lives on the line and people don’t realized how often our officers do these types of things,” Shelgren said. “I think sometimes their efforts are taken for granted.” Fire Chief Whitt described the situation as “challenging.” “I just think, it is what it is. We’re in a position where it’s going to be you pick and choose from a menu of services that you can and can’t provide,” Whitt said. Whitt added that “the fire department is in a very peculiar situation.” “The standards of services that a fire department should be at and is supposed to provide a citizenry similar to Lincoln, we are in no way meeting a minimum standard.” Whitt said. “Lincoln should have four engine companies, fully staffed with a minimum of three personnel each, one truck company with a minimum of four personnel, an additional battalion chief and office help.” “I’m charged with providing fire protection to the citizens of Lincoln, I am supposed to manage overall management and operations of planning and budgeting for the fire department. When you have this low of staffing and this low of resources for a town of 42,000, it makes it near impossible,” Whitt said. “I made the choice when I first came here to not spend any money and to keep expenditures down, and that‘s been our mantra for 4 1/2 years.” Wegener said she is “fighting to keep whatever I possibly can” for both libraries. “With the cuts needed to balance the budget, I’m mainly trying to retain as many hours as possible and as much staff as possible,” Wegener said. “To keep the staff we currently have employed, with the hours they are working now, that would be nice but I don’t know if that’s fiscally responsible.” Wegener acknowledged there could be cuts to the amount of time she works. “There are so many feelings involved here, I couldn’t name just one feeling,” Wegener said. “I’m hopeful for the future of Lincoln because it’s a great community and it’s done great things for the library in the past and I know it will in the future. My whole thing overriding is to be hopeful. What it really comes down to is I’m going to try to be strong and hopeful.”