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Economic development topic at Tuesday's council meeting

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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More than 1 ½ hours was spent during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting discussing Lincoln’s economic development and the possibility of bringing in a consultant to help draw in more businesses. Rick Bluhm, chairman of Lincoln’s economic development committee, presented the City Council with a business outreach option and requested direction from the council. “We are not looking for approval of funding but we’re offering a list of options to look at to move forward with economic development of the city of Lincoln,” Bluhm explained. In the business outreach option, Bluhm said, there are three levels of investment the city could take for economic development. For minimal investment, Bluhm said, the city could “do nothing,” update the city’s website or “expand and update the business section,” update the Live, Life, Lincoln website and/or “design or use a free ware web page for business development.” Those options could cost from $500 to $5,000, according to Bluhm. The mid-level investment entails redoing the current city website, according to Bluhm, which would include a new business development page. That could cost $21,000 to $25,000 plus an annual $6,000 for maintenance, Bluhm said, and would require city staff time to maintain. The third level of investment was what Bluhm called “aggressive business development” and has a potential price tag of $150,000 to $200,000. “It could include retaining the services of a professional outreach firm and/or hiring an individual consultant to be the full-time economic development coordinator,” Bluhm said. Following Bluhm’s presentation, Buxton Company vice president Lisa Hill spoke to the council about the services her company provides. According to the staff report prepared by city housing and special projects coordinator Amanda Norton, “Buxton Company uses a sophisticated approach that takes into account the psychographic characteristics of local consumers and their purchasing preferences.” “This information is critical to identify which national retailers and restaurant concepts are a match for the community,” Norton said. Bluhm said the cost of using Buxton Company would be $50,000 for the first year, and $15,000 for each following year. City Manager Jim Estep assisted the council in giving a consensus regarding the business outreach plan. “To sum it up, we’ll start looking at budgeting to cover the cost of Buxton or a Buxton-like company and we’ll probably do an RFP (request for proposal). We’ll look at working with the economic development committee on updating now the whole website, but creating a web page for economic development,” Estep said. “The last one that is on here is exploring the opportunity for creating or resurrecting the position for economic development specialist.” Another committee discussed during Tuesday’s meeting was the fiscal sustainability committee. Councilman Stan Nader gave the council a list of five “top things we need to look at” in the committee’s report and those five items were picked by the fiscal sustainability committee. Nader said the committee wanted to see if there was “consensus” from the council to have city staff “begin doing research necessary” to consider those items for implementation. Those five items are franchising solid waste; continuing to meet and confer negotiations with the city’s employee unions; investigating the costs and benefits of contracting out public safety; reorganizing development services; and implementing the core principles of balancing the budget without use of reserves, adopting a multi-year budgeting process and providing only the core services the city can provide, according to a handout provided by Nader that night. Mayor Spencer Short commented on the five recommendations. He said the city is “working toward” at least two of them. “Reorganizing development services is something I believe we are doing,” Short said. “Balancing the budget without the use of reserves is something we’ll see this year and adopting a multi-year budget, we are already working on that.” In other city news, the city took another step forward toward a gravity sewer and reclamation project by confirming existing sewer rates. City Engineer Bruce Burnworth said the city needed to confirm existing sewer rates to “obtain a State Revolving Fund Loan” for the project. The project cost is $5 million, according to previous News Messenger reports. Last November, Burnworth said that replacing two sections of sewer line with gravity sewer line would mean the elimination of three lift stations and the project would also result in the ability to sell reclaimed water. City Council on Tuesday also adopted three additional resolutions, including one that approves the project