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Fiscal sustainability report being taken seriously by council

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Lincoln’s City Councilmen say that they are still reading the 400-plus page fiscal sustainability committee report released late last month. That’s amid talk that some fiscal sustainability committee members say the City Council is not taking the report seriously. The resident-comprised committee was formed last April at the request of City Councilman Stan Nader and released its full report to the city on Feb. 24. The fiscal sustainability committee’s primary mission is “to review and analyze the current financial situation and determine both the near-term and long-term fiscal implications of all city funds and to make recommendations leading to long-term fiscal sustainability, according to previous News Messenger reports. Fiscal sustainability committee member Larry Whitaker said Friday that “some of them (councilmen)” are not taking the report seriously, when asked by The News Messenger. Through conversations, Whitaker said, he has heard some councilmen call the report “a non-event.” “It would be very disappointing if it was put on a shelf but I don’t think they’re going to be able to put it on a shelf,” Whitaker said. “I don’t think FSC (fiscal sustainability committee) people will be quiet. It would be unwise to not give this a fair hearing.” While he doesn’t “know whether they are taking it seriously or not,” committee vice-chairman Lee Guth said, he is “happy” to see that City Clerk Pat Avila is working with the councilmen to schedule a date for a workshop where the committee will present the report to the City Council. Guth said he returned from vacation last week, and prior to his trip, “was unhappy” because he didn’t know if a meeting was being scheduled. “Upon my return and hearing that Pat Avila was working with council members on getting a date, it changed my feelings,” Guth said. That meeting has been set for 6 p.m. Thursday, April 19 at City Hall. Mayor Spencer Short said he is “taking the report seriously.” “There are a number of recommendations that are intriguing and that we will investigate, and there others we have serious questions as to whether or not they are helpful,” Short said. One example given by Short was a recommendation to increase staffing, while another said to reduce staffing. As far as the full report goes, Short said he is “still digesting it.” “I’ve read sections and am going through my second read-through,” Short said. “I’m going to withhold my judgment for the time being. It’s very clear that the FSC worked very hard. I have some serious questions about some of the conclusions.” There is an “apparent disconnect between what they understood and what their mission was,” according to Short. “The citizens group is formed and tasked with preparing a plan. There isn’t really a plan but a number of recommendations that apparently failed to adequately address the future,” Short said. “What the FSC report has done, in some cases, is indicated that the community has greater expectations than we have the budget for.” Councilman Stan Nader said that it’s “time for action.” “We are wasting time here and need to get something going,” Nader said. “The committee needs to know the council is taking this seriously.” Nader was referring to a workshop where the committee would present their findings to the City Council. “Essentially, it’s time for the council to step up and show some political courage and take action on some of the things that the city has said they need to do,” Nader said. “According to the committee, they feel very strongly if we follow their recommendations, the city will not face bankruptcy.” Nader has read the report’s executive summary but has not “had an opportunity to look at the whole document all of the way through.” He takes the report “seriously.” “These guys didn’t put out 10,000 hours of work for nothing and they don’t want us to be dismissive of what they came up with,” Nader said. Councilman Paul Joiner said he is “in the process of reading, analyzing and evaluating the 400-plus page report in preparation for the April 19 workshop.” When asked for his thoughts on what he has read so far in the report, Joiner would not comment, citing the Brown Act. “The Brown Act does not allow serial meetings of the council. For me to discuss my thoughts in the media in advance of the meeting could be interpreted as a serial meeting using the media as a hub through which to speak through the council,” Joiner said. The appropriate time and place for me to share my thoughts on the content of the report are at the April 19 meeting. I’ll reserve my thoughts for that meeting.” Joiner said the workshop “will be a good venue for fleshing out and discussing the report and how best to implement those recommendations that make sense and contribute to Lincoln’s fiscal health.” The News Messenger also asked Joiner if he takes the report seriously, in light of some committee members saying the council doesn’t take it seriously. “I can’t speak for other council members. What I can tell you is that I take the fiscal health of Lincoln very seriously,” Joiner said. “The fiscal sustainability committee and its report play a role in the on-going effort to restore Lincoln to financial stability. I take that very seriously and value the effort the committee members have put into the report.” Councilman Gabriel Hydrick said he has read the executive summary and is in the process of reading the report. “What my thoughts are generally are it kind of reconfirms the dire straights of the city that we need to take bold action,” Hydrick said. Hydrick said he sees the report as “a commitment to 42,000 people,” and that he does “take the FSC report seriously.” “I take it seriously because from what I saw, we’ve seen polar opposites come together and we’ve seen them kind of come to a common ground,” Hydrick said. “I think it’s a good report. When I read it, a lot of things were redundant that I know but I think this is good, healthy and has transparency for the community. I think it’s a good document for the community to dig in to and understand where the city is at.” Councilman Tom Cosgrove would not comment when asked if he is taking the report seriously, saying he needed to know which committee members have said some council members are not taking the report seriously. Cosgrove said he has looked the report over “in sections” and is now going back and reading the entire report. “I want to spend the appropriate amount of time looking at the details,” Cosgrove said. “The sections that stood out to me are related to the General Fund, in particular, public safety. Those are the ones I have the more immediate concerns about.” Cosgrove said he “believes the report will be helpful.” “It gives some insights and background information, and in some cases it looks at some financial issues we have to look at a little bit differently,” Cosgrove said. “I think it’s good to get a view from a different perspective.”