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Lincoln looks to trim costs

By: Liz Kellar The News Messenger
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The Lincoln City Council met with city staff Monday for the second in a series of 2008-09 budget workshops. The workshops are intended to get feedback from the council before the budget is presented at the June 10 council meeting, said Steve Ambrose, the city’s finance and administrative services director. The projected shortfall for the 2008-09 budget year is $1,046,907; one item under discussion has been whether the council members want to dip into the city’s reserves, currently estimated at $3 million. At the May 5 workshop, Mayor Primo Santini said he was wary of dipping into the city’s reserves this year. “I think things may actually get a little worse before they get better,” he said. At the May 12 workshop, however, council members indicated a willingness to spend approximately $500,000 of the reserves. The $1 million shortfall includes a projected 4 percent cost-of-living adjustment for salaries and a new animal control officer position. It also factored in a reduction in library operating hours and reflected the savings of not filling a vacant police officer position and a part-time librarian. Ambrose and new city manager Jim Estep submitted a proposal to make up the shortfall in three phases. “If you don’t want to use any reserves, this shows you what it would take to make up the shortfall,” Ambrose told the council members. The first phase included not filling another two police officer positions and a records clerk position, while maintaining a police department staff of 38 officers; not adding a season administrative position to the fire department; not implementing a proposed after-school program at Twelve Bridges Middle School; converting some part-time staff to seasonal at the library and further reducing library hours; and eliminating some part-time and seasonal positions within the city. The modifications in the first phase total $558,244. Santini expressed a desire to keep the after-school teen program in the budget. “One way to do it, at least temporarily, is to get organizations like PAL and Redirect to help put together a program with volunteers,” said Lincoln Police Chief Brian Vizzusi. “We have several months to plan this.” Vizzusi said that staffing levels at the police department are adequate and added that he is planning on some voluntary exits, rather than on having to lay people off. Phase two proposed modifying city staff members’ schedules to 37.5 hours a week, thereby saving the city $219,261. After discussion, council members took that option off the table for now. Phase three modifications included eliminating two seasonal library positions, one community service officer, one police dispatcher and one police officer, for a savings of $293,396. “One of our top goals is crime prevention and we wouldn’t be doing crime prevention without a community service officer,” Vizzusi said. “But if you had to choose?” Santini asked him. “That is a tough call,” Vizzusi said. “I would probably choose a police officer.” “Police and fire make up 60 percent of the General Fund budget,” Santini said. “We just have to look there.” After further discussion, council members directed staff to work to maintain a staff of 38 police officers, and to work to keep the after-school program in the budget. Reducing the hours of operation for the Carnegie and Twelve Bridges libraries also was discussed. Currently, Carnegie Library is open 34 hours a week and Twelve Bridges is open 38 hours. This would be reduced to 30 hours a week under the first phase of budget modifications. Library director Darla Wegener said she would meet with Ambrose and Estep to look at ways to retain the current schedule. The group will meet again at 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss operations expenditures and to review capital improvement projects.