PAL and chamber of commerce leases approved at City Council meeting

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Tuesday night’s City Council meeting was unusually short, lasting only 30 minutes. City Manager Jim Estep told The News Messenger, after the meeting, that was because of a lack of staff reports and meeting location change. The meeting was held at City Hal instead of McBean Park Pavilion, because of weekend use of the pavilion by the Lincoln Portuguese Holy Ghost Association’s annual Festa, according to public information officer Jill Thompson. “We knew it would be a small venue so we tried to get non-controversial items on the agenda,” Estep said. This was to keep audience numbers low due to the limited space, according to Estep. Only 15 community members showed up Tuesday night. Usually, at least 30 community members attend. Lease agreements for the building used by the Police Activities League at 391 H St. and the property used by the Lincoln Area Chamber of Commerce at 540 F St. were approved during the meeting. Each organization will lease their respective buildings for $1 a year, and will pay their own utilities and maintenance, according to previous News Messenger Reports. If the lease were not in place for both buildings, according to Lincoln economic and redevelopment manager Steve Art, both “would revert to a vacant and underutilized commercial property.” “I think this is a good use for both properties at the current time, to keep them in use so they don’t add to a system of blight in down town,” Councilman Spencer Short said during the meeting. All five council members unanimously voted to approve the leases. “The option would be to have these in place or leave the buildings vacant, and I think this is an excellent use for them,” Mayor Tom Cosgrove said. The city’s budget situation was not absent from the City Council meeting as it was brought up by residents addressing the council segment of the meeting. The city has to cut at least $2 million from the General Fund, according to public information officer Jill Thompson. Rich MacKirdy acknowledged the deficit is “from the decrease of sales and property taxes,” and said, “it’s time for the city manager to show us the leadership qualities he was worth paying a high salary for.“ Estep’s salary is currently $205,162 a year plus benefits. “In light of contract negotiations, we as the residents have to make overtures to the City Council to reduce expenses,” MacKirdy said. Andrew Stearns pointed out that property taxes could soon increase. “These property taxes are starting to be paid as banks to step in to pay for properties, and defaulted taxes are being paid and being kept current until sold,” Stearns said. “So we can look forward to more revenue in property taxes.”