What does the city think?

Lincoln's officials take wait-and-see approach to findings
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Although the fiscal sustainability committee report was to be released today, some city employees are saying many of the committee’s recommendations have already been implemented. A list of the committee’s recommendations was released last week with the agendas for last Thursday’s and last Friday’s fiscal sustainability committee meetings to vote on which recommendations would go into the city report. The News Messenger asked several city employees and Lincoln Mayor Spencer Short if they thought the committee’s recommendations and report will help the city. “I guess that depends on what is in their report,” Short said Monday. “Not knowing what’s in the report, I can’t really say.” Short said he has only seen the list of recommendations, and not the full report. “I don’t want to prejudge it but I do have some concerns that there are no new solutions,” Short said. “It appears that most of the things the committee is suggesting, the city has already done or evaluated.” One concern listed by Short was that the committee recommended “that the fire department needs to explain its relevancy.” “The recommendations appear internally inconsistent, at one point saying we need to increase staffing in finance and spend money on new software, and then they are saying make more cuts,” Short said. Lincoln City Manager Jim Estep said Tuesday that he “can’t say whether the recommendations will help the city without seeing how those recommendations come together to form a fiscal sustainability plan.” “To date, I have not seen the final product, which is presumably a full report with a plan of action that would ultimately lead to both short- and long-term fiscal sustainability,” Estep said. “Reading the recommendations without the supporting documentation and final report could be unintentionally misleading.” Some recommendations are not new to the city, according to Estep. “Many of the recommendations have already been implemented by the city already, in some cases for several years,” Estep said. “Others are already in the process or have been discussed at staff level and with the City Council in the past.” Estep also said that some of the recommendations “appear contradictory.” “I believe this is due to the subcommittees being unable to communicate until the report was near completion,” Estep said. “I’m sure the committee will work through those issues to ensure the document has continuity before it is presented to the City Council for review.” Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren said that it “will be interesting to see the full report and the basis of their findings.” As far as if the committee’s recommendations will help the city, Shelgren said he would like to see the final report before commenting. “A good part of those recommendations, they’ve already been implemented and the city has been doing those cost-saving measures,” Shelgren said. “In reviewing the recommendations I’ve seen so far, there were no surprises, nothing new that I saw that hasn’t already been talked about.” Examples given by Shelgren were capital improvement projects, replacing vehicles, and wage and salary concessions. “I know the FSC is trying to do the right thing and some of what they recommended, we are already doing,” Interim Fire Chief Mike Davis said. “I think as the final report comes forward, I hope it will put us on a map of where we are at and where we need to be.” Lincoln Police Lt. David Ibarra, who was present for the majority of Friday’s meeting, said there were “some good ideas and some things that aren’t so good.” “I think on the topic of contracting services out to the sheriff’s department, personally I think we can continue to provide the professional services we have always provided (as a police department),” Ibarra said. “I’m proud our agency has been able to keep the crime rate down over the years and still continue to be a community where people want to raise their families. I’m in favor of keeping our own police department.” The News Messenger also spoke with a public services employee, who wished to remain anonymous. “I can’t speak for everybody else but I know a lot of people are definitely upset and concerned about their position with the city,” the employee said. “The majority of the recommendations that impact us in the public services is obviously contracting out work and replacing us with contract workers.” The employee said that was “scary,” since it means no job when “jobs are hard to come by.” “We’re concerned that’s their game plan, that they want to contract everything out,” the employee said. “Is that going to save the city from financial ruin? A lot of people are thinking it really doesn’t.” The employee said public-services workers are “willing to do” furloughs” again. “The (recommendations) for no-merit increases and no cola’s (cost of living adjustments), all of that stuff has already been implemented,” the employee said. “It’s like, OK, we are already doing that; we’ll do that again.”