Workshop asking for local ideas to generate revenue

Resident Tom Augustine asked to attend to discuss his proposed tax for the general fund
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An August city workshop explaining taxes and fees will aid individuals who want to write a revenue measure to help Lincoln’s General Fund. “We are in the process of scheduling a revenue workshop where we will be talking about all of the different options for taxes and fees,” said Anna Jatczak, Lincoln’s Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer, on Friday. At least one citizen group recently formed to discuss creating a revenue measure to fund Lincoln’s police and fire departments. Those two departments, which receive General Fund monies, will be down by seven police officers, one community service officer and three firefighters by January, due to budget cuts. The Carnegie Library has also closed for this new fiscal year and the library director is vacating her position in two months, due to General Fund budget cuts. The subject of a workshop discussing taxes and fees has been brought up during City Council meetings, most recently at the July 12 meeting. Lincoln resident Tom Augustine addressed the City Council on July 12 and clarified a special tax he developed and presented to council in September 2010 to help increase the General Fund. “This plan is not a parcel tax. It is proposed to tax utilities offered by the city,” Augustine said July 12. That was in response to Councilman Spencer Short’s comment at the June 28 council meeting that Augustine’s tax would whaT. Councilman Tom Cosgrove and Mayor Paul Joiner both asked Augustine at the July 12 council meeting when he would be available to attend the workshop. “Supporters of the Augustine tax plan have claimed that council and city staff has ignored the plan. While it is untrue that Mr. Augustine’s plan has been ignored, it has never been discussed at length and evaluated in any formal setting,” Joiner e-mailed The News Messenger on Tuesday. “As the originator of the Augustine Tax Plan, it seemed appropriate to give Mr. Augustine the opportunity to present his tax plan to the public and the council. Hopefully, Mr. Augustine will be available to answer questions and discuss his plan.” The News Messenger asked if the city plans to place a tax or fee measure on any upcoming ballot to generate revenue for the General Fund. “The city currently has no plan to place a tax or fee measure on the ballot,” Joiner responded. The News Messenger asked Augustine for his thoughts on the city holding the workshop. “We need some type of short-term fix because it doesn’t take a mental giant to know the city is going bankrupt,” Augustine said. “Regardless of whether or not you agree with city management, it’s going to happen because there’s no way in the world in my estimation that we’ll get a revenue fix from (sales and property) taxes or what may develop over the next few years.” Augustine said his plan would involve taxing the three utilities controlled by the city, which are water, sewer and garbage. “The city wouldn’t have to talk to every utility in the world,” Augustine said. Measure K, a utility users’ tax, would have taxed water, sewer, garbage, telephone, gas and electricity. It was a utility users’ tax the city put on the Nov. 4, 2010 ballot, that would have provided revenue for the city’s General Fund. Augustine said the tax he created would require “a simple software design to apply the tax” within the city. Augustine talked about how a tax measure could help the city. “We need a short-term revenue fix to allow us time to develop a long-term solution to Lincoln’s problem,” Augustine said. “People recognize what the problem is and we want to have a fair solution. We need to restore the credibility of the management and council, and the fear has to go away so they can objectively come to a resolution.” At the not-yet scheduled workshop, information provided will include the difference between taxes and fees and the requirement to get either one passed, according to Jatczak. She said residents can participate in the workshop. For the workshop’s timing, Jatczak said “the sooner the better” for any groups wanting to write a revenue measure so that those groups could get a prospective measure on a ballot. “As stated by a majority of the council, a revenue measure needs to be a community-driven effort,” Jatczak said. “However, we are supportive of whatever the effort is.” The News Messenger asked Joiner what the benefit is of holding a tax and fee measure workshop. “I think information is always beneficial. The final agenda has not yet been set,” Joiner said. “The workshop council reached consensus on holding is intended to inform the council, city staff and the citizens of Lincoln on the merits and drawbacks of the Augustine Tax Plan and allow for discussion.”