Posted By: Camila Orti
Mayor Chris Beutler presented his 2014-2016 budget plan to city council members Monday afternoon.
Thanks to an improved economy, the mayor wants to add 12 more full-time jobs in the next two years, most of which are going to Parks and Recreation.
"I'm pleased to see attention to the parks maintenance needs which have had to go neglected during times of economic distress," council member Leirion Gaylor Baird said.
Other council members think the city needs to be careful to not take too much funding away from basic needs.
"We need to keep looking at things like our basic police and fire protection, public safety," council member Jon Camp said.
Lincoln Police Chief Jim Peschong agrees. He says his department hasn't seen additional officers in five years. Meanwhile, the city has grown by about 30,000.
"I think we're feeling the pressures, we'd have to add just a little over 4, 5 officers a year to keep up with the growth of the city," Peschong said.
Even though the crime rate has been going down, Peschong says response times have increased, and they've had to hire more off-duty officers for special events.
"I think they will definitely work with us and try to address those needs," Peschong said.
If their request is approved, a federal grant will allow the police department to hire two more officers to focus on gang activity.
After years of cutbacks, the mayor's new budget plan promises more city jobs.
Mayor Chris Beutler says thanks to an improving economy, the Capital City is in a pretty good spot.
"Together we have made several bold choices to invest in Lincoln's future and it has paid big dividends," Beutler said.
The 2014-2016 budget proposal reflects that, adding nearly a dozen full-time jobs and increasing funding to several city programs and services.
"If we are to meet the needs of a growing city we cannot continue to do it by simply reducing the workforce," Beutler said.
It's a much better outlook than when Beutler took office seven years ago. One of the departments that suffered deep cuts over the years was Parks and Recreation.
"We've closed a couple of neighborhood pools, we've essentially consolidated some of our recreation centers," Parks and Recreation Director Lynn Johnson said.
Johnson says the next two years look promising.
"This is a budget that allows us to bring on some new facilities, some new programs and have the funding to do that," Johnson said.
This includes two new neighborhood parks, more bike trails and better care of existing facilities. Beutler also wants to double the city's sidewalk maintenance funding from $500,000 to $1 million.
But, challenges remain. Employee health care costs are projected to increase by an average of more than 10 percent each year. Plus, some city council members are concerned too much money is being taken away from things like road maintenance to fund beautification projects like the P Street renovation.
Although the city's property tax rate will not increase, property taxes will go up by one-third of a cent. This is because voters approved a $7.9 million stormwater bond in November 2012.
Beutler will officially present his plan to the City Council Monday afternoon. A public hearing is scheduled for August 11.