Friday, April 12, 2013
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Budget talks continue at city council

Part 1: Mayor and administrator look to add revenues

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[April 12, 2013]  Tuesday evening, the Lincoln City Council invested over three hours in discussing city business. The evening began at 6 p.m., and the public portion of the meeting ran until nearly 9. Afterward, the group went into executive session, making it one of the longest city council meetings in recent history.

This year, the city did away with the Saturday planning meetings for the city budget. Instead, the new city administrator, Sue McLaughlin, worked one-on-one with department heads and Mayor Keith Snyder to develop a draft. The council reviewed the draft last week at an early session prior to their regular meeting.

This week, the budget talks turned to some of the resources McLaughlin is recommending for additional revenues for the city, as well as making a few cuts in expenditures. As it stands, the city is a little over $80,000 short of having a balanced budget.

To get the topic rolling, McLaughlin opened the door by saying: "There is a one-page memo I distributed to give you an overview of where we are at in terms of decisions that need to be made. The mayor and I thought it would be easier to drill it down to a few things on the revenue side and what to fund and not fund on the expenditure side."

David Wilmert was the first with a question. He asked if the revenue figures they were seeing were based on discussions that had taken place the week before.

McLaughlin said yes. She noted that she had reduced the expected revenue from changing the traffic ticket policy. She said she'd done this because she knew it would take time to make the changes needed if the city does want to adopt a new policy, so it would probably not be something the city would realize revenue from immediately.

Chuck Conzo, city treasurer, noted that in the memo handed out, several projections from the previous meeting had been reduced. For example, he noted the projected revenues from increasing the fees for birth and death certificates had been $10,000 last week and were now only $5,000.

McLaughlin said she had lowered the estimated revenues on several of the items because she didn't have concrete information on what the revenues could be.

She explained that at the moment she wasn't confident on where the council was going to land on some of these changes. Once she knows what the council wishes to do, she can come up with better figures. She said she wasn't telling the council to add up the amounts and this is definitely what they will get. "Out of all the ordinances we could change, we might get $500, we might get $5,000," she said.

She also explained that the same was true with the local debt recovery program, which would be used only for delinquent parking tickets. She told the council that the city may collect $13,000 in the first year, but once those debts are cleaned up, that figure could drop drastically in the coming year.

Local debt recovery program

Snyder said he wanted to try to tackle one issue at a time and see where the council stood. He began with the local debt recovery program, saying it was a state program whereby local debts could be collected by the state. The money owed to the city would be withheld from state reimbursements such as income tax and lottery winnings.

The general consensus of the council was that the city should definitely pursue this.

Traffic tickets and fees

Next the city talked about changing the manner in which the city issues traffic tickets. Right now the tickets are issued as traffic violations; however, they could be issued as ordinance violations if the city has the proper ordinances in place.

Currently the proceeds from a traffic violation are split among the city, county and state. On an average $120 traffic ticket, the city collects only $43.69.

If the city goes to issuing ordinance violations, it could then collect the full amount of the ticket. McLaughlin explained this does not include court costs assessed by the county. It was also noted that court costs apply only when a ticket is contested.

McLaughlin said she had also reduced the traffic ticket figure from last week because, again, getting everything set up to take over that revenue stream would take time, and it could be that the city won't have all the changes in place even within the first half of the fiscal year.

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Snyder said there would have to be some discussions with the county on what they will need from the city.

Wilmert said he wondered what the downside of doing this would be. He said he supposed part of it would be that the county would not be happy about it.

It was stated that this assumption was probably correct.

Snyder said another thing that had to be considered was the attorney contract with the city. He said part of the attorney fee was based on anticipated ordinance violation cases in a year, and that number would change if traffic tickets became ordinance violations.

It was also noted by Chief Ken Greenslate of the city police that making this change would mean violators would not have tickets placed on their driving record. He said ordinance violations were not moving violations.

Bruce Carmitchel said he was concerned for the negative financial effect this would have on the county. McLaughlin said last year the income for the county was $133,000 on city-issued tickets, but that figure did include court costs in addition to ticket fines.

Wilmert said, as a hypothetical example, if he had a speeding ticket and a seat belt violation, and he mailed the one payment but went to the courthouse to pay the other, he assumed the county got a share of the fine paid at the courthouse to cover their clerical costs. However, he was told by McLaughlin that wasn't the case. The county tacks on additional fees to cover their costs.

Melody Anderson said that basically the county is getting 40 percent of the revenue city employees are generating. She said she was in favor of making the necessary changes, and she didn't want to see this dragged out; she thought it should be done as soon as possible. Marty Neitzel said she agreed with Anderson.

The next topic was impounding fees. Right now the city police department doesn't get anything for impounding a vehicle. Greenslate said the process of impounding a vehicle includes the officer who takes the driver to jail. Another officer has to stay with the vehicle and wait on the tow company. He said costs are incurred that are not recovered.

He noted that in Jacksonville, the city adopted their own impound policy, established impound fees and storage costs. They built their own impound lot at a cost of $10,000 and paid for it in six months.

Permits and certificates

Moving on, Carmitchel said he was in favor of upping the cost of permits, but he was bristling a bit on changing the fees connected with birth and death certificates.

Another point of concern came from O'Donohue, who said he was definitely in favor of making homeowners pay half the cost of sidewalk repairs that are not necessary for safety concerns.

However, David Armbrust said the city doesn't pay for sidewalk repairs that don't need to be done. Through an exchange between Armbrust, McLaughlin and Tracy Jackson, the street superintendent, it came out that the city actually pays only for the concrete on those requests, which is currently less than paying the 50 percent.

In regard to adding new fees to some of the existing ordinances, Wilmert said he wasn't necessarily in favor doing so.

At the same time, McLaughlin noted for the council that the current ordinances do not specify fees for sign permits, but the building and safety office is charging one. She said that specifically was just a matter of cleaning up the ordinance and making it reflect what is already being done.

After this, the council moved on to a more detailed discussion of what to do about initiating a utility tax. That topic is covered in the second part of this three-part series.


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