Once again this year the Lancaster County Commissioners, and the county staff, have had to make tough choices in funding programs and services.
Lancaster County Commissioners have worked hard to preserve vital services, while maintaining a hold on the property tax levy.
While a hold on taxes is important, so is funding for roads and bridges. The LIBA Budget Monitoring Committee is concerned that the County will only pave 1 mile of road and overlay 10 miles in the coming year. Additionally the County has reduced the Engineering budget by a quarter of a million dollars. Lancaster County has deteriorating bridges and roads. LIBA is not criticizing Board decisions, but suggesting that any unanticipated funds, from sources such as higher than anticipated property values or inheritance taxes be dedicated to roads. Additionally LIBA suggests the County inform department directors that mid-year budget requests are likely to be denied.
LIBA thanks Commissioners for their continued support for providing RTSD funds for the South Beltway. As you know, in the past 12 years 18 people have died on the stretch of Highway 2 that falls within Lincoln city limits. We applaud Lancaster County’s commitment to community safety.
LIBA would like to address another area of community safety. The budget for the new jail and corrections department has increased dramatically. Just a few years ago, the 2011 budget contained approval for 169 employees at a cost of $14 million. The new 2015 budget shows jail funding at $20 million with 220 employees. LIBA understands that costs increase, and we all want a safe working environment for county corrections employees. Therefore, LIBA recommends a cost analysis be done to determine how Lancaster County may benefit by housing our prisoners at other county jails as was done prior to 2013.
While some have cautioned the County on the use of Keno funds, LIBA would like to express support. The 2015 County budget uses $1.2 million in Keno funds to make ends meet. The Board appears to be turning Keno funds into a permanent solution to a funding gap. LIBA believes this is a reasonable alternative to a property tax increase.
Finally, LIBA would like to encourage the County to work with the state legislature to seek an alternative to the state Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR). The current rules and regulations under the CIR make it nearly impossible to control employee expenses and benefits. Between Fiscal years 2014 and 2015 the County anticipates reducing employment by 55 employees yet budgeted payroll costs are increasing by over $6,000 per employee.[i] One union contract even restricts the County from terminating (RIF) a full time employee unless all part-time employees are fired first. That does not allow the flexibility to staff at proper levels. This Union rule is in effect even in the case of an emergency. Other Union rules say that the County must remove written reprimands and employee warnings from the employee file after a year. Plus the County is forced to give pay raises based on what other cities in other states pay. This is an archaic system. We encourage the County ask to staff to explore alternative methods used by other states to find a better means of solving labor “impasse.”
[i] Summary of Lancaster County Budget; pgs. 7 and 10