The Lincoln Independent Business Association (LIBA) would like to recognize and thank the Lancaster County Commissioners for their work to avoid property tax increases. We know that last year you had to reclaim part of the RTSD levy in order to do that, and we supported you. You have held the county levy rate steady since 2012 and we sincerely appreciate your efforts.
This year, the early projections contain a deficit when compared with requests from county officials and department heads. Already the county jail has worked to reduce its increase by $400,000 which will help you close the gap. However, more work needs to be done to avoid a tax increase. LIBA is not going to suggest it has all the answers, but we have questions that may help your efforts to balance the budget. We have listed our questions below and hope you will take the time necessary to investigate each item.
- What would be the effect of cutting the Joint Budget Committee (JBC) by 5%? The JBC web site on Lancaster.ne.gov does not have any newsletters posted after 2012, and the budget page has not been updated since 2013. We recommend keeping this page current so the citizens of the community know what the JBC is doing.
- Last week, Commissioner Bill Avery asked a question that we find important. He asked what would happen if you asked department heads to come forward with a 10% cut to their “increased spending” requests. This could be a good exercise for the county. In fact, a zero based budget might be a better place to start.
- Does Lancaster County have an effective grant writing program? When was the last time a year-over-year comparison was done to see if we are bringing in more or fewer dollars from grants?
- Has the county attempted to outsource specific duties such as:
- Security Guards
- Building Cleaning (janitorial)
- Crisis Center Services
- The Lancaster County Jail is spending $90 per day to house prisoners. When we were last contracting-out our prisoners, we were paying $45 per day. We understand that we had to pay transportation and medical costs; however, we believe it would be appropriate to issue and RFP to area jails to again house our prisoners. This year we will have a $21 Million jail budget. Since 2011, our jail costs are up over $7 Million. That is a 33% increase in 5 years.
- The State of Nebraska is embarking on a prison study. We are wondering if the Lancaster County Jail should conduct its own study. This might give us some ideas on how to save resources.
- Would the County Commissioners consider eliminating their personal PEHP plans?
- Does Lancaster County need to continue to fund the County Extension Office to the extent we currently do? According to their web site, in Lancaster County we have five Extension Educators, an Extension Educator Leader, sixteen Extension Assistants, and six support staff.
- 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 anticipated reducing employment by 55 employees yet budgeted payroll costs are increasing by over $6,000 per employee.
- The County Board should halt all discussion about changing the retirement plan. If you implement your new idea, it will cost you more than the old 150% retirement plan. (see attached)
Finally, we would ask that you explore all opportunities to save costs on Health Insurance. This should include lowering the percentage paid on health plans and vigorously shopping your plan to all viable insurance providers.
Again, today LIBA is only recommending that you continue to ask tough questions as you attempt to balance your budget.