Republican Candidate Cyndi Lamm declared Monday that Lincoln is “somewhat healthy” fiscally, but “could be more healthy”. Her comment came at a noon forum before members of the Lincoln Independent Business Association. Lamm said the City has too much debt, pointing out two different areas of borrowing.
“Much of our debt is in COPS” she said. She was referring to “certificates of participation”, debt incurred by going directly to financial markets rather than bond issues, which voters must approve. Lamm and other local Republicans have objected to the rising COPS debt, which now tops $40 Million.
Democrat Leirion Gaylor Baird countered by saying that the size of the municipal debt isn’t necessarily negative.
“The debt that the city has—the vast majority of it—is voter-approved, and also supports economic development.” She pointed to the $323 million owed for the Pinnacle Bank Arena as an example.
Lamm also found fault with the Arena borrowing, however, and the $53 million in annual debt service currently paid.
“$16 million of that is to the arena, 100% of that $16 million is interest only. That’s just not sustainable in our society.”
Gaylor Baird replied that the City has a credit rating of AAA, considered “the gold standard” among cities. She added that a review of peer Cities shows Lincoln to have one of the lower debt loads in every list.
Lamm also criticized the City’s budget process, pointing to last year’s dispute which ended with the Mayor suing the Council after it failed to pass a budget adequately funding all items in the Mayor’s proposal. The suit ended in adoption of the Mayor’s budget.
“A process that ends with a two year budget that was not voted for by a single member of the Council is wrong” she said.
Gaylor Baird retorted that the situation was the fault of the Council’s Republicans. “The Council majority did not do its job” she said.
Lamm said she feels the budget process needs to be reformed. Rather than the Mayor presenting the budget to the Council for review and amendments, she said, Council members should be able to participate earlier in the process and be part of building the package.
Gaylor Baird said the budget process has worked well for many years, and added that last year was “unusual”.
Monday’s Mayoral Forum was held at what was scheduled to have been the normal Noon lunch of LIBA. Three days before, however, the organization’s President, Coby Mach, was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. In a hastily called meeting of the organizations’s Board of Directors Monday morning it was determined that the lunch, and Mayoral Debate, would be held as scheduled.
LIBA Board of Directors President Lincoln Zehr opened the meeting by calling Mach “a leader and a friend”, adding that the organization had grown and the City was better off because of Mach’s leadership.”
A Board of Directors spokesman told KFOR that nothing will happen with the organization until after Mach’s funeral, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday at Messiah Lutheran Church near 84th and South Streets. After that, he said, the Board will determine how to proceed with a search for Mach’s replacement.
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