By NANCY HICKS, Lincoln Journal Star:
The Lincoln City Council says it will not use the windfall created by the revaluation of residential property to increase city spending next fiscal year.
The council, on a 6-1 vote, Monday approved a windfall-related resolution by Councilman Roy Christensen that puts the council on record as willing to live with the already approved two-year budget.
That would mean a reduction in the city’s tax rate for next year.
Only Councilwoman Jane Raybould voted against the resolution, saying she wanted more time to get information and numbers.
“I don’t think it is reasonable to make decisions without having all the numbers,” she said.
But other council members pointed out the windfall resolution is about intent, not specific numbers.
The resolution deals only with spending, said Councilman Trent Fellers. This budget, which is the second year of the two-year budget, was set last summer, he said.
The resolution says the council will not use the windfall to increase spending, barring any unforeseen circumstances, he said.
And that language does leave some wiggle room, he said.
A delay in passing the resolution is only a “device to find out how much money we would be leaving on the table,” he said.
“This is a statement of intent and it is nonbinding,” said Christensen. The city’s exact property tax rate will be determined at the end of the summer during the budget process, he pointed out.
“This isn’t about the details,” said Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm. The resolution talks about the council’s intent to return the windfall to the taxpayers, she said.
Leirion Gaylor Baird, also noted there is nothing time-sensitive about this resolution. “This is symbolic. It is not binding. It is important we shield people from the full impact of the revaluation,” she said.
The city can demonstrate leadership to the other taxing jurisdictions by approving this, said Councilman Jon Camp.
The administration of Mayor Chris Beutler did not oppose the resolution, but Rick Hoppe, Beutler’s chief of staff, did point out the resolution does not guarantee individual homeowners will avoid an increase in taxes.
The city is responsible for only 16 to 17 percent of the local property tax levy, he said. Schools take the biggest share of local property taxes. So what the city does is a small part of the total picture.
The property tax system is complex, with residential property making up about 66 percent of the total property valuation, he noted.
The city will set a tax rate based on the total citywide valuation, and that rate will affect individual homeowners in different ways.
“We can’t hold homeowners harmless on the individual level. All we can really do is set a tax rate. And that will have an uneven effect (on individual homeowners),” Hopsaid.
Even if the city does not take advantage of the windfall from the revaluation, some owners will see a decrease in city property taxes and some will see an increase, he said.
The assessor now expects that revaluation to raise residential total values by around 10.5 percent, because of homeowner protests. That is less than the 12.5 percent earlier estimated.
Coby Mach, president and CEO of the Lincoln Independent Business Association, was the only person to provide input at a public hearing Monday.
LIBA supports the resolution, he said, pointing out the budget has been set.
“You don’t need the property tax windfall in your budget. We ask that you return it to the taxpayers.”