By Jan Rahn
Stripping cities, counties and natural resources districts of state aid amounting to $44 million will become law once the Legislature casts one more vote.
Mayor Mike Wyatt said the action will not have much of an effect on the City of Grant, unlike some municipalities that are fearful the loss of the money, $22 million in each of two fiscal years, could force them to raise local property taxes or make substantial cuts in some important public services and projects.
Wyatt said the $9,500 to $10,000 that the city would have received would be nice to have in the general fund, but unlike other entities, the city had not yet earmarked it for any specific purpose.
Lincoln and Omaha have helped lead the unsuccessful fight against the measure, and other largely populated areas have been vocal and persistent in their opposition—to no avail.
Grand Island, for example has said its share of the money was to be the sole funding for new vehicles for law enforcement.
Grant City Superintendent Tyson McGreer commented on the loss of funding, saying, “It is unfortunate that the state’s budget is at a deficit to force this kind of cut, but it is something locally we will work through, and will continue to monitor changes on the state and national level to position the City of Grant for the future.
“We have enough wiggle room in our budget to withstand the lack of this funding,” said Mayor Wyatt. “My bigger concern is with future projects that involve the replacement of our infrastructures.”
The projects Wyatt refers to include water, sewer and streets. He said the cost to maintain and replace these appreciate at 10 percent each year.
“The total costs have become such large figures that we cannot save enough money in five years to cover replacements at values for services that we think are reasonable and competitive,” said Wyatt.
He cited as an example the 2006 Hancock water project which cost the city $197,137. In 2010 the Lincoln water project cost the city $327,324.
These were similar in scope but an increase in cost of $130,187 commented Wyatt.
“We are being impacted by the world demand for these construction products,” he said. “Should you ask me about property taxes I will answer like other payers, I do not want to pay any more than necessary.”
“I do realize that if the public continues to ask the state and federal government for more, most politicians will provide so that they can be re-elected,” Wyatt said. “We as responsible citizens should make time to be informed about the line item expenses in government then decide that which is necessary.”
Communities across the state face similar situations and difficult dilemmas.
“The Legislature has a real choice to make,” Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler said. “Does it force its budget problems onto the backs of property taxpayers or does it give us some options to deal with the cuts?”
Lawmakers have stood fast by the measure which was initiated by Gov. Dave Heineman in the face of a budget gap that could be as much as $1 billion over two years.
The Legislature and the governor have sent the same message to local governments: Times are tough and you have to make tough decisions.