Public Policy Center, University of Nebraska


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TAKING CHARGE 2016 A Study of the Strategic Budgeting Priorities of the Residents of Lincoln, Nebraska Final Report July 2016 With Contributions from Lisa M. PytlikZillig, Ph.D. & Addison Fairchild, B.A. Nebraska Public Policy Center, Lincoln, 2016.


This report presents the results of the 2016 Taking Charge initiative sponsored by the City of Lincoln. This initiative included an online survey and a half-day, face-to-face, Community Conversation. Most previous Taking Charge activities have focused more narrowly on the immediate concerns of an impending budget proposal (e.g. which specific programs should be funded or discontinued to maintain a balanced budget). This year’s efforts also focused on specific items relevant to the City’s future budget policy priorities. As usual, residents were also given the opportunity to rate the City’s performance and City officials on a variety of performance characteristics.

A number of important findings were identified from an examination of more than 2,300 survey responses and the input provided by 58 participants in the Community Conversation. These findings included the following:

Current Priorities • With regard to current priorities, the survey and the Community Conversation revealed consistent support for in-home services for seniors, neighborhood snow removal, and neighborhood swimming pools as participants’ top three rated and ranked priorities. • A total of 46% of those answering the question about how to pay for services that the budget would not cover indicated the City should raise taxes. An additional 10% of respondents indicated the City should both cut other programs and raise taxes. The remainder of respondents indicated a preference for balancing the budget. About 23% indicated that preference by stating they balanced the budget during the exercise; 22% indicated wishing to cut programs other than those listed in the exercise. • The least prioritized program, and most recommended for cutting, was parking and abandoned vehicle enforcement. The programs next in line for potential cuts were non-injury traffic accident reporting, the health information and referral call center, and one day of library service. These priorities were consistently reflected in both the survey and Community Conversation results. • Reasons for prioritizing some programs over others included consideration of the number of persons affected by a program; how the program was perceived as affecting quality of life, safety, and the economy; and the extent to which the program served vulnerable or underserved populations.

Future Priorities • Regarding future priorities, survey respondents rated and ranked parks and recreation capital replacement and repair as most important, followed by the construction of the south beltway, followed by StarTran service expansion. • Community Conversation participants were less enthusiastic about parks and more supportive of StarTran and the South Beltway construction future priorities. This was not because the Community Conversation elicited new views undermining support for parks. Both before and after the Community Conversation, only 15% of attendees chose parks and recreation capital replacement and repair as their top priority. It seems that there were simply fewer parks supporters at the Community Conversation than there were among survey respondents. • There was an increase in support for the StarTran expansion over the course of the Community Conversation. Prior to the small group conversations, 32% of attendees chose StarTran as their most important future priority. After the small group conversations, 43% chose StarTran as their top priority. • Consistently, the lowest future priority was golf capital maintenance and repair. This sentiment was expressed by both survey respondents and Community Conversation participants. When given additional options for funding golf capital needs, the preference was for options that would not use City general fund dollars (e.g., fundraising or raising of golf fees). • Reasons for prioritizing some programs over others reflected similar values as those used to evaluate current priorities. In addition, residents considered the overall costs and benefits of programs and whether they believed other funding sources could or could not cover a given program.

City Performance Ratings • The City had seen a measurable increase in its performance ratings between 2012 and 2015, according to volunteer (non-random) survey respondents. This increase continued between 2015-2016. This year’s survey was not a random-sample survey and cannot be generalized to Lincoln as a whole. The observed increase in positive perceptions could be due to more persons with positive attitudes toward City government visiting the survey each year, or to improvements in public perceptions, or to some combination of both factors. • Open-ended comments about City performance suggested that people have differing opinions about the Mayor’s office, the City Council, and City employees. Comments also quite frequently mentioned roads and the need for specific improvements. While most of the comments mentioning taxes were made in order to express disapproval of raising taxes, some comments argued for taxes in order to cover valued services. • The City has consistently been rated lowest with regards to fair treatment of all areas of town. Open-ended comments reflecting feelings about fairness indicated that a number of people feel that more wealthy neighborhoods are treated with favoritism and receive more or better services. Others commented that neighborhoods affected by certain decisions need to have say in those decisions.