"I'd rather see us establish a reserve so if something like this happens again, we would be in a better position of paying the difference and not having the costs shoot up like they did," Councilwoman Richardson-Batts said.
She said she'd "found in our [Council approved] solutions [earlier this year]...sometimes a million dollars doesn't go very far over, let's say, a half a million accounts, or a hundred thousand or how ever many it is."
She added, "I think we took very positive steps to reduce it [the utility tax] before we had to this last time, and so I'm hoping that that demonstrates the good faith to the public, that we're trying to do the best that we can."
She added, "What I am in support of is with those dollars, I believe we need to address the things that the community has asked us to do. And the community has asked us to revitalize the neighborhoods, to fix the infrastructure, to do many of the things that we haven't had the luxury of doing due to cutbacks in years past. So I would like to see us focus on those areas."
Councilwoman Richardson-Batts is the second Councilmember (Councilwoman Kell was the first) to respond to a request by LBReport.com for comments on the recently proposed budget. We have added her comments to our growing page of budget responses (including a link to Mayor Beverly O'Neill's full budget transmittal) and extended comments by Mayoral candidate Norm Ryan, Councilwoman Jackie Kell and LB Police Officers Ass'n President Steve James.
We have posted Councilwoman Richardson-Batts' complete response, which can be accessed directly from this page while on line by clicking on Richardson-Batts budget comments. (To view the entire page of responses from the top, click here.)
Councilwoman Richardson-Batts' position puts her on a collision course with one of her constituents, 6th district activist and LBCUR member Lewis Lester. On August 16, Mr. Lester joined two other LBCUR members (Traci Wilson-Kleekamp and John Deats) in filing a Notice of Intent to circulate an initiative petition to end completely LB's utility tax on City Hall's gas and water utilities.
Mr. Lester told LBReport.com he found Richardson-Batts' position "a day late and a dollar short." He said that "to the extent there is a Gas Fund, the funds that were there should have been used to deal with the spikes in rates, not forcing ratepayers to pay those rates and then expect programs that are put in place for seniors and the disabled [or a "level pay plan"] to be an adequate form of tax relief."
He said "the suggestion that we create another reserve...is posturing of the worst kind. It doesn't elevate the discussion and it doesn't do anything to compensate people who had to make sacrifices with respect to child care...rent...mortgage payments..."
Mr. Lester added, "If she's serious about revitalizing neighborhoods...about sidewalk improvements and...cleaning up alleys and making code enforcement more efficient, then she's going to welcome a review of the budget that takes into consideration the zeroing out of gas and water utility users tax for two reasons.
Number one, it allows people, particularly in her district...extra discretionary income. And there's no such thing as discretionary income in my neighborhood, but allows them to have more choice with their money. Number two, it forces the city to concentrate on its spending priorities...There are some "enhancements" [in the budget], but that's what they are...Nobody has gone through this budget to look at what we can do differently..."