By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Updated 12:45 p.m. Tuesday
LINCOLN — One of the frontrunners in the Lincoln City Council race signed a petition two years ago calling on Lincoln leaders to increase property taxes to fund the city budget.
At least, that’s what a local TV station reported in a July 2011 story, but Leirion Gaylor Baird now says she thought the petition just supported the mayor’s budget.
The petition proposed a 5-cent increase in the property tax levy to save the city forester position and avoid cuts to other city programs. At the time, the mayor was considering scaling back budget cuts by using $3.8 million from an idle pot of one-time funds. The organizer of the petition drive, Rosina Paolini, argued using one-time funds to balance the budget would only worsen the city’s budget situation the next year.
A week after the mayor’s announcement, a KOLN-TV report quoted Gaylor Baird saying she signed the petition because “We’re putting passion and money behind the things, the values and the ideals we care about in this town.”
But on Monday Gaylor Baird said she was asked to sign the petition while leaving a library and she thought it was merely an expression of support for the mayor’s budget. She said her comment to the TV reporter referred to the budget. She said when she realized the petition called for a tax increase, she contacted the petition organizer and had her name taken off. Paolini confirmed that on Tuesday.
When asked about tax increases during a candidate forum Monday sponsored by the Lincoln Independent Business Association in downtown Lincoln, Gaylor Baird said “Tax increases should always be the last resort.” She said she is confident Lincoln’s growth and downtown development will shore up sales tax revenue and eliminate budget shortfalls and the need for tax increases.
She said she helped Fortune 500 companies such as Sears become more efficient while working as a business analyst in her first job out of college, and has worked as a city budget and policy analyst.
“I know my way around a city budget,” she told LIBA members.
Gaylor Baird is one of three Democrats running against three Republicans in the May 7 municipal election, where three of the candidates will be elected to the City Council.
The top finisher in the April 9 primary election, Republican Roy Christensen, also said today he was misquoted by an online publication regarding his stance on tax increases.
Grassroots in Nebraska reported April 9 “Christensen noted two areas which should be cut: libraries and pools” and elaborated about how libraries were created when books were only available in print and were expensive.
Christensen said he did not say libraries and pools should be cut or closed and asked the website to correct the article. The story has been updated to say the author came to a conclusion Christensen didn’t specifically state. Christensen told Nebraska Watchdog what he said was as soon as someone starts talking about budget cuts, the “library and pools crowd” gets upset.
“I don’t think we need to close pools at all,” Christensen said. But he said the city needs to look at what a library needs to be in the future, as opposed to “a monument to the past.”
He said reads about two books a week, for example, but hasn’t read a print book for about three years. Sixty percent of Lincoln residents who use the library access it online, he said, so the city needs to look for savings that take that into account — perhaps by buying fewer printed books.
“I think we need to have a discussion about what libraries ought to look like in the future,” he said.
The candidate who finished second in the primary election last week, Meg Mikolajczyk, refused to rule out a tax increase during the LIBA forum, saying she has “great concerns” about lowering taxes or doing things that cut services to the community’s most vulnerable.
Admitting her position was unlikely to be popular with LIBA’s conservative base, Mikolajczyk said some neighborhoods are struggling and if people can’t afford to get on the bus or go to a library, they won’t be able to buy the goods and services of LIBA members. Cutting taxes would require libraries, pools and parks to close, she said.
“I’m not going to say we should cut taxes,” she said. “I’m not going to say we should raise them either.”
One of her priorities is improving Lincoln’s bus system — she said it’s a challenge to ride the bus after having tried it and gotten left behind and having to wait an hour.
Mikolajczyk is an outspoken legal advocate for Lincoln’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered community, acting as pro-bono attorney for Outlinc’s “In the Name of Love” project, filing legal name changes for free for same-sex couples.
She briefly represented Charlie Rogers, a former University of Nebraska-Lincoln basketball standout who was charged with falsely claiming she’d been attacked by three masked men who carved gay slurs into her skin, tied her up and tried to start her house on fire. Rogers pleaded no contest to making a false police report and is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.
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