City tax ask proposed at $1.9 million


The City of Seward has proposed a total expenditure budget of about $76.5 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

That’s up from last year’s budgeted expenditures of around $57.8 million, though the city’s actual spending was much lower, as some of those funds were set aside for special projects that haven’t happened yet.

“This is a very conservative budget,” Mayor Josh Eickmeier said. “We tend to have enough left because either departments are very frugal and don’t spend their entire budget, or projects that just can’t get done and get pushed back.”

The city will ask for about $1.9 million from property taxpayers, or around $160,000 more than last year.

“Seward is the third-lowest levy in the state for first class cities and above,” as well as Lincoln and Omaha, City Administrator Greg Butcher said.

The city is required by law to present its proposed budget and tax asking at a joint public tax hearing set for Wednesday, Sept. 20, at 7 p.m. in the Seward Civic Center Auditorium.

The hearing will be a chance for the public to speak on the proposed budget, in addition to the city’s own budget hearing later this month.


Proposed budget

Eickmeier and Butcher presented the proposed budget at the Sept. 5 city council meeting.

“This thing is pretty lean compared to what we’ve done in recent years,” Butcher said, but the total budget will result in more than a 2% increase over last year’s because of increased property valuations, which went from $613 million last year to $671 million for 2023-24.

The 2% threshold is the cutoff for taxing entities being required to participate in the joint hearing.

“With leaving the levy the same and us seeing approximately a 10% increase in assessments, we are asking for, obviously, more than 2%,” Butcher said.

The proposed levy remains at 29.3 cents per $100 valuation, or 32.8 cents when combined with the Seward Airport Authority’s levy.

The proposed budget accounts for an estimated $68 million in revenue.

It includes the first full year of sales tax revenue on the half-cent tax approved by voters in November 2022 to help pay for the Seward Wellness Center. That half cent is expected to generate about $792,000.

In General Fund expenditures only, the proposed budget runs a deficit of $672,599.

Butcher shared a memo of budget highlights that included a list of planned projects that would either need to be delayed or funded by some other means in order to balance the General Fund budget.


Facts and figures

Changes in the budget are planned to accommodate the following:

• Insurance, including health insurance for employees and property insurance for city-owned properties.

“After having many years of a 0% increase, we had a 2.1% increase in our health insurance,” Butcher said.

He also factored in a 20% increase in property insurance premiums because of inflation and widespread storm damage claims leading insurers to raise rates.

• Cost of Living Adjustment. A 3.5% increase is included for employee salaries.

• Civic Center Renovation. Around $1.7 million is budgeted to complete the first phase and part of the second phase of the project. Those funds come from the Langworthy Trust, but pass through the city’s budget.

• Swimming pool. About $20,000 is budgeted to replace the diving board that was damaged during pool repairs earlier this year.

• LB 840 (local option sales tax). The budget includes $150,000 in sales tax proceeds and loan repayments.

“We will need to begin the discussion of re-upping the program immediately at the end of 2023,” Butcher said.

• Electric rates. A 3% increase in rates is proposed, with a $2.1 million substation project planned in the coming years to keep up with growth across the city.

• Police Department. About $33,500 is needed to replace or upgrade radar devices, radios, computers and cameras. The budget also includes funds to replace one patrol vehicle each year.

• Streets. The street budget is proposed at about $5.2 million.

“Street items are significant, including the final paving of East Seward Street, Highway 15 stormwater improvements, and design work is set to begin on a number of items as well,” Butcher said.

• Wastewater. The proposed budget includes a 15% increase in wastewater rates. The revenue will be kept in a sinking fund and used to help pay for a new wastewater plant in the coming years, currently estimated at around $32 million.

“A monthly $46 residential bill would increase to $53,” Butcher said.

The city’s existing plant is at capacity and in danger of being deemed in violation of capacity if the city keeps growing, Butcher said.

A violation could mean no new housing or economic development projects would be allowed until the capacity is increased.

The city is looking at alternative funding sources, but few grants are available right now.