Let me start by thanking you for making time for me to talk to you today about the very important infrastructure financing proposals you will be voting on this afternoon.
In my State of the City Speech on July 7, I promised to introduce the package recommended to the community by the Infrastructure Finance Committee. That diverse group of citizens spent almost a year preparing a balanced, comprehensive approach to caring for the infrastructure we already have and paying for what we need to keep Lincoln growing. I forwarded the package to you because I believe Lincoln needs to grow in a planned and well-financed fashion. As I said at the time, a community must continue to evolve to stay vital and strong, create jobs and prosper.
I said at the time that we must reach out to include everyone in this community in making this choice. Then I stepped back to hear what the residents of this city had to say about the matter.
I have spent the summer listening to the community=s feedback, and I felt pretty good about it. I am encouraged by the growing awareness of Lincoln's need to maintain and build our streets, sidewalks, water, sewer and parks. I am pleased that so many Lincoln residents took the time to write, or call, or attend public meetings to express their views. I am thrilled with the marvelous involvement in this issue from so many people.
Now, let me share what I heard. The community is telling us that the need is there, and people know it, but they are worried about the cost of addressing it. There is consensus to proceed with some infrastructure financing pieces, but not all of them.
Based on that message, I am recommending to you as City Council members that you proceed with adjusting the water and sewer rates, which have not been increased for more than a decade. I also recommend that you proceed with the wheel tax increase. But I recommend that you place the proposed occupation tax on gasoline on pending and the proposed bond issue on pending.
I could argue there are good reasons for moving ahead on those also. Most importantly, the need is there! Interest rates are favorable right now, and the City's bond rating is outstanding. Additional construction would help the local economy, and if Lincoln residents really want less traffic congestion, then we must build roads.
Bear in mind that if we delay for too long, the delay will begin to affect our rate of growth. As I have said before, we cannot build everything in the Comprehensive Plan without additional funding. But if you approve some of the elements before you, we can get started. And I think we need to spend more time talking about some of this. As a practical matter, I think it best if we spend some time working with State Senators to make sure Lincoln is getting its fair share of the state gas tax revenue. Although Lincoln has every constitutional right to create its own occupation tax on gasoline, State Senators want us to work with them on this concern before we proceed, and I think that's a good idea.
So, this community accepts the need to do something about our infrastructure; but isn't quite ready to address that need in full. There seems to be consensus on some items, but not on others.
Many of the biggest changes happen incrementally, and maybe this is one of those times. And that's okay. If you proceed with even some of these proposals, you will have done a great deal.
That's why I recommend we go forward with the areas of consensus and hold off on the rest for now. I urge you to approve the wheel tax and utility rate increases, and to place the occupation tax on gasoline on pending and the bond issue on pending. The need is there; but Lincoln residents are not yet ready to address it.