A coalition of community leaders today said a quarter-cent sale tax for streets is needed to keep Lincoln strong and growing. The group is asking the City Council to place on the April 9 primary ballot a measure to raise the City sales tax one-quarter cent for six years, starting October 1, 2019. The sales tax increase would generate about $13 million a year for a total $78 million for streets over six years.
"Because our transportation system is key to economic development, public safety and our quality of life, streets have been a priority throughout my Administration," said Mayor Chris Beutler. "We have increased street funding 71 percent since 2010, but we know there is much more to be done in our growing City. Since the Citizens' Transportation Coalition issued its recommendations a year ago, we have been working hard with all sectors of the community to reach compromises and find consensus on the street funding issue."
The Mayor thanked City Council member Roy Christensen for working with him to bring the measure to the Council. The proposal to place the sales tax increase on the City ballot will be introduced to Council at its January 28 meeting, and a public hearing is scheduled for February 4. Placing a local option sales tax on the ballot requires five votes on the Council.
"We have developed a clear outline of how the funds would be used," Christensen said. "We'll be able to extend the life of existing neighborhood and arterial streets through repair, rehabilitation and reconstruction. And 25 percent of the funding will be reserved for new construction to promote private sector investment. The money will not be used for sidewalks, trails or traffic signals, and it will not be bonded so we will not have debt and interest payments."
The quarter-cent increase would cost the average Lincoln household about $31 annually. To offset the impact of the sales tax on new homes and businesses, a separate resolution will be introduced to freeze impact fees at the December 31, 2018 rate for five years if voters approve the quarter-cent sales tax increase.
Bob Caldwell of Nebco was co-chair of the Transportation Coalition which recommended an increase in the sales tax over increases in property or wheel tax. "With a sales tax increase, the money is generated from all who use our streets, not just our residents," Caldwell said. "Voter approval of the measure will give the City a great start on filling the transportation funding gap."
An economic analysis performed by Economic & Planning Systems in March 2018 estimates that up to 37 to 40 percent of sales taxes are paid by visitors to Lincoln.
The Transportation Coalition also recommended that the City find cost savings and pursue best practices. Miki Esposito, Director of Lincoln Transportation and Utilities, said 19 of the 24 recommendations are complete or underway, and the final six are dependent on funding.
"We are grateful for the trust Lincoln residents have placed in us to deliver a safe and reliable transportation system that meets their evolving needs," said Esposito. "After years of investment on high-priority arterial streets, we are ready to deliver at an even higher level in our neighborhoods. This booster shot of funding would improve 138 miles of residential streets - four times more than our current program."
If the sales tax increase is approved, a citizen oversight committee will be appointed to provide advice and guidance on the use of the sale tax revenue.
Wendy Birdsall, President, Lincoln Chamber of Commerce:
"The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce voices its support for a quarter-cent sales tax as an important first step to address Lincoln's own infrastructure challenges. Here in Lincoln, the Citizens' Transportation Coalition found that we have not been spending enough to maintain and improve our infrastructure. We agree with that conclusion. I'm proud to stand with so many community leaders in support of this proposal."
Tom Casady, City Public Safety Director:
"Good streets contribute to public safety. Police officers and firefighters deal with the same traffic and street conditions as everyone else, but often in situations where time is of the essence. Improving traffic flow helps our first responders do their jobs effectively. Street repair and engineering improvements can also enhance roadway safety by dramatically reducing the number and severity of traffic crashes."
Jeanne McClure, Executive Director, American Council of Engineering Companies/Nebraska:
"Investing in transportation infrastructure is absolutely key to the safety and mobility of our citizens and the economic vitality of our community. Lincoln needs to increase these investments in order to preserve our transportation assets and remain competitive with our peer cities."
Katie O Wilson, Executive Director, Associated General Contractors, Nebraska Chapter:
"AGC Nebraska Chapter members have always supported gas and sales tax increases because it's the most responsible, viable solution to funding the increased needs of our transportation system. The users of our roads benefit from the improvements their user fees or taxes generate. The 1/4 cent sale tax is the best way to narrow the funding gap allowing the City of Lincoln to maintain, preserve and improve the existing streets. It will also allow the ability to fund capital improvement projects in areas where we've seen significant growth. It's time to fund the streets of Lincoln instead of complaining about them!"