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City of Lincoln will allow voters to decide about quarter-cent sales tax to be used for streets

Lincoln voters will decide in April whether to approve a quarter-cent hike in the sales tax, expected to bring in about $13 million annually for street improvements for six years.

The City Council voted 6-1 after a public hearing Monday to put the issue on the April 9 citywide ballot.

Only Cyndi Lamm, a candidate for mayor, voted against putting the issue on the ballot. 

The proposal, Lamm said, turns a deaf ear to constituents, who don't support tax increases. "It seems like the taxpayers are dying a death by a thousand cuts," she said.

"It is time for the city to put proper priority on roads, pay attention to taxpayer dollars and live within our means." 

Another mayoral candidate, Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird, voted to put the issue on the ballot.

"A no vote doesn't get anything done," Gaylor Baird said. "A no vote doesn't let people have the opportunity to weigh in. I want people to have the option to weigh in." 

Also voting in favor were Roy Christensen, Carl Eskridge, Jane Raybould, Jon Camp and Bennie Shobe.

The quarter-cent increase in the city’s sales tax would be used only for street maintenance and improvements over the six years the tax would be in effect. It would not pay for sidewalks, bike trails or signals.

Several individuals and a representative for Americans for Prosperity opposed the increase and opposed putting it on the ballot for voter consideration. 

"This idea is ridiculous, it's like an episode out of the 'Twilight Zone,' which presents events that are out of the realm of logical reality," said Jane Kinsey, representing a citizens group Watchdogs of Lincoln Government.

Kinsey pointed to recent notices of higher home valuations, which will likely lead to higher taxes, and the lower-than-expected revenue from the city sales tax.

She also criticized the use of tax-increment financing and money spent for bike lanes "that disrupt traffic" and are used by a small percentage of Lincoln citizens. 

In addition, she pointed to the downtown trolley service and a plan to seek out a private company to bring in electric scooters, "when half the population is overweight and needs to walk." 

This resolution should be voted down and the city should find other ways to take care of the streets, she said. 

Members of the council also approved, on unanimous votes, two companion measures.

They approved a five-year freeze on any increases to impact fees paid by developers on each new home or business and used to help fund wider streets, new parks, and water and sewer lines to new-growth areas of the city. That freeze is part of a compromise with several business groups that are now supporting the quarter-cent sales tax plan.  

Representatives of those groups — the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, realtors, homebuilders, the Lincoln Independent Business Association — supported the plan during the afternoon public hearing. 

The council also agreed to provide 1.5 percent of the sales tax revenue for use on the joint railroad and street projects around 33rd Street and Cornhusker Highway. State law requires a portion of any additional city sales tax to be used through a joint agreement with another local government. Funding for the Railroad Transportation Safety District project satisfies that requirement. 

The quarter-cent for streets proposal is one more instance where Lincoln can move ahead in a significant and meaningful way, said Mayor Chris Beutler, who spoke at the public hearing. 

He compared the plan to Pinnacle Bank Arena, the South Beltway and the previous quarter-cent tax earmarked for the city's emergency radio system and fire stations. 

And Beutler said the proposal is an example of the Lincoln way, with a series of compromises and then everyone working together. 

A citizens coalition, appointed by the mayor, recommended a sales tax increase as a way to address needed street work and maintenance.

If approved, the average Lincoln family would pay an additional $31 a year for the quarter-cent increase in the city’s sales tax. About 30 percent of the revenue would come from people who live outside the city, based on studies of the sales tax. 

People had been paying a higher 1.75-cent city sales tax for the past three years. 

In 2015, city voters approved a three-year, quarter-cent sales tax used to buy a new emergency radio system and build three new fire stations and a combined police-fire station. That tax ended in October.  


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$47 million expansion will add new operating rooms at Bryan East

Visitors to Bryan East Campus on Monday started seeing construction barriers and rerouting of traffic for those dropping off and picking up patients and visitors.

Within the next couple of weeks, people coming to the hospital also will face a detour inside the front entrance and relocation of the Cafe Express that will last approximately four months. And in March, two large cranes will show up on the hospital campus at 1600 S. 48th St.

It's all part of a major renovation and expansion aimed at modernizing the hospital's operating and recovery rooms.

The $47 million project will be done in several phases and take approximately three years to complete.

The first phase, which is now getting underway, involves constructing a two-story addition between the main hospital tower and the medical plaza building.

It will house 14 modern surgical rooms on the second floor, 11 of which will be constructed in the first phase.

As part of the second phase, the 16 current operating rooms will be remodeled into pre- and post-operative rooms for patients.

In phase three, the three remaining operating rooms — which will be dedicated to cardiovascular surgery — will be built, while phase four will include additional construction of recovery rooms and two specialty procedure rooms.

Other elements of the project include a new first-floor waiting area where the current Bryan Advancement and Public Relations offices are located, with an open staircase connecting to a second-floor waiting area that will include a refreshment area, family seating areas, work spaces with charging stations and other amenities. There also will be private consultation rooms on the second floor for family members to meet with surgeons and receive updates.

Once complete, the project will transform about 115,000 square feet of hospital space and modernize surgical facilities, some of which were built in the 1960s.

"We do think it's going to serve, at least this campus, for the next three decades or so," said Bryan Health Vice President Bob Ravenscroft.

While the project actually will reduce the number of fully equipped operating rooms from 16 to 14, the rooms will be much bigger and better able to accommodate today's larger surgical staffs and modern equipment.

"The largest (operating) room today is smaller than what the new rooms will be," said Don Sheets, director of facilities management.

Plus, Ravenscroft pointed out that six surgical rooms were added for outpatient procedures last year when the 5055 Building opened, so the hospital will still have more operating rooms overall than it did a few years ago.

Across both Bryan East and West campuses, there were more outpatient surgeries (7,421) through the first 11 months of 2018 than there were inpatient surgeries (6,429).

Of the $47 million being spent on the renovations, $33 million is for construction and $14 million is for new equipment, including a new HVAC system that Sheets said will be important for regulating humidity in the operating rooms. Sampson Construction is the general contractor for the project.

In addition to modernizing facilities, Ravenscroft said another aim of the project is to centralize surgery functions in one place to make things easier on patients and family members, about 25-30 percent of whom come from outside of Lincoln.

While construction is going on, he said the hospital is doing everything it can to lessen the inconvenience for people. That includes beefing up staff for its free valet parking and increasing the number of volunteers on duty.

"There will be a lot of people here to get people where they need to go," Ravenscroft said.

FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star file photo 

Nebraska’s Lexi Sun (10) and Nebraska’s Lauren Stivrins (26) celebrate during the Huskers' 25-17 first-set win over Kentucky on Friday during the NCAA Sweet 16 at Maturi Pavilion in Minneapolis.

Associated Press file photo 

Zac Taylor, who had served as the Rams' quarterbacks coach, was officially named the Cincinnati Bengals' head coach Monday.

Trump to call for unity, face skepticism in State of Union

WASHINGTON — The White House says President Donald Trump will call for optimism and unity in Tuesday's State of the Union address, using the moment to attempt a reset after two years of bitter partisanship and deeply personal attacks.

But will anyone buy it?

Skepticism will emanate from both sides of the aisle when Trump enters the House chamber for the primetime address to lawmakers and the nation. Democrats, emboldened after the midterm elections and the recent shutdown fight, see little evidence of a president willing to compromise. And even the president's staunchest allies know that bipartisan rhetoric read off a teleprompter is usually undermined by scorching tweets and unpredictable policy maneuvers.

Still, the fact that Trump's advisers feel a need to try a different approach is a tacit acknowledgment that the president's standing is weakened as he begins his third year in office.

The shutdown left some Republicans frustrated over his insistence on a border wall, something they warned him the new Democratic House majority would not bend on. Trump's approval rating during the shutdown dipped to 34 percent, down from 42 percent a month earlier, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said the president would use his address "to call for an end to the politics of resistance, retribution."

"He's calling for cooperation," she said, adding that Trump will point to examples of where this has happened on his watch. Officials said the president also is expected to highlight infrastructure, trade and prescription drug pricing as areas in which the parties could work together.

But Washington's most recent debate offered few signs of cooperation between Trump and Democrats. Under pressure from conservative backers, Trump refused to sign a government funding bill that did not include money for his long-sought border wall. With hundreds of thousands of Americans missing paychecks, Trump ultimately agreed to reopen the government for three weeks to allow negotiations on border security to continue.

With the new Feb. 15 funding deadline looming, Trump is expected to use his address to outline his demands, which still include funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He's teased the possibility of declaring a national emergency to secure wall funding if Congress doesn't act, though it appeared unlikely he would take that step Tuesday night. Advisers also have been reviewing options to secure some funding without making such a declaration.

"You'll hear the State of the Union, and then you'll see what happens right after the State of the Union," Trump told reporters.

The president's address marks the first time he is speaking before a Congress that is not fully under Republican control. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who won plaudits from Democrats for her hard-line negotiating tactics during the shutdown, will be seated behind the president — a visual reminder of Trump's political opposition.

In the audience will be several Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the party's response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become Georgia's first black governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for the Senate.

While White House officials cautioned that Trump's remarks were still being finalized, the president was expected to use some of his televised address to showcase a growing economy. Despite the shutdown, the U.S. economy added a robust 304,000 jobs in January, marking 100 straight months of job growth. That's the longest such period on record.

Trump and his top aides also hinted that he is likely to use the address to announce a major milestone in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria. Despite the objections of some advisers, Trump announced in December that he was withdrawing U.S. forces in Syria.

In a weekend interview with CBS, Trump said efforts to defeat the IS group were "at 99 percent right now. We'll be at 100."