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Potholes 3.04

A car navigates around potholes this spring on Cornhusker Highway near 48th Street. Supporters and opponents of a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase agree that Lincoln streets are in bad shape.

In a very close vote, Lincolnites approved a quarter-cent city sales tax hike Tuesday that will add a penny to the cost of a $4 cup of coffee and bring in an estimated $13 million a year for improved streets for the next six years. 

Lincoln residents have said they are willing to invest in the city's streets, Mayor Chris Beutler said about the vote.

"Fixing streets now will save money in the long run and allow for smoother and safer driving," he said.

Beutler thanked "the voters of Lincoln for seeing the wisdom of the ballot issue and the wide coalition of people and groups who came together and made it happen.

"It was truly a community-wide effort."

The final vote, with 49,239 votes cast, was separated by 579 votes — 51% in favor, 49% against. 

The plan was backed by a coalition of business groups and individuals with a campaign that cost more than $200,000. There was no formal opposition.

The city also spent another $265,000 on an educational campaign that touted the benefits of the quarter-cent plan.

The sales tax hike was a compromise negotiated with a number of business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, Realtors, Lincoln Independent Business Association and home builders, in exchange for support of the increase.

The language on the ballot requires the city to use the money only for street improvements, not for sidewalks, trails or signals. It also requires the city to spend at least 25% of the money on new construction that promotes growth.

There is no such formal commitment for improving residential streets, but the current administration and the two final candidates for mayor have pledged that most of the money will go to neighborhood streets.

The mayor will also appoint an oversight committee to monitor how the money is spent over the next six years. Beutler has promised to make a neighborhood representative co-chair of that group. He can make that appointment before he leaves office May 20.

Beutler pointed out this promise in his response to the vote. 

"We need to fulfill our promise that neighborhood streets will be the primary focus on the quarter-cent sales tax," he said. 

The compromise with the business community also means the city’s impact fees will be frozen at the 2018 rate for the next five years. 

The quarter-cent plan was a response to a citizen task force that concluded the city needed more than $30 million a year to catch up on street repairs and add new or wider streets at the city edges.

It's the second time in the last four years Lincoln voters have approved a small increase in the city sales tax.

In 2015, voters approved a three-year, quarter-cent sales tax that ended in September 2018. That money has been used to buy and install a new 911 radio system and build three new fire stations and one joint police-fire station at the city edges.

The additional tax rate will begin in October, because of the timelines set by the state, and will bring the city sales tax to 1.75 percent for the next six years.

Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively said Tuesday night there were still 380 early ballots and 368 provisional ballots to be reviewed. Those ballots will be counted and added to the totals by Friday.

City primary election results

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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