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Lancaster County wheel tax proposal different this time around, longtime commissioner says

Lancaster County wheel tax proposal different this time around, longtime commissioner says

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The proposed county wheel tax, to be paid by anyone living in Hickman, Waverly or rural Lancaster County who has a vehicle, stands a better chance of overcoming concerns this time around, County Commissioner Deb Schorr said last week.

Schorr watched as the proposed county wheel tax she supported in 2005 was defeated.

But the Republican commissioner, who is the only member of the county board remaining from 2005, believes the structure of this wheel tax proposal will help alleviate concerns about the money's use.   

"This time we're going to partner with the communities where the dollars need to go," said Schorr, who represents southwest Lincoln and the southwest portion of the county.

The county wheel tax would be managed by a joint public agency, including the county and the Hickman and Waverly city councils, should it gain approval from all three government bodies.

The county engineer would advise the seven-member taxing authority on projects it could fund with revenue bonds backed by wheel tax receipts.

The wheel tax would apply to rural Lancaster County residents, those who live in Waverly and Hickman and residents of unincorporated villages. Most tax rates would mirror wheel tax rates paid in Lincoln.

Incorporated villages, such as Malcolm, Roca, Raymond and Bennet, could join later if their village boards approved such a move.

A car would be taxed $74 each year, but a commercial farm truck would be taxed at a lower rate than its city counterpart because some are only used during harvest, said Commissioner Roma Amundson, a proponent.

Supporters see the proposal as a solution to the wheel tax inequality between city and county residents, whereby city dwellers pay the wheel tax for their own street repairs and pay property taxes to the county that fund county roads. 

While those living in Waverly, Hickman and any villages in the county pay property taxes, they don't pay extra to drive on Lincoln roads, Amundson said.

Projections show the new wheel tax would apply to about 44,000 vehicles and generate about $3.3 million in revenue each year. It is proposed to begin in January, but its implementation depends on gaining approval from the three government entities.

In 2005, the wheel tax proposal joined Lincoln and Lancaster County with the aim to fund those roads transitioning from rural to urban use and a portion of the yet-to-be built East Beltway.

Back then, several officials from cities and villages mobilized opposition to the proposal, with opponents arguing in part that it wasn't fair for county residents to pay for city streets.

Then-Waverly Mayor Ron Melbye threatened to sue the county it if enacted the tax.

Ultimately, in September 2005, the wheel tax proposal failed on a 2-2 vote, with one commissioner abstaining because of a conflict of interest.

By contrast, Waverly's current mayor, Mike Werner, has voiced his support for the proposal. 

He and his counterpart in Hickman, Doug Hanson, along with the city administrators for Waverly and Hickman, were members of the committee that devised the current wheel tax proposal. 

Earlier this summer, Schorr said she believed that a county wheel tax will help ensure there's resources to complete work on county roads and bridges desperately in need of repairs. 

"What I've heard from rural residents" Schorr said last week, "is they're willing to pay more if they know it's going to roads in their communities."

This proposal needs to ensure some of the money goes to pay for infrastructure improvements leading into those cities, she added.

A preliminary capital improvement plan estimates the wheel tax funds could pay for $70.4 million in infrastructure improvements by 2041.

That includes projects to build roundabouts at two intersections on 148th Street, as well as adding shoulders to that corridor leading to and from Waverly, and adding shoulders to a stretch of South 68th Street from the Hickman city limits to Firth Road.

It also would include more than $13 million in bridge repairs, according to the projection. 

The transportation task force that had recommended the county wheel tax as a way of helping fund road improvements will review the proposal for the first time this week.

Briefings will be held at the Hickman City Council meeting Aug. 13, the Waverly City Council meeting Aug. 14, and the Lancaster County Board meeting Aug. 27.

Further community meetings will be scheduled in September.

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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