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Potholes

The two people listed as co-chairs for an advisory committee that will oversee spending of the quarter-cent sales tax for Lincoln streets are both active in the business community.

Lincoln builder Rick Krueger and businesswoman Debby Brehm are listed on early documents as chairs of the committee that will monitor spending of the quarter-cent sales tax increase, if the plan gets voter approval.

People active with neighborhood associations are concerned that maintaining and fixing neighborhood streets will not be a priority with a committee headed by business leaders.

“I am very concerned,” said Pat Anderson-Sifuentez. "How do we know that 70 percent will go to older streets ... and not be sucked out to the new-growth areas?” 

Neighborhood advocates said they hope the committee will have many neighborhood representatives to balance the business interests at the top.

Krueger and Brehm are listed as chair and co-chair on early information about the quarter-cent tax proposal, and Lincoln Independent Business Association representatives pointed out during a recent luncheon that the two will lead the oversight committee.  

Rick Hoppe, chief of staff to Mayor Chris Beutler, said there has been discussion about who would chair the group, but it is not official. 

The current plan is that Krueger would be the chair and Brehm the business representative, Hoppe said. 

In addition, there have been discussions about having at least five neighborhood representatives on the committee, he said. 

And the city is committed to spending most of the quarter-cent revenue to maintain and fix neighborhood streets, Hoppe said in a telephone interview Friday. 

The concern is because the past actions of Krueger and Brehm have not been neighborhood-friendly, said Russell Miller, a longtime neighborhood advocate, in an email on the appointments.

And the oversight committee will not be neighborhood-friendly unless the committee has mostly neighborhood members, Miller said.

In the April 9 primary, voters will consider increasing the city sales tax by a quarter-cent for six years. The additional tax revenue, an estimated $13 million a year, would be used for street construction and maintenance only.

Neighborhood advocates point out that business and development interests that want new and wider arterials at the edge of the city to accommodate growth are already protected in several ways. 

The quarter-cent plan earmarks at least 25 percent of the sales tax revenue for new construction. But there is no specific earmarking for residential streets.

The plan also freezes the city’s impact fees on new construction for five years, eliminating the automatic increase based on cost-of-living increases.

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Both the impact fee freeze and the earmarking for new construction were part of the negotiated agreement between the city administration and the business community to gain support for the proposed sales tax increase.

The only guarantee in the ballot language is that at least 25 percent goes to new development and 1.5 percent to the Railroad Transportation Safety District, said Chelsea Pounds, active in a neighborhood association. 

"And now we have business leaders and developers at the top of this process,” she said. “There is no guarantee we (neighborhoods) will see much of the money.”

Lincoln has historically had tension between the development community that would like to see new and widened roads at the city's edge to help with growth, and neighborhood advocates who believe more money should be spent maintaining residential streets.

City staff have repeatedly said that much of the sales tax revenue will go to neighborhood streets, and informational material about the quarter-cent plan indicates neighborhood streets will get significant funding.

"The quarter-cent plan is being sold as, advertised as and represented as providing substantially more money to existing neighborhood residential streets," said Mike DeKalb, a neighborhood advocate who was on the task force that recommended increasing the sales tax to provide more money for street improvements.

Because of that promise, one might think most of the board would be made up of people interested in neighborhood streets, he said.

Hoppe reiterated assurances. If the city doesn't use the money for residential streets, residents will never pass a sales tax increase again, he said.

"You've got to stay true to your word." 

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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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