Orange barrels are likely to grow in numbers after voters narrowly approved a sales tax increase to provide more funding for street construction.

A plan to raise taxes to put more funding into street improvements drew support from traditionally Republican precincts in far southeast Lincoln and from traditional older neighborhoods such as the Near South and the Country Club.

Lincoln voters last week approved a quarter-cent increase in the city sales tax, earmarked for street repair and construction, but just barely.

Final vote totals released Friday showed 50.65 percent voted for the increase, with a margin of just 650 votes.

Precinct map, sales tax vote

And voter turnout of 52,457 — 31.17 percent of the total registered voters — was the highest city primary turnout since at least 1997.

The quarter-cent increase, which will bring the city sales tax to 1.75 percent, will begin Oct. 1 and will end in 2025. 

Mayor Chris Beutler likely will name the co-chair of an oversight committee before he leaves office in late May. But he will leave naming the full committee to the next mayor, according to Rick Hoppe, the mayor's chief of staff.

That committee will monitor and give advice on spending the $13 million in additional tax revenue expected to come in each year. But the mayor and City Council will make the spending decisions.

The voting pattern on the quarter-cent ballot issue shows Holdrege Street as the dividing line between north opposition to the tax and general support in south Lincoln. 

The Journal Star reviewed results from all 170 precincts. Based on unofficial returns, the plan passed in 82 precincts, gaining 71.1 percent support in the 9 E-5 precinct that centers on the Tifereth Israel Temple on Sheridan Boulevard. Turnout in that precinct was among the largest in last week's vote.

The proposal lost in 85 precincts, gaining just 34.8 percent support in 1 D-5, which votes at Campbell Elementary School near 27th and Superior streets.

Equal numbers voted for and against the plan in three precincts.

Don Wesely, former mayor and state senator from north Lincoln, said some of the voting pattern may represent the historic divide in the city.

There is a longstanding feeling north of O Street that south Lincoln is the primary beneficiary of the city’s attention and resources, with newer, nicer streets in particular, Wesely said.

Wesely also pointed out that though there were apparent economic and geographic influences at play, it appears partisanship was not a factor. Wealthier areas in the far southeast, where Republicans are in the majority, supported the tax increase.

And the core of the city, predominantly Democratic, also voted for the tax increase. 

Dan Parsons, who worked with a coalition that raised $200,000 to support the tax hike, agreed that people who voted for it and the people who voted against it cut across partisan lines. 

Another interesting item is the split between early voters and those who voted on election day.

The sales tax increase won by a 2,200-vote margin with early voters, which in the past have skewed heavily Democratic. But it lost with those who voted on the day of the election.

About 1,800 fewer people voted on the question of a sales tax increase than on the mayor’s race. However, it’s common for people who don’t understand an issue not to vote, according to local election experts. 

With the vote, Lincoln joins more than two dozen Nebraska communities that have increased their sales tax rate above the more common 1.5 percent. 

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

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.



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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