Two Lincoln businessmen who debated the city’s quarter-cent sales tax proposal at a Tuesday luncheon agree on the need.
Lincoln streets are bad and the city needs more money to build new streets and fix the older ones, said Bob Caldwell, with NEBCO, who chaired a citizens transportation task force that identified the street issues, and Peter Katt, a former development attorney in Lincoln.
But they disagree on whether voters should approve a plan to raise the city sales tax by a quarter-cent for six years to bring in $78 million for street improvements.
The city hasn’t spent its street money wisely and needs to make changes in its street department leadership before taxpayers hand over more money, Katt said at a Lincoln Independent Business Association debate.
But Caldwell said he wanted to focus on the future and what $13 million a year could do for city streets.
The quarter-cent plan is a reasonable, moderate proposal that moves the city forward, he said. The money would allow the city to fix four times more neighborhood streets and is a real opportunity for economic development.
“We need roads. But the solution is not to continue dumping more money into city hall," Katt said.
Katt would not name officials, but pointed to two projects he felt were wasteful.
Antelope Valley Parkway, which he said took money from other street projects for a decade, will be worn out before there are enough cars on it to justify the six lanes.
And the city could better use the $36 million it proposes to spend on an elevated roundabout at 14th Street and Old Cheney Road, Katt said.
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“Let’s put up with a little traffic congestion there and fix some neighborhood streets.”
The city has demonstrated how to irresponsibly spend money for the last two decades, Katt said.
"This is a vote on the leadership. If you like how the streets are, vote for the quarter-cent," he said.
A vote "no" means the city administration needs to fix that department, he added.
But Caldwell said there will always be differences of opinion over design for specific projects and the city can’t ignore major problem intersections.
Rather than look to the past, Caldwell said he prefers to look to the future.
The quarter-cent plan is a nice booster shot, a modest investment supported by many local businesses, he said.
The city needs more money for streets. And the quarter-cent plan, which grew out of a six-month citizens committee study of streets and street funding, has broad support across the business community.
And using the sales tax means people who live outside of Lincoln will help. An estimated 30 percent of the sales tax is paid by people who don't live in the city, Caldwell said.
"We all know we need more resources to fund city streets."
The vote, Caldwell said, is a vote for street improvement and better streets for Lincoln.