The Alliance City Council hosted a special meeting on Jan. 28 where they discussed whether to ask voters to implement a half-cent sales tax increase for the next 10 years to aid in street projects.

Council members discussed placing the initiative on the ballot during the primary election in May. City Manager Jeff Sprock said the potential increase is made possible by Nebraska Legislative Bill 357, and has been implemented in other Panhandle towns, such as Chadron. He noted Scottsbluff’s citizens voted against the initiative twice.

“It’s something that’s been recently made available to municipalities within the last decade,” said Sprock. “It was an idea that germinated in the Mayor Mike Dafney’s brain, and he had staff take a look at it. We talked with some of the business professionals in our community about the opportunity. So, we were looking at whether the council would be comfortable putting that before the voters in Alliance for a ballot measure.”

Sprock said the tax would sunset in 10 years, unless citizens vote to approve it again at that time. He noted that the city would be required to partner with another subdivision if the tax is approved to implement it.

“Alliance does have a community redevelopment authority, and they, in their last meeting, agreed to join in on an inter-local agreement,” said Sprock.

If the current sales trends continue, Sprock said the half-cent sales tax would result in an additional $600,000-$700,000 in annual revenue, which is estimated to produce $6 million in revenue before the tax sunsets. Currently, the city has a one-cent sales tax in effect for property tax reduction, and a separate half-cent sales tax dedicated to infrastructure and capital development projects.

Sprock said approval of the half-cent sales tax by voters in May would help the city tackle street projects throughout the city. At the special meeting, the council members voted in favor of using the tax for streets, with the exception of Mayor Mike Dafney, who did not want to limit the funds to the streets, but instead allow them to be used in emergency situations for other projects.

“There are definitely enough street projects in order to spend the $6 million,” said Sprock. “It would take our one- and six-year (street) program and enhance that. We would be able to go after all of the projects on our six year plan, and go beyond that. It would allow us to get a lot of those street projects done sooner.

“We know that that is the biggest concern of our citizens, because that is the most frequent complaint and request that we have from citizens through social media, or just people coming into the office,” Sprock said. “People care a lot about the streets, and it’s something they want to see done.”

City officials have a narrow window to advocate for the tax, Sprock noted. After the measure is sent to the county to be placed on the ballot, city officials will only be allowed to provide facts about the half-cent sales tax. During that advocacy phase, Sprock said he wanted citizens to be aware of the benefits of implementing a half-cent sales tax in Alliance.

“The state reimbursement for sales tax, and for sales tax is very convoluted,” said Sprock. “From year to year, we don’t know what we’re going to get in street financing. If the citizens would allow us to have this additional revenue, it would give us a lot more stability in knowing what our funding resources are so that we can consistently attack the street projects, instead of just guessing what the state is going to give us from year to year. It’s not consistent at this point.

“A lot of the streets in our community are rough,” Sprock said. “We know it, and we want to deal with it. That’s why we’re reaching out to the citizens of Alliance to see if they’re willing to spend some extra money to be more aggressive with those projects.”

The Alliance City Council voted down the measure at their meeting on Tuesday with a 4-1 vote. More details will be available in the Feb. 12 edition of the Alliance Times-Herald.

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