Election Day nears. Many already have or soon will cast early ballots. There certainly is no shortage of races generating constant, blaring headlines.
The shrieking and divisive presidential campaign is the most prominent contest. The question of expanded gambling in Nebraska is on ballots statewide and is generating considerable political advertising. In North Platte, we have genuinely contested mayoral and city council races which have prompted yard signs to colorfully sprout across town.
North Platte’s Quality Growth Fund is also on the ballot. Undoubtedly most voters have driven by many red, white, and blue “Yes — Quality Growth” signs competing for attention in neighborhood yards. Our local Chamber of Commerce is spearheading the advocacy for renewal of the 20-year-old program. Sunday’s, Tuesday’s and today’s Telegraphs contain in-depth stories about the fund’s operation, accomplishments and revenue source. Still, an issue as unsexy and nuts-and-bolts as the QGF tends to fade into the background in the face of the flash and clamor of a presidential election year. North Platte voters will do well to exert sufficient attention to study and then vote yes on issues 1 and 2 — the first describing the purposes of the fund and the second outlining the revenue generation details — to renew the program for a third decade-long run.
First thing first for our town’s hyper-tax-conscious constituencies and highly important for all North Platte voters: Renewing the QGF will have zero, zip, nada, absolutely no impact on the amount of taxes any of us pays. QGF dollars come from a portion of city sales tax revenue that is going to be collected whether we have the QGF or not. Defeating the QGF will not reduce sales taxes paid; approving it will not increase sales taxes paid. QGF is a tax-neutral question.
If approved, once annual city sales tax revenues reach a certain amount — for the past fiscal year that amount was $7.14 million and that amount increases annually by 2% — half of city sales taxes collected go to the QGF until a maximum of $650,000 is generated or the fiscal year ends. For the last five years, the QGF received roughly $550,000 to $600,000 annually. If not approved, dollars that would have gone to the QGF will simply become part of the city’s general funds.
Why the QGF is important and vital to our community’s economic present and future is no longer subject to speculation or conjecture. North Platte voters in February 2001 and again in November 2010 approved the program, so we have two decades of experience and history as evidence of the QGF’s positive impact and significance on issues of local economic development.
Mostly the QGF means jobs here in our town that provide paychecks to many of our friends and neighbors. In 20 years, the program has aided 475 area businesses with in excess of $6 million. To name a few examples, development in our industrial parks, Hobby Lobby, the Love’s Travel Center, and the gorgeous, ongoing renovation of our historic downtown have all benefited from the QGF. The 475 area businesses are employers that need employees; those are jobs that would otherwise be disappearing or heading elsewhere.
Thanks to some imaginative and flexible leadership at our local Chamber of Commerce, QGF dollars have also recently helped address North Platte’s chronic shortage of housing and responded to fiscal challenges related to COVID-19. The QGF has played a vital role in both phases of North Platte’s “Shot in the Arm” housing program that will help in the construction of 164 residences. And when economic slowdown associated with the pandemic threatened, $200,000 was committed to a program under which the QGF matched customers dollar-for-dollar for gift cards at area businesses, providing a vital lifeline utilized by 140 local employers.
Final decision-making for any expenditures of QGF dollars is in the hands of our elected representatives on the City Council. They either approve or disapprove recommendations from the Citizens Review Committee, whose five members are nominated by the mayor and approved by the council. So we citizens retain ultimate although indirect control over how QGF money is spent through votes cast for our elected representatives.
Renewal of the QGF is as near a no-brainer as exists on this election’s ballot. The program has not a scintilla of impact on how much anyone pays in taxes and will continue to produce — as it has for its 20-year history — incalculable good for this community. Vote yes on issues 1 and 2.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!