With the 2020 elections behind us — in our little corner of America, anyway — North Platte has completed its two-year City Hall handoff between generations.
As we’ve noted before, that transition was triggered by several retirements in key city positions as much as at the ballot box.
Tuesday’s voting, however, put an exclamation point on it all with first-time candidates for public office sweeping the five contests for mayor and City Council.
Winning rookies were guaranteed in three of them (mayor and council Wards 2 and 3), while a fourth (Ward 1) saw an appointed council member lose his bid for a full term against a brand-new challenger.
With two carryover councilmen winning their first-ever elections in 2018, only two people you’ll see at City Hall’s head table on Dec. 1 (Jim Nisley and Jim Carman) were there two Novembers ago.
So North Platte’s next era begins.
Thanks are due all of this year’s candidates for being willing to serve or continue to serve their neighbors.
Congratulations to incoming council members Brad Garrick, Donna Tryon, Pete Volz and Mark Woods for putting in the hard work to get to know the people of their wards and win their trust.
And of course we congratulate Mayor-elect Brandon Kelliher, not merely for winning his election but also for an even more important choice he made 30 years ago.
Nebraskans rightly worry about the “brain drain.” Year after year, we watch talented young people flower among us and then head for big cities after high school, often forever.
Kelliher did so in 1987. But he soon came back to North Platte from Lincoln, carrying his college degree.
When one considers what it takes to become a local internet pioneer and the top technology guy at a regional hospital, it’s clear Kelliher could have succeeded anywhere.
Our next mayor chose his hometown. And he’s not alone. The “brain drain” can be reversed, more often than we think.
That heartening fact needs to keep sinking in among all of us, in North Platte and indeed all Nebraska.
We’ve made great strides here the past couple of years and even in this surreal year, when COVID-19 forced us to shelter behind masks and in our homes but also to realize how much we need each other.
We’re in reasonably good economic shape because so many, from City Hall, our first responders and medical providers to our banks, business leaders, churches and nonprofits, came together so we all might make it through.
We believe Tuesday’s decisive votes to continue the Quality Growth Fund, that potent tool for helping each other, reflect what we’ve learned about cooperation.
There will be disagreements across the City Council table and between residents and our elected and appointed leaders. It’s even more inevitable in a town that “fights about everything,” as our late editor Keith Blackledge observed.
We expect openness from our leaders and fiscal responsibility in spending public money, especially property taxes.
We also need to maintain some realism as we keep seeking that elusive combination of good city services, provided by competent professionals, for as little tax money as possible.
To be sure, we need to keep confronting our eastern Nebraska neighbors who keep throwing us tax-relief crumbs but basically tell us, “You’ve got property taxes. State money is ours.”
But we also must realize that North Platte’s general fund — which provides most city services and spends the bulk of city property taxes — only accounts for about 20% of the city budget.
Virtually all the rest is self-supporting, notably Municipal Light & Water, or legally restricted in how it uses its money. There may not be much more tax relief to be wrung from the general fund.
But growing our job base and luring more visitors and residents aren’t merely imperative with Bailey Yard cuts. They’ll also keep growing our city sales tax collections. That’s our best shot at the property tax relief we crave.
It all comes back to helping each other and working together, doesn’t it?
Our city leaders have made good hires as they change the guard. We know our remaining and incoming elected officials want what’s best for North Platte.
And we’re not dying. We’re here to stay.
Don’t forget that as we write North Platte’s next chapter. Let’s make it a great one.
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