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Gering urges county to negotiate on comm. agreement
October 17, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

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Members of the Gering City Council are asking the Scotts Bluff County Board of Commissioners for more time to negotiate an equitable agreement to help fund technology improvements to the county emergency communications center.

Earlier this year, the county developed a new interlocal agreement to include the county’s municipalities, with funding based on population. The extended deadline to accept the agreement is Nov.15.

But Gering council members Jill McFarland and Larry Gibbs still believe the proposal is flawed because municipalities would be taxed twice, on both the county and local level, while the county residents would only be taxed by the county.

McFarland maintained the most equitable agreement would tax the county’s approximate 36,000 residents equally, whether they lived in rural areas or municipalities.

On Oct. 7, city council president Don Christensen spoke to the county board and said the city was ready to accept their agreement, but needed more time to study the proposal.

“When I read the paper Tuesday morning, I discovered we had told the county we were okay with their proposal,” McFarland said. “That knocked me into a tailspin. How did it get out on the street that we were ready to settle? That could have undone hours and hours of work and been so detrimental to us.”

She said she was disappointed because she thought the intent of going to the county board was to share with them that Gering wasn’t ready to sign on the dotted line and that all five commissioners understood that.

McFarland said she spoke to the Mitchell City Council about the agreement and they were willing to wait for an agreement among all parties.

“The county is asking Mitchell to cut them a check for $22,864 for comm. center upgrades,” she said. “This council had an extended discussion on how they could afford a new $3,800 water softening system for their nursing home.”

McFarland added that attending the Mitchell council meeting gave her added insight into the budget struggles some of the smaller communities are going through.

Council member Larry Gibbs said he wanted to clarify erroneous information contained in a recent letter to the editor in the local media.

“A rural county resident was of the opinion we’re trying to shift the burden onto the rural people, and that’s not the case,” Gibbs said. “That’s not accurate. All we’re doing is saying that people in both cities and rural areas should pay the same per capita tax to support the comm. center.”

Gering Mayor Ed Mayo said he’s spoken to the mayors or legal representatives from five of the county’s municipalities. He indicated they would stand with Gering in working toward an equitable way to tax county residents for the comm. center.

But Christensen said the county didn’t have the funds to purchase the needed technology upgrades so they asked the municipalities to help fund the system that all of them use.

“This thing has been kicked around for two or three months and there’s been a lot of finger pointing,” he said. “It’s time to get this matter settled. We have $60,000 budgeted for this, so we should just pay our share and get on with it.”

But Gibbs said the county is asking for $114,000 from Gering and asked where they would come up with the rest.

“We’ve never objected to help fund the comm. center,” he said. “We want to pay a fair share for the city taxpayers so they’re not being taxed twice when compared with rural taxpayers. If we’re all going to pay for it, we should all pay the same amount.”

The city’s Administrative Committee will continue to discuss options for comm. center funding during its next meeting on Oct. 21. Representatives from other communities are expected to attend as well.

In other action, council members agreed to request proposals from companies to study the city’s overall recreation venues and recommend what improvements or new venues would be feasible for the community.

Council also approved hiring the partnership of Short Elliott Hendrickson and DANTH to begin work on the planning phase for the downtown redevelopment project.
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