|State of the Valley: City leaders deal with projects’ rising cost|
|September 17, 2015 Jerry Purvis|
At the annual State of the Valley address, mayors and county officials spoke about the past year, and how they’re dealing with the increasing cost of providing needed services to residents.
Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman said the city had been using Tax Increment Financing (TIF) since 1986, starting with the Pizza Hut project and the G-MARC city and retail building. Recent projects also have benefitted, include the Microtel Motel next to the Civic Center, Fresh Foods, the Reed/Nelson expansion in midtown, and the upcoming Cobblestone Hotel located in the downtown area.
Gering also took advantage of the state’s Affordable Housing Program to transform the abandoned McKinley School building into a new block of neighborhood homes.
“A total of 10 homes will be built on the site, and nine have been completed,” Kaufman said. “Under the city’s direction, three homes were built by the Gering High School construction class, and two were built by Magnolia Homes. Private contractors built four homes.”
Kaufman added the city’s $900,000 investment will account for a return of $1.5 million as houses return to the tax rolls.
In the past year, Gering also took advantage of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program to assess and safely clean up blighted areas. Those funds were used to demolish the former Lane Auction House to make the property available for redevelopment.
Other funding sources include the city’s Keno fund, the Community Development Block Grant Reuse Program, and local LB 840 economic development funds.
Scottsbluff Mayor Randy Meininger also focused on state and federal funding mechanisms available to cities to help pay for improvements.
“We’ve used a lot of TIF funds this year for projects,” Meininger said. “We’ve also used Keno funding and LB 840 economic development funding. And we’ve used a self-directed half-cent sales tax.”
He said he wants to educate the public on what help is available to create new economic opportunities. The sales tax was used to help redevelopment of the Monument Mall, which had been underutilized for several years.
Meininger said the mall redevelopment was bumped up to almost a year ahead of schedule because the area had been designated as blighted and substandard long before a developer came in.
“I don’t like the description, but it’s required in state statute,” Meininger said. “It might just be old buildings or infrastructure that need to be replaced.”
Other funding mechanisms over the past year for Scottsbluff included TIF funding to build the new Reganis Motors Honda dealership on East 27th Street. Grant funding, and Keno funds are also being used for improvements in some of the city parks.
Bayard Mayor Michelle Coolidge also spoke at the meeting. As chair of the Western Nebraska Economic Development group, she said they’re working on a regional housing study. With the potential of a meatpacking plant coming to Minatare, along with several hundred jobs, the area needs to know the quantity and quality of available housing to accommodate the growth.
For Terrytown Mayor Kent Greenwalt, the big project he shared was the needed upgrade of the city’s water system, which includes neighboring unincorporated Bellevue.
“Everything should be in a straight line by the end of the year where we can start this project,” Geenwalt said. “Our city engineer said they could probably do some of the preliminary design work this winter and we can start construction this spring.”
The first phase includes installing water meters on all Terrytown residences and businesses, and tying Terrytown into Gering’s water system. Greenwalt said the meters won’t cause any out-of-pocket expense for residents. The cost will be figured into the monthly water bills.
“This has been a long process and I’ll be tickled to see it completed,” he said. “We have grants and money coming in, but the main factor in the total cost will be to take in enough to pay off the bonds.”
The state considers Terrytown and Bellevue to be a single water system for engineering purposes. So the replacement of several water mains, as part of the project, will include both areas. Greenwalt said that once the project is completed, Bellevue has agreed in principle to be annexed into Terrytown.
Mark Masterton, Chairman of the Scotts Bluff County Board, also spoke about what outside funding is available for needed projects. He said the county gets about $1.5 million annually from the state for road improvements. A recent adjustment in the state’s funding formula added another $3 million in road funding for the state’s 93 counties and 100-plus first class cities. Scotts Bluff County will receive about $300,000.
“We apply for all kinds of grant funding,” Masterton said. “That includes money for juvenile services and the WING drug task force. At least a third of the county’s budget isn’t tax asking, but money from the state and federal government.”
Masterton added that some projects don’t qualify for outside funding and must be paid for by the county. One recent project was repaving about six miles of the heavily trafficked Sugar Factory Road from East 27th Street to Lake Minatare Road. It cost about $2 million dollars and had to be bonded over the next 20 years, although the life expectancy of the road is about 15 years.