Mayor Chris Beutler today addressed two public misconceptions about the additional $10 million the City will invest in street construction and repair. First, he said, it would be inappropriate to use funding originally intended for streets for another purpose. Secondly, the funds are not "found" money, but are the result of the final accounting of costs among federal, state and local partners on the closed transportation elements of the Antelope Valley Project.
"Ensuring the public has the facts they need to evaluate City needs is a high priority," said Mayor Beutler. He announced the additional funding for street rehabilitation and repair last week as part of a plan that also includes the use of new technology to improve pothole repairs, the reconstruction and widening of arterials and an increase in residential street repair.
Public Safety Director Tom Casady said some members of the public have asked why the $10 million cannot be redirected to the replacement of the 911 radio system and the new fire stations. Voters will decide April 7 whether to raise the City sales tax a quarter-cent for three years to fund the project. Casady and Beutler stress that this would divert money collected specifically for streets into other projects, and it would not be an appropriate use of the local and state funding. The City has been advised by Nebraska Department of Roads officials that reimbursement monies from gas tax expenditures must be used for transportation purposes only.
"These funds were collected for streets, and redirecting them to other purposes would not be acceptable to taxpayers, who tell us that investing in streets is a high priority," Beutler said.
According to Public Works and Utilities Director Miki Esposito, the $10 million is comprised of state gas tax, local wheel tax and federal transportation funding. "The $10 million was collected for transportation and should be used only for transportation," Beutler said. "That's why we are devoting the funding to street repair and new technology that will make streets safer, smoother and more durable."
The funds will become available following action on Thursday of the Joint Antelope Valley Authority Board, an independent body comprised of the City of Lincoln, the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Board will close out several of the transportation elements of the Antelope Valley Project. Part of the final accounting of costs included an audit of the closed projects.
"We routinely use audits to ensure tax dollars are appropriately spent," Beutler said. "In this case, a thorough examination of the books yielded two pieces of good news for Lincoln taxpayers. First, all transactions in this huge project were handled appropriately and secondly, $10 million can be returned to the City to fix streets."
Mayor Beutler also emphasized that the public safety projects and the street funding are both critical components in keeping the community safe. "Good leadership does not focus on one form of safety at the expense of another," he said. "The 911 emergency radio system is important to the safety of both our first responders and the public. Relocating fire stations will reduce response times. Fixing streets makes them safer for drivers. All three are important to the continued growth of our community."