Mayor Chris Beutler today said a City Council resolution ending the public safety sales tax is "a cause for congratulations and celebration of what is working in Lincoln." Voters approved the three-year, quarter-cent sales tax by a 20-point margin in April 2015. A resolution instructing the City to notify the State that collection of the tax should end October 1 will be introduced to the City Council today.
The quarter-cent sales tax is expected to bring in about $37.8 million. The cost of the public safety projects is estimated at $36.4 million. Beutler said replacing the emergency radio system and building four new fire stations, one a joint police and fire station, will pay tremendous dividends in the future.
"Lincoln residents were given the opportunity to choose how to spend their hard earned dollars, evaluating the community need against the cost," Beutler said. "They saw the value of the proposal, and gave their consent to self-impose the quarter-cent sales tax. The project has been a remarkable success. The fire stations will soon be under construction, pending City Council approval of a contract at today's meeting. The radio system replacement is in full swing. The total cost of the projects will come in under the amount of revenue collected. It is an investment of which we can all take pride."
Since Lincoln last added a fire station in 1997, the City has grown by more than 26 square miles and 47,000 people -- about the population of Grand Island. City Public Safety Director Tom Casady said that because of the growth, about 10,000 addresses are outside of the four-minute travel time area. Four minutes is the national standard for travel time from a fire station to a life threatening emergency. Casady said the relocation of two stations and the building of two new ones, one a joint police-fire facility, will bring about 6,500 of the 10,000 addresses within the four-minute range.
Casady said about 2,300 radios operate on the City system, which was acquired in 1987. He said many components for the system were no longer available, and vendor support ended last year.
Mayor Beutler appointed a public safety finance review committee in October 2014 to make a recommendation on funding the improvements. The public was invited to share their views through a Taking Charge online survey and a website. The committee's recommendation was to put a three-year, quarter cent sales tax increase on the ballot in April 2015.
"We identified a problem, and community input through our Taking Charge process helped shape the proposal," Beutler said. "We held a nearly unprecedented number of community meetings to determine what community needs could potentially be addressed by additional sales tax dollars. We set aside partisanship and a unanimous City Council vote put the issue in front of the voters. Nearly 60 percent of those voters endorsed the plan. It was a great example of how we do business in Lincoln and why this community continues our long run of unprecedented success."
Beutler said the community now faces another decision on funding Lincoln's streets. The Lincoln Citizens' Transportation Coalition has recommended that residents consider a new sales tax proposal for roads after the current quarter-cent sales tax expires.
"The same growth that created our need for new fire stations has created the need for more street repair and new streets," Beutler said. "That is a possibility that Lincoln residents will be evaluating in the coming months. I'm hopeful that new Police Officers and new Firefighters might also be party of that conversation. As we consider a new community decision, it is worth a review of our last community decision. As the resolution being introduced indicates, we set priorities, we executed, we kept the costs under available revenues and now City Hall is doing exactly as the voters instructed by ending the tax."
"I am pleased with the bipartisan cooperation that has resulted in a successful public safety sales tax effort," said City Council Chair Roy Christensen. "I look forward to working in a similar cooperative manner as we look at our future transportation and public safety needs."
Information on the public safety sales tax, including revenues and expenses, has been available since the beginning of the project at lincoln.ne.gov (keyword: public safety). The website also includes the minutes of meetings of the citizen oversight committee which has been monitoring the projects.
The radio system is nearing completion, and an agreement is in place with the Statewide Radio System to share core components. Motorola has built the system, and installation of most of the site equipment has taken place. The exception is tower-mounted equipment, which cannot be installed until reinforcement and electrical work takes place on two of the three towers. This work is out for bid now, and should be completed in the spring.
The radios have been delivered, and are in the process of being programmed. The rebuilding of the 911 Center is essentially done, and the staff will be moving back from the back-up 911 Center within the next several weeks.
The next steps will be the completion of tower work, the scheduling of installation of mobile radios in vehicles, and staff training. We expect to be live on the new radio system in the late spring or early summer.
Design work on the stations has been completed, and the construction-manager-at-risk has delivered the guaranteed maximum price. The City Council public hearing on that contract is today, and the Council will vote on it next week.
In preparation for construction, site work took place at two of the station locations. That includes earth moving, tree removal and demolition of existing structures. Construction will begin in March, and various phases of construction at the stations will overlap during the next two construction seasons, with staggered openings in 2019.
(The new station at Northwest 48th and Adams is not one of the projects funded with the quarter-cent sales tax. It replaces a station at the Lincoln Airport and is expected to open this spring.)