Projects and taxes
Just watched a YouTube video of a gentleman from North Platte ranting about one of our Red Willow County Commissioners. Had to do with a rake and a school bus. Didn’t make a lot of sense but was an interesting format to protest a person in public office. Facts? Balance from the other side? Just a second-hand rant. He also had disparaging words for about all our elected officials both city and county. One good thing about it the author of the rant can’t vote in this jurisdiction.
Election today. The main interest for me is my old seat on the Red Willow County Board of Commissioners. Three ladies running and one gentleman waging a write-in campaign. None are involved in the YouTube rant mentioned above. I have my druthers and glad that the vote is a secret ballot. Hope all of you did turn out to vote and remember that the polls don’t close until 8:00 PM.
Last week this old has-been politician popped in to watch the action in the McCook City Council Chambers about worthwhile projects to spend in the City last week. Very few from the public showed. Either not interested not caring or just blind trust in the good judgment of the council members and City Administration.
It seems that our Taj Mahal (oops more properly the “City Municipal Building) is about to be paid off and the question is where to spend that extra money next. No mention of dropping the tax levy or reducing the sales tax rate. The two main projects discussed were to build or renovate the swimming pool at a projected $3.5 million or converting the Auditorium, recently exited by city government, into a convention center at an estimated $4.5 million.
I heard once again that the city sales tax is justified by the tired thought that people from outside the city come to town and use our streets, sidewalks and stores so that they should be happy to share in paying for their upkeep. Yeah, that makes sense for a landowner who already pays a disproportionally large share of our school taxes and will be lucky to break even this year due to low commodity prices really wants to share in paying for a new swimming pool. He already pays more in gas taxes than most city residents due to the distance he has to travel to come to town. Gas taxes also pay most of the cost of walking trails but how does that make any sense?
Back to the basics. The charter for City Government is to provide for streets, water, sewer, trash collection and security—fire and police protection. McCook contracts with NPPD for the electrical utility and skims some of the profit plus Black Hills Energy for natural gas utility maintenance and does the same for cable TV. All the rest are amenities, parks, library, swimming pool, ballparks, senior center, the list goes on, nice to have but not rising to the level of need for streets utilities and security. It is a tightrope for the City Manager to walk and the City Council to justify. That is why we vote the Council to hire the City Manager and keep watch on his actions.
An example of the ongoing need for maintenance of our utilities in this city. Drive more than a few blocks on our good city streets, paid out of gas tax receipts, and you will find orange barriers marking repair of our buried water lines. For the most part, our water distribution system is old and too often failing, requiring frequent repair. In places, the city has grown and the mains are too small requiring higher pressure and consequently more frequent leaks requiring fixing. Our “excess” tax money could well be spent to upgrade the system in sore need and preventing costly maintenance in the future. Kick the can down the road and spend that “extra” money on more popular nice to have projects.
This old guy would also like to see tax savings by combining the County Sheriff department and the McCook City Police Department but I’ve beat that drum before. Large savings could be realized by squeezing the budget of our City Fire Department also—just sayin’.
At the public meeting last Thursday in an answer to a question from the audience, City Manager Nate Schneider recalled from memory that McCook’s Real Estate Tax levy is about the third lowest of all Class A cities in Nebraska. Ah ha good deal, let’s keep it that way and that is exactly why we hire him to keep our taxes as low as possible. Council take notice.
That is the way I saw it.