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Bridgeport will put economic development initiative, LB 940 before voters in November

September 6, 2018

BRIDGEPORT – On Nov. 6, Bridgeport voters will be asked whether they want to implement a new source of funding to help with economic development in the city.

The Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act was numbered LB 840 and passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 1991. It authorizes incorporated cities and villages to collect sales or property tax dollars for economic development purposes.

LB 840 can only be implemented by a vote of local voters. That’s the question Bridgeport will be asking in the fall.

“Bridgeport is one of the few remaining communities in the Panhandle that doesn’t have LB 840 funding in place,” said Cassie Lapaseotes, who is helping to spread the word about the advantages of the legislation. “We’re trying to get ourselves on a level playing field for offering economic development funding for local businesses.”

Bridgeport’s LB 840 plan would levy an additional half-cent sales tax, used specifically to assist qualifying businesses under the original legislation.

Some of those outlined uses include loan guarantees, loans or grants, job training costs, real estate purchases and housing construction or rehabilitation for low to moderate income persons.

Lapaseotes said having LB 840 in place is the first step for the city to become a Leadership Certified Community through the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Bridgeport is a member of Western Nebraska Economic Development (WNED), which has been working with all its members to get LB 840 implemented as part of an overall development plan for the Panhandle.

Starr Lehl, Scottsbluff’s economic development director, is also a WNED member. She said becoming a Leadership Certified Community is a lengthy process. Cities need to write a strategic plan and have an economic development committee in place to handle funding requests.

“LB 840 isn’t a direct part of becoming Leadership Certified, but it does tell the state they have the finances in place to help businesses locate to the community,” Lehl said. “The designation gives communities additional points on grant applications through the Department of Economic Development.”

Lehl said Bridgeport already has a great downtown area with very few vacant buildings. But state grants can help them plan for future growth and façade improvements to the buildings.

One item the state emphasizes through the program is what is called “gathering places.” They’re centrally located places where the public can gather for a wide variety of events and activities, such as small concerts and farmers’ markets. Two local examples are the Scottsbluff 18th Street Plaza and the Gering Civic Plaza.

Lehl said that while downtown Bridgeport is already flourishing, LB 840 authority will give them even more opportunities to improve their entire community.

“People we’ve talked with understand what LB 840 is about and how it will be beneficial to our town,” Lapaseotes said. “We’ve also heard some concerns, but overall, we think the support is there. Our goal is to help bring in new businesses and grow our existing businesses.”

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