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Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

August 26, 2019

Omaha World Herald. August 23, 2019

Omaha city leaders face major decisions on the budget

Omaha city leaders will soon make their final decisions on the city’s $1 billion budget. As they deliberate, they should bear in mind that maintaining proper fiscal discipline is important. So is transparency about valuations and the city tax rate.

On the positive side, the city has reduced its property tax rate twice during Mayor Jean Stothert’s time in office, going from 49.92 cents per $100 of valuation in 2014 to the present 47.92 cents. For the new budget, Stothert proposes to increase general funding spending for city departments by about 2.2%, which is below the projected 3.4% increase in city revenues.

Omaha leaders should be upfront with taxpayers, however, that even though the city’s property tax rate would remain unchanged under the new budget, increased valuations are expected to give the city a revenue boost. For 2020, that extra revenue is expected to total about $11.3 million.

That’s based on an estimated average 6.65% increase in city property valuations from the Douglas County assessor. That translates into higher taxes for a portion of city property owners.

No question, some major public needs have put pressure on the new budget. No. 1 is the much-debated trash collection issue. The council aims to vote on the matter Tuesday after holding a public hearing on supplemental yard waste proposals.

The two bids: FCC Environmental’s two-cart proposal with the mayor’s supplemental unlimited but seasonal yard waste pickup, at $24.2 million a year; and West Central Sanitation’s three-cart bid with separate yard waste collection for 35 weeks of the year, at $22.2 million annually. The FCC bid, favored by Stothert and the Public Works Department, would add about $7 million to the city’s trash collection costs.

Other major projects for the next budget include a new branch library in southwest Omaha and a fifth police precinct in west Omaha. The city will start paying $1.1 million next year to cover debt on bonds for its $50 million contribution toward the $300 million riverfront revitalization. Street maintenance, police and fire protection, sewer service and parks are among the budget’s many other components.

Omaha leaders have big responsibilities in preparing the new budget.

It’s no surprise they may disagree on individual items, but in the end, they’re required to make hard decisions. They also should make clear that even an unchanged tax rate can still bring in higher property tax revenues to city coffers.

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McCook Daily Gazette. August 22, 2019

McCook drivers in the spotlight, in more ways than one

A survey that showed Omaha drivers as the worst in the country — and McCook drivers as among the fifth best in the state, drew some interesting local comments on a Facebook post:

— As soon as mccookites figure out how to use a 4-way stop ...

— In McCook the right lane is for passing ...

— ‘Pedestrian beware’

— Or the guy on H Street pulling a fancy trailer that didn’t realize 2014 Dodge pickups come equipped with turn signals ...

— Biggest problem is people not taking the right-of-way when they have it ...

Others, including those who live elsewhere, don’t think the survey is correct.

— I find Kansas City and parts of Colorado to be much worse than Omaha.

— Atlanta (Ga.) drivers make Omaha drivers look like angels behind the wheel, but they’re only 26th.

— I learned how to drive in D.C., so circles don’t freak me out, but my left turn signal is the centerpiece of my retirement plan ...

— It’s all the road construction. You can’t drive more than 1/4 mile before you find cones.

Actually, we think McCook drivers are to be commended for how they’ve handled the current repair work on our “main drag,” and we haven’t noticed much of an uptick in accidents as a result of traffic being restricted to one lane.

We did notice a number of the orange plastic barrels knocked over or smashed the other day, and hope it wasn’t done deliberately.

The Quotewizard.com survey ranked the 50 largest cities by the highest rate of incidents (accidents, speeding tickets, DUI’s and moving citations).

View the complete survey here.

While all those factors contribute to McCook drivers’ score, the McCook Police Department is taking part in a special effort now through September, to deal with one of the most dangerous factors: drunk driving.

Organizers of the national “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign note that 10,874 people died in a drunk-driving crash in 2017, an average of one every 48 minutes.

That includes more than 1,000 juveniles, with alcohol involved in 29 percent of all fatal accidents.

Sadly, Nebraska consistently ranks as having one of the higher rates of drunk driving rates in all 50 states, with drinking drivers more than 12 times as likely to die and five times more likely to be severely injured than their non-drinking counterparts.

Always aware of the problem, McCook police officers will focus on efforts to find and arrest drunk drivers for the next few weeks in addition to their regular duties.

While we noted Wednesday the amount of musical entertainment with which McCook is blessed with, it’s important that drivers who attend those events, which often include alcohol, make arrangements to get home safely.

Plan ahead and designate a non-drinking driver for planned parties. Take keys from a friend when necessary, and don’t let him or her drive drink.

When you’re hosting a party, remind guests to plan ahead and designate a sober driver, and always offer at least one alcohol-free beverage.

Driving under the influence of drugs is just as dangerous, of course, with the additional complication that users of illegal drugs are less likely to admit they have done so.

Regardless of the substance, legal or illegal, driving under the influence is not worth the risk.

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Lincoln Journal Star. August 23, 2019

Celebrate, visit State Fair on its milestone

Dating back to 1869, the Nebraska State Fair is as old as the state’s university system - and just two years younger than the state itself.

Thus, the 2019 edition marks a century and a half of state fairs in Nebraska. Accordingly, this year’s landmark, which begins Friday, should matter to people from all corners of the Cornhusker State, since it’s a celebration of the Good Life.

In the words of new Executive Director Lori Cox: “This is the people’s fair. This is your fair that you built 150 years ago.”

With this year also marking the 10th edition to be held in Grand Island, the fair’s remarkable journey to its present home deserves a look back.

It bounced around eastern Nebraska - from Nebraska City to Brownville, then alternating between Omaha and Lincoln, according to History Nebraska - before finally settling in the state capital in 1901, where it would remain for more than a century.

From there, it moved to uncharted territory in south-central Nebraska. But the unprecedented move proved to be an unequivocal success both for Grand Island, which has repeatedly welcomed near-record crowds for its marquee annual event, and Lincoln, which turned its former fairgrounds into the booming Innovation Campus.

As a 2017 editorial noted, “there is no modern-day comparison for the Nebraska State Fair’s relocation to Grand Island - and subsequent rapid growth.”

Despite the fact the fair in Grand Island has averaged 350,000 visitors a year - on par with attendance totals at the old State Fair Park - Lincoln and eastern Nebraska remain underrepresented at the gates.

Only 12% to 18% of fairgoers hail from Lancaster, Douglas and Sarpy counties - the three heavily urban counties that account for a majority of Nebraskans. The iconic Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, roughly the same distance from Omaha as Grand Island, diverts plenty of people across the Missouri River.

That number is disappointingly low. This fair belongs to urban Nebraskans just as much as it does to those in the Tri-Cities area.

Accordingly, we encourage those from this part of the state who haven’t visited the fair’s new digs to make the short jaunt west. Rather than relying on old advertising tropes of “There’s something for everyone!” or similar fare, we’ll just let the schedule of events speak for itself.

To be sure, the Nebraska State Fair landed several big acts - with country star Maren Morris the headliner of the bunch - for its concert series, which features the greatest number shows since moving the shows out of the Devaney Sports Center decades ago.

With state fair attendance reaching as many as one in five Nebraskans, this milestone year marks as good a time as any to visit our fair in Grand Island.

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