Archive for September, 2012

$90k in wheel tax refunds in the mail

$90k in wheel tax refunds in the mail

Our pal Paul Hammel reports more than a thousand suburban Omaha residents are set to get a wheel tax refund check from the city.

The City of Omaha had been wrongly charging the $50-a-year wheel tax on some people living outside the city’s three-mile zoning jurisdiction, Hammel reports, a problem pointed out by State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha.

Deputy City Attorney Tom Mumgaard said refunds should be issued by by mid- to late October. Some taxpayers will get checks for two years’ worth of wheel taxes.

Mumgaard said that preliminary estimates are that $90,000 in refunds will be sent out.

September 26, 2012 Comments Read More
Cigarette tax plan gets smaller

Cigarette tax plan gets smaller

Omaha’s proposed tax on cigarettes to help fund a University of Nebraska Medical Center project got a big, last-minute change before Tuesday’s public hearing before the Omaha City Council.

The plan had previously called for a 7 percent tax, but now it’s been dropped to 4.5 percent. At that rate, the tax would bring in about $5 million this year and about $40.7 million by 2021. The city’s proposed contribution to the $370 million cancer center project is $35 million.

City Finance Director Pam Spaccarotella said officials revised the proposal after reviewing state data on tobacco sales.

Five council members have signed on as sponsors of the tax plan, which has drawn criticism from cigarette retailers and Gov. Dave Heineman, among others.

September 26, 2012 Comments Read More
Alcohol zoning plan could get some tweaks

Alcohol zoning plan could get some tweaks

After Tuesday’s lengthy public hearing, at least some of the Omaha City Council seems to be on board with adding some new rules to help deal with alcohol retailers that cause problems.

But a couple of pieces of the proposal seem to be giving some council members pause, notably the $75 fee for all alcohol retailers and the idea of using zoning to create new rules for some areas — capturing both good and bad retailers under the same net.

Council members Pete Festersen, Franklin Thompson and Jean Stothert all raised questions about the plan, with some indicating that they’d be willing to support parts of it, but not the full package. Festersen said he likes the idea of using certificates of occupancy to target troubled businesses — a tool he said wouldn’t require a new fee or zoning changes.

Councilman Ben Gray, meanwhile, showed the most support for the proposal, but added that the council planned to take a second look at the zoning idea.

September 26, 2012 Comments Read More
City’s borrowing costs could increase

City’s borrowing costs could increase

The City of Omaha’s AAA bond rating has been downgraded because of long-term problems with the city’s underfunded pension system.

Moody’s Investors Service announced Friday that it was moving Omaha to an AA1 rating. The agency said the city’s struggles with meeting its pension obligations was “not consistent with the expected financial practices of highly rated cities,” according to a press release from the Mayor’s Office.

Another rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, still gives Omaha a AAA rating, which means the city’s general obligation bonds are now considered “split” rated.

September 24, 2012 Comments Read More
Heineman calls cig tax plan ‘double taxation’

Heineman calls cig tax plan ‘double taxation’

Gov. Dave Heineman opened a new front in his criticism of a planned $370 million cancer treatment and research center on Monday.

Heineman said a proposed tax on cigarettes that would pay for a city contribution to the project amounts to “double taxation” — an unfair proposition for Omaha smokers when their tax dollars already help fund $50 million worth of state support for the project.

A public hearing on the proposition is expected to take a big chunk of the City Council’s time on Tuesday. We’ll be there.

September 24, 2012 Comments Read More
Omaha chamber not keen on cigarette tax

Omaha chamber not keen on cigarette tax

In a letter to the Omaha City Council, Chamber of Commerce Chairman Nate Dodge offered some thoughts for the proposed cigarette tax to help pay for the University of Nebraska Medical Center cancer complex.

While pointing out that the city’s restaurant tax has exceeded expectations, he suggests the cigarette tax have a 10-year sunset and end when it has raised $35 million. And he warns that such taxes could hurt Omaha’s business climate.

Read the whole letter here, and read more about the proposed tax on Omaha.com.

September 21, 2012 Comments Read More
Fahey ranks among Ashford’s supporters

Fahey ranks among Ashford’s supporters

Former Mayor Mike Fahey is co-sponsoring an fundraiser for mayoral hopeful and State Sen. Brad Ashford.

Fahey joins several other prominent local Democrats who’ve signed on as sponsors for an Oct. 2 fundraiser for Ashford, a registered independent who is challenging Democratic Mayor Jim Suttle.

Other Democrats on the list are State Sen. Steve Lathrop, former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak, Douglas County Clerk Tom Cavanaugh and his brother John, a former congressman and executive director of the Building Bright Futures organization.

Is this a sign that factions of the Democratic Party aren’t interested in re-electing Jim Suttle? Depends on who you ask.

September 18, 2012 Comments Read More
Sewer funding battle could be over

Sewer funding battle could be over

After two months of mediation, Omaha city officials, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and some of city’s biggest sewer customers have come up with a plan to pay for the city’s sewer project.

Many of the details are still unclear. But the short version is that the 19 big industrial users who would have paid about 5 percent of the $2 billion (or $3 billion, depending on whom you ask) bill will now pay less. Those customers, along with the rest of the non-residential users, will be grouped together into one category. Half of their fees will be a flat rate and the other half determined by the size of the water meter — with the largest users capped at 4-inch meter rates.

Industrial users who had said high rates could force them to leave Omaha are on board with the proposal.

The plan has the endorsement of the Chamber, Mayor Jim Suttle and Councilwoman Jean Stothert, but it’s not a done deal. The current rate structure is in place through 2014. Any new plan will need to be approved by the full council.

September 18, 2012 Comments Read More
Another big public hearing looms…

Another big public hearing looms…

We’re expecting a big turnout for next Tuesday’s public hearings on proposals to further tax local cigarette sales and broadly expand the City of Omaha’s authority over alcohol retailers.

As we get ready to watch the action on Sept. 25, you can take a look at how these new policies would work.

The “cigarette tax” would add about 35 cents atop existing state taxes for a $5 pack of smokes. Millions worth of annual revenue would get drummed up during the next 10 years, enough to fund an anticipated $35 million city contribution to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s cancer research facility project. You can see the actual ordinance here, along with a related agreement to forward the money to UNMC.

New controls over liquor sales would come through expanded zoning laws. You can read the language of how liquor retailers would have to conform to a set of nuisance prevention standards, pay a fee and risk falling under further restrictions if they break the law.

September 17, 2012 Comments Read More
‘The Internet is the new Town Hall’

‘The Internet is the new Town Hall’

Here’s how the question is posed on The Atlantic’s “Cities” blog: “What if you never even had to contact City Hall about that needed road repair on Main Street, because City Hall already saw your tweets? (And we know you spend a lot of time on Twitter moaning about #potholes).”

The basic idea is that city government could mine social media data to determine citizens’ feelings about, well, potentially anything.

September 13, 2012 Comments Read More