North Platte Referendum, Occupation Tax Usage (2010)

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There will not be a North Platte Referendum, Occupation Tax Usage measure on the May 11 ballot in Lincoln County for voters in the city of North Platte.

This measure had been approved for the May primary election, but was taken off by a county judge.

Background

A group of residents had filed this referendum in order to get the city to use the occupation taxes, which were enacted to pay for the golden spike tower and visitor center in the city and now are used partially to pay the bond loan and the rest taken by the city, to now pay off the construction loan given to the city by the US Department of Agriculture. Citizens do not like the fact that the city takes the rest of the money and does not disclose what is done with it, they see this referendum as a way to make the government more transparent and to use the money to pay off something that needs the funds. Although the occupancy tax fluctuates, depending on how many visitors stay and local hotels, it at least would be used for something the people would know about.[1]

The petition was rejected due to 1,067 of the signatures being thrown out. But petitioners are trying to force a recount and have those petitions with small errors, such as a date missing or a stamp of verification missing, be disregarded because the petitions were filed in good faith and they show that people do still want to vote on the issue. The city council had to decide to approve the request or not. Petitioners were willing to take the matter to court if the council does not approve.[2]

Five pages were in dispute and two, which lacked a notary seal, were accepted, giving the petitioners the needed amount of signatures to get the issue on the May ballot. The city now has the choice to enact the measure on its own or put it to a vote. The leader of the petition drive noted that he did not want a fight over the issue with the city and the clerk, he just wanted the public to be able to vote on it.[3]

Legal Issues

There were still some controversy over this ballot measure, the city council still needs to approve the clerk's assessment of the valid petition but also the council wants to file a suit against those petitioners who initiated the ballot, saying that it is not a proper measure. The council still holds that this sort of tax issue cannot be petitioned and voted on, but rather is just a council decision to be made.[4]

The city council decided on February 17 to take the issue to court and filed a lawsuit against the petition saying it was in violation of state laws concerning petitions and what matters can be on a petition. The council did decide that the petition was valid, it did meet the signature requirement, but they then agreed that they would not simply enact it with an ordinance. So a lawsuit has been filed with the county court that challenges the petition drive.[5]

Officially this measure had been approved for the May ballot, city council just had to officially submit it and place it on the ballot measure list. If the court though rules in favor of the city, then those votes cast will not be released.[6]

Those who filed the suit against the city, have now given the court their answer in defense of the suit to stop the vote.[7]

A county judge has ruled in favor of the city, meaning that this measure has been taken off the ballot. The judge found the petition to be invalid, residents did not have a right to force a referendum against a contractual agreement the city made with the developers. Residents argued that because the city was planning to spend money on the project they had a right to request the spending be put to a vote.[8] Under Nebraska law, if a project is an economic development that gets its money primarily from tourism, it must be put to a public vote; but defendants failed to make the case for this.[9]

Official Ballot Language

Shall Section 110.03 of the Code of Ordinances of the City of North Platte be amended to provide that occupation tax collected on hotel/motel accommodations be used to retire debt service on the existing loan from the United States Department of Agriculture used to construct the Golden Spike Visitors Center until 12:00 a.m. February 17, 2029? Taxes collected in excess shall be depositied to the City’s General Fund for property tax relief.

A "Yes" vote on the issue will amend the measure and ensure that excess revenues received after the loan payment will stay in the city's general funds. Voting "No" would give the excess revenues towards operation costs of the Golden Spike.[10]

See also

External links

References