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University of Nebraska-Omaha professor discusses Omaha road bond passage

Posted at 6:50 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 19:50:02-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Last week, voters in Omaha approved a bond issuance that will allow the city to create its first pavement maintenance program.

As part of the $200-million bond issuance, the city can now spend $75 million a year on roads, compared to $41 million and will potentially be able to resurface each road over a 20-year period.

“It does what a good investment should do which is create more economic growth and reduce costs to the users of the system,” said John Bartle, a professor of public administration at the University of Nebraska-Omaha who researches public financial policy and management. He said the road bond passage is an important step for the city.

“Any modern city that wants to do business and attract tourism,” Bartle said. “When tourists come in they expect good infrastructure and get to where they want to go.”

At a press conference last week, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and city officials discussed the bond passage, which will allow the city to resurface up to 250 miles a year.

“This is what we’ve been needing to do for decades and now we’ve got it done and can move forward,” Mayor Stothert said.

“Over the longer term the hope is better infrastructure creates more business which then grows business there,” Bartle said.

The bonds used to repair the roads will be paid for with with property taxes.

“The tax is on the property tax so you pay in relation to the value of the property that you own. If you own a big valuable home then you pay more than somebody who has a smaller home of less value,” Bartle said. “But keep in mind it’s not just homeowners but any owner of property in the city of Omaha.”

Bartle believes a flaw with this type of tax is non-homeowners and people from outside the city don’t have to pay for the roads, even though they’re driving on them.

“They’re using the system for roads and we’re paying for it,” Bartle said.

Ideally Professor Bartle said a gas or vehicle miles tax would make the most sense for these type of projects. However, he said given the city does not have the authority to levee these types of taxes he thinks property is the best tax.

“Using bonds to pay for it up front means you can get the work done quickly and you can enjoy the benefits and pay from it over time as you benefit from the improved roads,” Bartle said.

There is a five year issuance for the bonds, meaning for the road work to continue long-term the city will need to do another bond issue. Bartle said this bond passage shows voters can support city projects.

“I think it shows when the city makes a case well how to use our tax dollars then in Omaha people seem to listen,” Bartle said.

“We still have to take care of our roads and every year they get a year older,” Stothert said.

Watch reporter Phil Bergman’s story in the above video.