More city council votes than normal are needed to authorize a ballot issue about increasing city sales taxes. On Tuesday, the advocates didn’t have the votes.

The North Platte city council tabled a decision to put a city sales tax increase before voters in November. The half-cent tax would fund a $52.5 million expansion of the North Platte Rec Center. It would also remodel the outdoor city swimming pool and the skate park.

Councilman Jim Carman was absent. Sensing that there would not be enough votes to approve the ballot issue, Councilman Ty Lucas moved to table the topic and Pete Volz seconded the motion. The council agreed by a 5-2 vote.

Donna Tyron and Mark Woods voted against tabling the issue.

The council chamber was packed for the meeting. Nearly 30 minutes of explanatory information was provided by Mayor Brandon Kelliher. Then, a series of supporters spoke for an hour. No one from the public spoke in opposition, and most of them urged the council to authorize a ballot issue in November and let the voters decide.

After public comments, Councilman Ed Rieker spoke against the proposal, citing costs and other needs of the city, such as a public service building for the police department.

Rieker said the future of North Platte looks promising, but no new jobs are certain yet to create more disposable income among residents.

After the meeting, Lucas told the Bulletin that an issue of such magnitude should be decided by the full council and he didn’t feel it would be a square vote with Carman absent. He also noted there was a good chance that the proposal would fail if the council voted.

At the meeting, Lucas, Volz and Councilman Jim Nisley spoke in support of the measure.   

Lucas said the city sales tax receipts would likely increase more than projected, and if so, the bond would be paid sooner than expected.

Volz said building a better recreation center would help the community prepare for new industries and jobs. He said proper planning prevents poor performance.

Nisley said he believes in people, and when the people want something, it is the duty of elected officials to figure out a way to get it done. That’s what our country is all about, he said.

According to state law, at least 70% of the council (a super-majority) has to authorize a ballot issue to create a special sales tax. In this case, that equates to six votes.

With Carman absent and two members stating opposition, the question likely would have failed to advance. It is unclear if Carman would have changed the outcome. Carman has voiced reservations about the project in the past.

During the meeting, Kelliher said if the renovation and bond were ultimately approved by voters, taxes would increase by about $74 a year for a medium-income wage-earner.

Lucas and others noted the proposed expansion is the result of six years of thinking, studying and planning.

Rieker said a new public service building is needed for police and fire departments, as well as a new City Hall. And, if new industries do come, there will be need for new streets and utilities. Adding those costs to the cost of the rec center plan, it would total as much as $250 billion in indebtedness. He said that is more than he could endorse.

Tryon agreed with Rieker that North Platte needs jobs to get people to move here. Tryon and Rieker both thought the recreation center, especially the swimming pool, could be substantially improved for less.

Tryon said she’s a native Nebraskan, has lived in eastern and western Nebraska as well as two other states, and she’s always moved because of a job, not the amenities that towns offer.

With jobs, “we will have growth, and then we will have some of the amenities that we want,” she said. “We’ve gotta have the jobs first. I’m sorry, I don’t know how else to do it.”

Tryon also said she came from a mountainous area with a lot of emphasis on physical fitness. She said people have a personal responsibility to stay fit. In North Platte, she has felt like she’s about the only one who walks or rides a bicycle on the streets and sidewalks. Carman has made similar comments at council meetings.

Since the vote was tabled, the question could come up again at the next council meeting in two weeks, or not. Lucas told the Bulletin that he is always open to discussion and negotiation, but said anyone considering modifying the proposal should be careful. An alteration could disrupt the quality of the proposal, and move the project back halfway to the start.

“I’d prefer to vote on it as it stands, and if it fails, maybe then a redesign would be called for,” Lucas said.

See the Bulletin’s print edition for more about the project, the council’s debate and discussion, now available at convenience stores, grocery stores and restaurants and other businesses in North Platte, or at the Bulletin office at 1300 East Fourth, for just 75 cents a copy.

Here is a video of the planned expansion:

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