Montague and Vest

FULL HOUSE: County Commissioner Rick Vest responds to public comment at the hearing Wednesday, Sept. 11. (Staff Photo by Allan Christensen)

WAVERLY – A public hearing for the proposed joint public agency gave area residents a chance to voice their displeasure with the proposal on Wednesday, Sept. 11.

The nearly three hour meeting started a lot like the informational meeting that was held Aug. 14.

The Aug. 14 meeting was initially meant to be in front of just the Waverly City Council in the Waverly Community Meeting Hall, but was moved to the Waverly Community Building at Jaycee Park after a public call to move the meeting to a larger venue.

The Sept. 11 meeting began with a slideshow from Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman followed by a brief talk by Kent Seacrest.

Seacrest, the attorney for the initial task force that recommended the formation of the JPA and the wheel tax, said that partnership between the county and two cities solves several problems.

Primarily, it in essence would allow the two cities to spend tax dollars outside their city limits.

Seacrest said that cities rely on infrastructure going to and from and that this JPA would allow the three entities to join together to combat the dilapidation of the infrastructure in the county.

After Seacrest’s comments, Lancaster County Commissioner Rick Vest opened the meeting for public comment.

Vest, the commissioner who represents the Waverly area on the commission, heard a steady stream of disapproval from his constituents.

Every person who spoke at the hearing was in opposition to the JPA and the wheel tax.

Several farmers from the county said that they feared this tax put an undue burden on the county’s rural agriculture producers.

Paula Peterson, who lives just north of Waverly on Rock Creek Road, said that the new wheel tax would hurt farmers like her family because the farm requires several vehicles.

Under the planned tax schedule, Peterson said that the new tax would cost her an additional $1,480 to license her 14 vehicles.

“We use (vehicles) like they’re tools in your shed,” Peterson said from the podium. “Do you use them every single day? No. Do you need them when you need them? Yes.”

Vest said in response to farmers’ worries that the county commissioners are very concerned about the tax being equitable for agriculture producers.

The pay schedule laid out by Dingman at the Aug. 14 meeting is nearly identical to Lincoln’s municipal wheel tax. The main difference is farm plated vehicles would pay about half of what they would pay if they were taxed inside Lincoln’s city limits.

The numbers bear out that a large piece of the funds received by the JPA would come from rural Lancaster County.

According to the Lancaster County Transportation Task Force, the study that recommended the JPA, the rural residents would pay almost 84 percent of the nearly $3.4 million the JPA is projected to bring in annually.

In contrast, Hickman and Waverly would account for just over five percent and about 11 percent, respectively, the study said.

Others said they worry that if this tax is passed that it will never go away even if the roads are fixed.

Vest said that while there is no sunset clause in the proposal yet, the process is far from done and that it could be put in as negotiations continue.

According to Vest, if no bonds are issued by the JPA, the entities could vote to dissolve their association at their discretion.

If bonds are issued, each entity would be legally bound to stay in the JPA until those are satisfied.

Bonds are usually used by public groups to accelerate timelines on construction by having a steady flow of funds.

If approved by Lancaster County, the City of Waverly and the City of Hickman, the JPA would have a board of seven members. Three would come from the county and two each from Hickman and Waverly.

The JPA needs only two members, however. If one of the cities opted not to join, the JPA would still go ahead but with only the voting members from the entities that opt in.

For example, if Hickman and the county moved forward and Waverly opted out, the residents inside the city limits of Waverly would not be taxed. Those outside the city limits of any incorporated town in Lancaster County would be taxed.

The voting members of the JPA would decide what specific road projects in the county the wheel tax would fund.

With the public hearing portion completed, the respective bodies involved – the Lancaster County Commissioners, the Waverly City Council and the Hickman City Council – can vote to approve as soon as their next meetings.

As of press time, none of the legislative bodies had a vote on the JPA on their agendas.

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