It’s been a busy few years — and months — for North Platte’s Quality Growth Fund, if you haven’t noticed.
They’ve proved the value of setting aside some of our city’s sales taxes to preserve our past, invest in our future and — especially this year — meet economic emergencies in our present.
The City Council will decide July 7 whether to ask voters to renew the program for a third 10-year period, as required in 1991’s Legislative Bill 840.
Even with November four months off, it’s a good time to start talking about how QGF works and why it’s so dearly needed.
These facts must be stressed right away:
» QGF gets its money from what North Platte already collects each year in city sales taxes. Voters will not be asked to change the current 1.5% rate.
» QGF doesn’t automatically receive money every fiscal year (which ends Sept. 30), though it did every year this past decade.
When voters approved QGF in 2000 and again in 2010, they set a series of annual “trigger points.” They’re targets that city sales tax collections must reach in a given fiscal year before the fund gets any new money.
It might not get there this year, depending on the extent of the decline in sales tax collections from the COVID-19 pandemic.
» The city doesn’t count on any more sales tax money for its annual budget than that year’s QGF “trigger point,” set by previous voters to grow 2% each year.
Until and unless the trigger point is reached, the city’s general fund gets 100% of all sales tax collected. QGF gets none.
If and when it’s reached, QGF gets half of additional sales tax collections — up to $650,000 — from then until Sept. 30. The general fund gets the other half.
(However, if Sept. 30 hasn’t arrived once QGF gets its $650,000, the general fund again gets everything collected the rest of the fiscal year.)
QGF would work the same way if voters renew it, the fund’s Citizens Review Committee decided last week, though the City Council could propose different trigger points or set aside a different maximum amount.
If QGF renewal reaches the Nov. 3 ballot, the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp. — which administers the fund for the city — will lay out in detail what it’s been used for and why it matters.
But here’s our short list:
» Restoring the past: QGF funds have helped restore the Prairie Arts Center (the 1913 post office) and maintain the 1929 Fox Theatre. They’re helping downtown businesses give their historic storefronts needed face-lifts.
And after the city finishes rebuilding the Canteen District’s brick streets, QGF will help complete downtown’s “renovations in progress” from the street level up.
» Investing in the future: QGF continues to make loans to help businesses grow. It helped to fuel both of the chamber’s highly successful “Shot in the Arm” programs to build new single-family “workforce housing.”
It’s now being used to plan the longed-for industrial “rail park” near Hershey, the latest of several projects to ensure potential industrial and manufacturing employers have space and infrastructure to set up shop and whatever transportation access they need.
» The present emergency: Until COVID-19, QGF hadn’t been used to relieve immediate crises in our local economy.
Since mid-March, it’s been tapped to help small businesses apply for emergency loans, support their bottom lines by matching sales of COVID-19 gift cards and (if the council agrees) offer Nebraskaland Days a backstop if the 2020 pandemic leaves it short of funds in 2021.
What do all these purposes have in common?
They’re all meant to attract and pump money, now or in the future, into and through North Platte, Lincoln County and its communities.
That’s what makes an economy go, as we saw when COVID-19 slammed the brakes on ours.
Seventy-two Nebraska cities use LB 840 to support their economies. Some 300 Lincoln County businesses have benefited from QGF over the past 20 years, the chamber estimates, either directly or indirectly.
Like we said, there’ll be more to say about renewing the Quality Growth Fund.
For ourselves, we can’t imagine where our local economy might be in June 2020 without it.