Urban Affairs

State infrastructure grant program considered

Nebraska municipalities of any size could apply for state grant funding for infrastructure projects under a bill heard by the Urban Affairs Committee Feb. 21.

Sen. Terrell McKinney
Sen. Terrell McKinney

LB224, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, would create the Aid to Municipalities Act to be administered by the state Department of Economic Development. Under the act, municipalities in Nebraska would be eligible to apply for state grants to fund qualifying infrastructure projects within their city or village.

The bill also would create the Aid to Municipalities Fund and states legislative intent to appropriate $15 million each fiscal year to fund the program and help defray administrative expenses incurred by DED.

The department would be required to review and approve grant applications in the order submitted. An individual grant could not exceed $5 million and must exclusively be used to pay for construction or bonds related to an approved project.

McKinney said the state discontinued the Aid to Municipalities program in 2011 due to budget constraints. That program sent between $8 million and $10 million annually in aid from the state to Nebraska cities, he said.

“Unlike the previous Aid to Municipalities program, this bill would not act as a direct state aid program,” McKinney said. “[LB224 would] instead be a grant based program.”

Executive vice president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce Bruce Bohrer spoke in support of the bill. The chamber continually is seeking ways to locally fund infrastructure investments, he said, but it has not been easy. Now is the right time to bring the state back into the equation, he added.

“It would be really nice to have the state as a partner in this growth and development again,” Bohrer said.

Mark Stursma, deputy administrator of community development for Papillion, testified in favor of the bill. Other development cannot occur without adequate infrastructure in place, he said, the cost of which is often the determining factor in whether or not a development or redevelopment project goes forward.

“Access to infrastructure is the key predictor of where [and if] development will occur,” Stursma said. “Infrastructure is quite simply the key to economic development.”

Don Wesely also testified in support of LB224 on behalf of Greater Nebraska Cities — which represents the cities of Grand Island, Hastings, Holdrege, Kearney, Lexington and North Platte. He said investing in infrastructure is crucial to growth in the state.

“Infrastructure is the first step in revitalizing any city, any community,” Wesely said. “If you put in the sewer system, housing will follow; if you put in roads, commercial [properties] will follow.”

No one testified in opposition to LB224 and the committee took no immediate action.

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