- Associated Press - Thursday, August 27, 2015

RALSTON, Neb. (AP) - Several Nebraska lawmakers say changing a state law to help spare Ralston taxpayers from a large tax increase likely will be a tough sell in the Legislature.

Ralston Mayor Don Groesser is expected to propose a 34 percent property tax increase and a new restaurant tax in the city in response to Ralston Arena’s financial problems, the Omaha World-Herald (http://bit.ly/1K9J1Fe ) reported. But the mayor said he’ll promise to roll back the property tax increase if lawmakers step in with more incentives for the arena.

State Sen. Merv Riepe said he would do what he could to help but that the city shouldn’t “expect the Legislature to ride in on a white horse to save it.”

Riepe, who represents the Ralston area, introduced two bills last session to help the city, but said the changes weren’t palatable because many interests, including rural farmers and ranchers, are seeking property and other tax relief and many won’t get it.

“There was not a whole lot of interest in projects that have not gone well,” Riepe said. “I cannot go in and ask the Revenue Committee (for the same thing) when they already rejected it.

“I’m not even sure the paper would get off my desk.”

The Revenue Committee chairman said the Legislature has too many requests for tax relief and not enough resources to go around.

Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha agreed, saying he doesn’t’ want to see the arena go bankrupt, but that residents took a risk when they voted in favor of the project.

“If we do it for Ralston, then Omaha’s CenturyLink and Lincoln’s Pinnacle Bank arenas will be asking for the same thing.” Harr said. “It’s a dangerous precedent to set.”

A law passed in 2010 was meant to “turn back” new sales tax growth from sprouting developments around arenas to help pay for arena debt. The law gives Ralston 70 percent of the state sales tax collection from businesses within a 600-yard radius that opened two years before and two years after the arena opened.

The city then can capture the turnback tax from qualifying businesses for 20 years.

Ralston’s mayor argues that two years isn’t enough time for businesses to get their feet on the ground and wants the Legislature to extend that radius to 1,000 yards to capture more businesses.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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