“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

            Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts are particularly significant today, even though the meaning originated over 200 years ago.

            Without growth and progress, a community flounders, limiting room for improvement, dashing hopes for achievement, and curbing success.

            It’s a depressing thought.

            Yet, this is the situation facing a number of Nebraska communities.

            Drive through many rural towns – even mid-size cities in the heartland – and the view is eerily similar. Empty storefronts. Quiet Main Streets. Vacant houses.  Shrinking population rates.

            Instead of vanishing into a mere shell of its former glory, a community has the opportunity to chart its own future.

            How?

            By passing LB 840, correctly called the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, an option put into law by the Nebraska Legislature in 1991.

            Currently, voters from 60 communities from all corners of the state – Alliance to Tecumseh, South Sioux City to Imperial – have enacted LB 840.  

            The approved tax is in effect for 15 years. Then, voters can take another look at the impact the funds have had on a community and vote to either approve or deny the tax again.

            A handful of communities from this region, along with several in the western section of the state, will vote this spring whether to approve both an economic development program and the tax.

            Yes, it’s the dreaded ‘T’ word. (Isn’t it one certainty in life?)

            What you won’t see is a tax on real estate. You won’t be taxed for groceries, prescription medicines, Insulin or durable medical equipment.

            Farm families won’t see a tax on farm machinery, feed, seeds and plants for agricultural use, or agricultural chemicals.

            The goal of the law is simple: a city can offer loans to local businesses for a variety of reasons, including start-up and expansion costs or monies can be utilized to recruit new businesses.

            Downtown business districts may use funds to revitalize the area.

            The benefits are numerous. Business start-up or expansion leads to job creation. Job creation leads to new residents. New residents in a town lead to additional monies spent in town, children enrolled in school…

            You get the possible progression.

            Daughter Cassie works as an economic developer in York, and we’ve discussed the benefits of LB840 and its impact on rural communities. She often points to Ord, Nebraska, as a point of reference.

            The Valley County community voted in a one percent tax in 2001. In eight years, the county’s economic development group has funded nearly 40 business projects.

            Revenue from the tax has benefited all communities in Valley County.

            Their model makes a convincing argument.

            If we, as members of small, rural communities or mid-sized municipalities want to ensure a chance for growth, offer hope for our children’s and grandchildren’s futures, we must look at the benefits of enacting LB840.

            It’s a common sense approach for investigating new ideas and approaches to business.

            Otherwise, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.

            And that…is a desolate thought.

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