2018 Street Bond Vote, Part 1: What Projects Will Be Funded?

24 Apr

On May 15, 2018, Omaha voters will be asked to approve $151 million of Street And Highway Transportation Bonds (which we will refer to as “Street Bonds”). These bonds have been issued periodically following a vote as a “special issues” ticket. Here is the history:

Past Street Bond ISsues

The City will ask voters to approve the issue $151 million in street bonds on May 18, 2018

So taxpayers will be asked to approve an City expenditure of $151 million, plus interest, funded by property taxes (1), an amount more than triple the historical average.

The proposition is simple: Voters approve the bond issue, and in return the City uses the money to complete some transportation projects. For this to work, it is incumbent on the City to:

  1. Inform the voters what projects it plans to fund with the Street Bonds
  2. Report street bond expenditures and project progress
  3. Disclose how it selects the projects that receive Street Bonds

Without these three steps, voting for the Street Bond issue gives the City leave to use the funds without any accounting to the public. Mode Shift will publish a 3 part series of blogs to address each of these three steps.

In this blog, we’ll focus on the first and show that the City gets high marks thanks to the significant improvements to the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).

What Projects Will Be Funded?

Ordinance #41399, approved in January 2018, stipulates that the $151 million Street Bond issue will be put to voters in May.  The ordinance itself makes no reference to specific projects but the City paperwork leaves a trail (2) leading to the CIP:

Proposed Ordinance Detail

When ordinance 41399 was proposed to the City Council, it included this language as support.

So the City relies on the 2018 CIP to communicate how it intends to spend $151 million in street bonds.

The 2018 Capital Improvement Program (CIP)

Does the 2018 CIP tell the public what projects will be funded by the $151 million street bond issue? Is it easy to read? Well organized? The answer is a resounding YES.

Last year we were critical of the 2017 CIP’s format and content: we found it difficult to read, incomplete, and inaccurate.  Not so for the 2018 CIP: the City of Omaha’s Planning Department has completely changed the CIP and improved its presentation in every respect. The changes apply to all the CIP sections, but we will focus on the Transportation section, which begins here.

Layout and Content Is Improved

The first thing we notice is the layout for each project:

CIP Layout

  • The projects are organized in clear sections with pertinent pictures, maps, and right-of-way cross sections to explain location and goals.
  • Each project’s description is current and updated.
  • Each project now has a unique number (in previous CIPs, project numbers were re-used or re-assigned, which led to confusion)

Easier Navigation

And there’s more good news:

  • The Transportation Program Summary not only lists the projects in a clear way, but also has links to the project details: click on a project, and the project’s details is displayed.
  • The rest of the content is improved and focused. The introduction pages were re-written and updated. The summary pages are accurate and easy to understand.
  • The Planning Department’s CIP page includes a link to an interactive map, which shows each project as a yellow diamond on a map of Omaha. Click on the project’s diamond, and the project’s description is displayed, with a link to the full details of the CIP:
CIP Interactive Map

The City’s interactive map shows each project’s location. Click on the project and details are displayed.

This map is another step for better communications with the public.

Citizen Engagement

Mode Shift will analyze the list of projects to be funded by the 2018 Street Bonds in parts 2 and 3 of this blog series. In the meantime, we urge voters to take a look at the projects in the CIP prior to the May 15 2018 vote:

Any project with FTB (Future Bonds) will be funded by the $151 million 2018 Street Bond issue:

CIP Projects with funding from Future Bonds (FTB)

This CIP street widening project will receive $4.4 million in Future Bonds (FTB) so it would be funded by the street bond issue on the May 15 2018 ballot

By browsing the projects funded by FTB, citizens can start to gauge how the City plans to spend $151 million of property taxes. Here are some summaries for a quick way to view the CIP projects:

Conclusion

Before asking Omaha citizens to approve the 2018 street bond issue on May 15, the City must inform the public about the intended use of these Street Bonds.

The 2018 CIP achieves this: It lists all capital improvement transportation projects in a readable and accessible format. Citizens can browse the CIP in multiple ways and see which projects are planned and how they will be funded.

Mode Shift urges citizens to look at the 2018 CIP projects to see how the City intends to use the $151 million ballot item.

Next in our blog series…

Having answered our first question (What Projects Will Be Funded?), we’ll see how the City fulfills the next two questions:

  • Part 2: Street Bond Spending Accountability – How does the City account for the street bond spending? Will the projects be on budget? On schedule?
  • Part 3: Project Selection – How does the City select the projects funded by this street bond issue?

Notes

  1. When the City issues Street Bonds (or other general obligation bonds), property tax revenue is used to pay back the principal (in this case, $151 million) and interest (varies depending on the bonds coupon rate and their due date) to the bond holders. The ballot for the Bond Issue wording clearly stipulates that property taxes will not increase as a result of the issue. See link in note 2 for full text of the bond issue.
  2. For the complete text of Ordinance NO. 41399, along with the paper trail that leads from the Ordinance to the 2018 CIP, click here.

2 Responses to “2018 Street Bond Vote, Part 1: What Projects Will Be Funded?”

  1. Cyndonna Tefft April 24, 2018 at 3:36 pm #

    Great post. Thanks for the information and links to even more info!

  2. Mary Bamesberger April 27, 2018 at 7:32 pm #

    Until I read this, I was discouraged by the lack of information. “Sure, I thought, I am for these improvements, but I have voted for bonds in the past and I was left wondering, where did that money go?” We citizens are left wondering. I just received my ballot in the mail and will vote early. Thank you for this work. I will remember this in May, during Omaha Gives.

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