A public hearing on proposed annexation in Neligh along Highway 275 drew a crowd to the City Council Chambers on Tuesday.
Nearly 50 people attended the Planning Commission Public Hearing, where residents of Neligh, those living outside of Neligh and business owners voiced concerns, questions and comments on two proposed annexation areas on the east and west sides of town.
Lance Sanne, Bennie Taylor, Walt Storey, Don Zegers and Dane Nielsen are members of the Neligh Planning Commission. Nielsen was unavailable for Tuesday's meeting and was absent. Before annexation can occur, two public hearings must take place. Tuesday was the first public hearing.
Following the hearing, the commission recommended annexation of the two areas - areas one and five as published. Sanne made the motion with Zegers seconding. The motion was unanimously approved. It was also recommended to accommodate livestock owners by adopting an ordinance permitting livestock in newly annexed areas. That motion was by Storey, seconded by Sanne and approved unanimously.
The recommendation will now go to the City Council for consideration of another public hearing. At the April 14 City Council meeting, members will decide upon a public hearing date to consider the proposed annexation areas.
Should annexation move forward after that point, it would be followed by three readings of the annexation ordinance.
Community Response At Hearing
Concerns and questions were raised over many issues, but property taxes was the resounding theme.
"Nobody wants to pay any more taxes than what they're paying now, and yes if they come into city limits, there will be additional real estate taxes," Taylor said. "This is not the whole purpose for the city to want to enlarge the size of the city limits. It was brought up tonight that if you expand the valuation you have, then the city should be able to lower the mill levy here, and that we would be more in line with other towns in the area."
Audience members asked what the purpose of annexation was and how city organizations could decide whether farm ground could be annexed into city limits. Taylor said while Bomgaars is asking for water and wants to be in city limits, annexing that area includes bringing in Kayton International. To be fair, he said, the east side of Neligh should also be annexed to add Reinke's and Green Line Equipment.
Representatives from all of those businesses were at Tuesday's meeting.
People wanted to know if tax increment financing, or TIF, (a public financing method that used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement) could be used outside of city limits. It cannot, and Neligh Economic Development Director Greg Ptacek has been looking at utilizing TIF to assist in projects to help fund growth for the community.
Other items of concern were the boundaries, could businesses be billed for services rather than annexing them, why do other communities not annex businesses on the outskirts of town, could Bomgaars furnish its own water and could Bomgaars be in an industrial park.
"If the town is able to have a larger valuation, there will be more things we can do. We need to get more businesses up and down Main Street. We need to clean some of these old houses out and make some more lots available," Taylor said.
Taylor said a lot of work is already being done to clean up Neligh, including at the intersection of Highway 275 and 4th Street, where the former Helmer's Furniture building and Neligh Lockers stood until last summer. Those five buildings were purchased by Craig and Melissa Smith and removed with plans to build a office space on the property.
"Improvements are like fire - they spread," Taylor said. "When people see something nice - painting a house or fixing something up - then their neighbor thinks they should do something, too. It's a process."
Not all comments heard Tuesday night were negative. One person said he wished other communities in the area were being pro-active and discussing annexing areas to allow for growth.
"You can either do nothing and go stagnant or grow," Taylor said. "You have to take some bold steps and try to make things better and more attractive for people. Hopefully, we can try to expand the city limits later on and get some businesses into those areas."
Taylor said he appreciated hearing the input from everyone who spoke and understands the concerns involving property taxes.
"A lot of people were dead-set against this, and that's the easy thing," he said. "We're in a mode right now, and it's not just here - it's statewide and countrywide - that's no new taxes or no more taxes. You're got to be conservative and spend it wisely."
Why Annexation Now?
Annexation isn't a new topic for Neligh. It's been mentioned occasionally for years but has been discussed regularly since town hall meetings began in March of last year. The City of Neligh began developing a comprehensive plan for the community - the first since 1977 - which was created through town hall meetings, online engagement and a mail-in survey.
The comprehensive plan, approved by the City Council earlier this year, gives the City of Neligh the tools to help make decisions on everything from housing and zoning to possible annexation and business retention.
With Bomgaars planning to nearly double the size of its Neligh location in the coming months, the City Council tabled action in March to provide water and sewer services to the business to consider annexation to the west part of Neligh.
Council Member Ted Hughes said it wasn't fair to annex west of Neligh, which would include Kayton International, without annexing the east side of town where both Reinke's and Green Line Equipment are located.
The March Council Meeting, which began with discussion and possible action for extending water and sewer services to Bomgaars, quickly escalated to annexation of that area since TIF financing would be available to help fund the utility project if the commercial business were within city limits.
Representatives from Bomgaars told the City Council they would like to be annexed into Neligh; however, even providing water services would be imperative to the project because higher water pressure is needed for fire sprinklers, which are required by the State Fire Marshal's Office.
Ryan Bolinger, project manager for W.A. Klinger, told the Council that water is the most important aspect for the expansion. He said they are currently using a septic system and could continue that way.
“We would need some kind of agreement that says at some point the water line will be brought,” he said. “Without having the water, the state won’t let us build."
Comprehensive Plan 2015-2025
At one of Neligh's town hall meetings, participants helped create an annexation plan to identify what areas were most attractive to bring land into the city in the future. The planners repeated that the annexation map was only a possibility and nothing definite for the City of Neligh.
The map showed adding about 300 acres of light industry to the east edge of Neligh, as well as a significant amount of residential development to the north and east sides of town and commercial to the west edge.
Planner Brenda Jensen said there’s a misconception that annexing areas into a community means that the city must extend city services. She said the state statue reads that a plan to serve the area with power and public utilities must exist, but the plan does not have to have a specific timeline because some areas are simply not feasible to have water or sewer.
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