The Douglas County Board agreed Tuesday to contribute $5 million to help finance a $323 million cancer center for the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
The board voted 6-1 in favor of Mary Ann Borgeson's resolution to provide $500,000 a year for 10 years for the project. The money will come from the county's inheritance tax revenue.
“I think this is the right thing to do, totally,” said board member P.J. Morgan. “I support moving on this, and I'm probably one of the more conservative members of this board.”
The “no” vote came from Clare Duda.
The board stipulated, however, that the $500,000 annual commitment could be revised. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine had reminded the board that the Nebraska Legislature might still try to eliminate the inheritance tax for county governments.
Douglas County typically receives $8 million to $9 million annually from the tax, which pays for state-mandated services that support military veterans, the frail, the elderly and children.
Borgeson said the university project fits in with the county's responsibility to public health and the health of the county's poor population.
“We do use inheritance taxes ... and public health is one of those essential services,” Borgeson said. “Let's make a difference not only in this community but in this state.”
John McCollister, who is executive director of the Platte Institute, and two representatives of the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom asked the board to reject the resolution.
“I think it's very inappropriate to use inheritance taxes for this purpose,” McCollister said. “It's a great project. I'm glad Nebraska is doing it, but it should stand on its own merit. It is inappropriate and unrealistic for the county to join in this endeavor.”
Duda said he was not able to talk himself into using county funds for the economic development project.
“We're broke,” he said. “This is putting more pressure on the county. I would love to see it materialize, but we keep telling staff to do more with less. The message (this commitment) sends to them is, I guess, we're really not broke.”
Board Chairman Marc Kraft said the county's annual commitment would be “revenue neutral,” based on the additional tax revenue the project would spur.
UNMC representatives told the county that the new cancer center will add 1,200 new jobs by 2020 and have a $100 million payroll.
“The revenue will far exceed the $500,000 after a couple of years,” Kraft said. “That is our benefit.”
Douglas County follows the State of Nebraska in providing public funds for the cancer center. The state pledged $50 million to the project last spring.
In addition, the Omaha City Council is expected to consider a new occupation tax on cigarettes that would provide a $35 million city contribution to the project over 10 years. The ordinance being drafted would add about 35 cents to a $5 pack of cigarettes.
University officials approached local governments as part of a $200 million private and public fundraising campaign for the cancer treatment and research center.
They hope to start construction next year and have the facility open in 2016.
It is part of a $450 million universitywide initiative that includes three other projects, two in Lincoln and one in Kearney.
The centerpiece of the initiative is the $323 million cancer center, composed of a $110 million research tower; a $63 million, 108-bed inpatient center; and a $150 million outpatient center.
A $47 million ambulatory, or nonemergency, center would bring the total project cost to $370 million. That center would not be cancer-related.
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