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La Vista to consider 1.5% restaurant tax that could generate $700,000 a year

Diners and drinkers in La Vista could soon pay a handful of change more for a meal or a drink under a proposed restaurant tax.

The La Vista City Council next month will consider a 1.5% tax on restaurants and businesses that serve beverages. Officials project the tax could add up to $700,000 annually to city coffers.

The tax would apply to myriad food and drink establishments, including cafes, bakeries, coffee shops, food trucks, caterers and similar businesses in grocery or convenience stores.

Alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages would be included.

La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig said the city is growing “at a very rapid rate.” The restaurant tax, he argued, would accommodate city needs that accompany such growth, including infrastructure projects, city services and staffing.

“We see this as a revenue source that can help us to ensure we’re providing the citizens what they expect — which is really good (city) services,” Kindig told The World-Herald.

Part of the city’s growth can be seen in the massive 84th Street project that will change the face of the city’s main corridor. The heart of the redevelopment is City Centre, a 34-acre, $235 million mixed-use complex between Park View Boulevard and Giles Road that will feature retail shopping, dining, residential and office space.

Nearby Civic Center Park, formerly La Vista Falls Golf Course, will feature lakes, trails and more. There are also plans for an indoor-outdoor music venue.

While the 84th Street project is the most notable change happening in La Vista, Kindig said tentative discussions about a possible restaurant tax started well before the project began. He pointed to other areas of town where development is underway — like the Southport development, which includes the Alamo Drafthouse and Cabela’s — as reasons for the tax.

The proposed tax would add 75 cents to a $50 meal. Once that tax is applied, sales tax of 7.5% would bring the meal’s cost to $54.56, according to the city.

The proposal’s announcement Friday prompted some backlash on social media, with dozens of people weighing in. Some commenters invoked Omaha’s restaurant tax and the fierce debate it created a decade ago.

One man wrote on Facebook that he “won’t be going out in TaxVista anymore.”

In 2010, then-Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle proposed a 4% restaurant tax in an effort to climb out of a $33.5 million budget shortfall that had been projected for the next year.

The tax was eventually lowered to 2.5% and passed, but not before a protracted debate that included pushback from those in the restaurant industry and lawsuits to stop the measure.

Opponents at the time, including then-City Council member Jean Stothert, argued that the tax would keep people from patronizing Omaha eateries.

Stothert campaigned against the tax and successfully ousted Suttle, but has not made moves to get rid of the tax. Omaha’s restaurant tax revenue has grown each year and become an important part of the city’s budget.

Kindig told The World-Herald that he and the council takes public input seriously.

“It’s not going to be an easy decision for council, but I think you cannot rely on property taxes to continue to pay the bills,” Kindig said, noting that a restaurant tax would collect money from anyone who eats or drinks in La Vista.

Council member Kim Thomas said, “We really haven’t decided anything, and I definitely haven’t decided anything.”

Council member Mike Crawford declined to comment until he had reviewed the ordinance and received public input.

The city’s other six council members did not respond to email messages from The World-Herald.

The council will consider the tax at 6 p.m. Aug. 20 at La Vista City Hall. Ordinances typically require three readings spread over three council meetings, which would put the final vote in mid-September.

The council could waive those readings and hold a public hearing and vote all in the same night.

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Ralston has a 2.5% restaurant tax. Papillion, Bellevue and Gretna don’t have similar taxes.

In 2018, Bellevue had considered a 0.75% restaurant tax as a way to help fully fund the Bellevue Fire Department, but the tax did not move forward.

Recent food reviews from Sarah Baker Hansen

UNL engineering dean, in a wheelchair since 18, is making plays in softball and academics

Lance Pérez remembers nothing of the car wreck that put him in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Fresh off his first year as a student at Notre Dame University, Pérez headed for work one summer-vacation morning at Roy Rogers fast-food restaurant 36 years ago at home in Virginia.

“I can’t tell you anything that happened,” Pérez said. “Then (I) sort of woke up in the hospital.”

The wreck caused catastrophic damage to his spine, midway up the back. It would take roughly a year as a hospital inpatient and outpatient before he returned to college. Notre Dame was a long way from home, and he was no longer eligible for his Army ROTC scholarship in a wheelchair. He transferred to the University of Virginia.

Today Pérez is the dean of engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He plays on the nation’s defending wheelchair softball championship team, the Nebraska Barons, who have won 12 of the past 16 Wheelchair Softball World Series.

He disputes the idea that his is an especially inspirational story. He is no different from other members of his softball team, he said, many of whom have accident and mishap stories similar to Pérez’s. For that matter, he said, he is not different from millions of human beings who face challenges of all kinds. The human spirit is resilient, he said.

“We move forward, right?” Pérez said. “We keep pressin’ on.”

His wife, Julie, recalls watching him at the University of Virginia go downstairs backward in his wheelchair while he held onto the railing. That frightened her, but Pérez said it’s the kind of thing most people in wheelchairs learn to do.

Julie Pérez said she fell in love with a man at the University of Virginia, not a disabled man. “You don’t think of him as a guy in a wheelchair,” his wife said. “You think of him, and the wheelchair happens to be there.”

It’s not the chair or even how he’s handled life in the chair that makes Lance Pérez unique, she said. “I think he’s special because of who he is.”

One recent weekend his softball Barons, most of whom are from the Lincoln and Omaha areas, played in a tournament at Omaha’s Seymour Smith Park. The park, at 6802 Harrison St., includes two softball fields for wheelchair competition, plus playground equipment and a water park for disabled children.

The AllPlay complex, which took $1.5 million to build, was the brainchild of Barons teammate and coach Bruce Froendt. Froendt, a retired businessman, donated his own money for the complex and acquired contributions from the Lozier Foundation, the Sherwood Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, Ruth and Bill Scott of Omaha, and others. The complex was erected 11 years ago.

Members of the Barons said it’s the best outdoor wheelchair softball complex in the country. Froendt, 57, who is one of the Barons’ catchers, became a quadriplegic when he broke his neck diving into a hotel swimming pool at age 23. He mistook the shallow end of the pool for the deep end.

Pérez leans forward at third base with his hands on the wheels. He wears no softball glove, and few players do. It’s hard to push off and propel yourself in a wheelchair with a ball glove in your hand. Mobility is key.

The ball is slightly larger than a regular softball (some refer to it as a “Chicago softball” because it’s frequently used there) and a bit softer.

Wheelchair softball requires a team to have at least one quadriplegic on the field, and there is a player point system based on severity of disability so that a team can’t stack its lineup with mildly disabled players who have typical arm and trunk movement.

Pérez’s paralysis makes it impossible for him to walk, and he has little or no mobility in the abdomen. He throws and wheels around bases strictly on his arm and shoulder strength. He has no torque in the middle of his body.

The Barons’ first game was against a rival, the Chicago area’s Hawks, and the Illinois team took it to them. Pérez, a third baseman, committed an error on a ground ball and hit into a double play. “I’m having the worst game,” he said in the dugout.


Lance Pérez swings at a pitch during a game against the Chicago-area Hawks. The Nebraska Barons came back and won the recent tournament.

One of the most startling aspects of wheelchair softball is the frequency of collisions and ballplayers spilling onto the asphalt surface. Knees are rubbed raw. Fingers occasionally bend or break.

Once in the tournament Pérez backed up in his chair to pursue a pop fly and tipped over backward, landing on his back in the wheelchair.

They like the contact. If a baserunner wheels toward second, the infielder knows he might get whacked trying to turn a double play. If a fielder stands obliviously in the path of a baserunner, he is likely to get drilled.

The Barons came back and won the two-day Omaha tournament. “They’re not, like, overly great,” said the Hawks’ coach, Keith Wallace. But the Barons hit well in the clutch, Wallace said, and they make plays when they have to.

Wallace, who is not disabled, also coaches the USA Wheelchair Softball Team, which Pérez has played on twice. The all-star team plays in the world tournament in Japan.

Dr. Paul Krabbenhoft, medical director of the spinal cord unit at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, arrived in Nebraska in the mid-1990s, about the time the Pérezes moved to Lincoln.

Krabbenhoft, who plays for the Barons, injured his spine when he fell out of a tree at age 12. Pérez and Krabbenhoft started playing wheelchair basketball together in the 1990s.

Pérez said at one time, they had about 20 wheelchair basketball players competing in a Lincoln gym. “It was brutal and grueling and wonderful and fun,” Pérez said. But Perez, 54, said basketball is a young person’s game. And it’s hard to make time for two sports and serve as engineering dean at the same time, so he doesn’t play much basketball anymore.

“He is very busy,” Julie Pérez said, and his “mind is constantly going.” While earning his master’s degree and doctorate at Notre Dame, Pérez, who is an electrical engineer, would come home for dinner, then head back to campus to study into the night, his wife said.

She spent a year in Iraq about 14 years ago in the Army Reserves. She earned a Bronze Star as a transportation company commander and retired as a lieutenant colonel. She currently works at UNL’s Raikes School of Computer Science and Management, where she is director of operations.


Lance Pérez works to fix a blown tire during a recent softball game.

Softball is an outlet for stress and a sanctuary of competition and camaraderie for her husband, she said. She attends many of his games and works in the concession stand when the staff is thin.

The Nebraska Barons want to be recognized as competitors. They shun sympathy. Krabbenhoft said: “The public perception of that is, ‘Oh, it must be hard, we feel sorry for you.’ ”

“I see them as athletes,” said Wallace, the coach in Illinois. “It’s a big brotherhood.”

Pérez said he had little intention of taking the job when he interviewed for an engineering faculty position at UNL in 1996. His dad was born in Trenton, Nebraska, and Pérez expected to slip out at lunchtime and visit Trenton. Pérez had no understanding of Nebraska’s vastness. Trenton is 250 miles from Lincoln.

He has come to love the state. It’s generous in its support of worthy causes, such as the AllPlay complex and the College of Engineering, he said. His interest in engineering grew out of a fascination with the Apollo space missions, he said.

He imagined working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. His doctoral research at Notre Dame was largely NASA-funded, in communication for satellites and deep-space probes.

But his graduate-school adviser at Notre Dame encouraged him to consider academia.

“I’m very happy I chose to go into the academic world,” Pérez said. He rose through the engineering faculty ranks and became UNL’s interim engineering dean in 2016 and permanent dean last year.

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The college is in the midst of a construction boom, including the $75 million renovation of the Scott Engineering Center and the demolition of a facility called The Link.

Pérez said he and university leaders are raising private money for an $85 million engineering building as well. The college has added more than 50 faculty members over the past five years, he said, and is revamping its curricula, teaching strategies and research programs. The college will move away from lecture-based education to learning that emphasizes hands-on experience and teamwork, he said.

The engineering college aims to stimulate economic development in the state by educating the next engineering workforce, developing new technology for industries and startup companies.

“I have an amazing life, right?” he said. “It’s a demanding job and I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

He’s one of the few in the world who gets to run a Big Ten engineering college, he said. He plays on a great softball team, too.

A roundup of inspirational stories from Midlanders with heart

Grand Island firefighter jumps out of Jacuzzi to save man's life in Cancun

A shirtless, shoeless Grand Island firefighter and paramedic battled a language barrier to save a man’s life in Mexico.

On July 19 at a resort near Cancun, 31-year-old Tanner Greenough was sitting in a Jacuzzi tub celebrating his fifth anniversary with his wife when he heard screams for help. He sprung up, put on shorts and a robe and followed the sound to a room on the floor below.

There, he found two people performing chest compressions on an American tourist. He checked the man’s pulse and discovered he was suffering from ventricular fibrillation, a deadly heart rhythm that can be triggered by a heart attack.

Greenough looked to the others and tried to explain that the man needed a shock from an automated external defibrillator.

They didn’t speak English. He didn’t speak Spanish.

“I basically had to play charades and say ‘Bzzt,’ meaning ‘shock,’ and they got it,” he said.

The hotel’s defibrillator was the same model he uses in Grand Island, a Lifepak 15, except the wording on the buttons was in Spanish.

Greenough administered a shock, then the team continued chest compressions and helped load the man onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. The man’s relatives, on vacation from Pennsylvania, pleaded with Greenough to keep helping in the ambulance.

He took the captain’s chair, intubated the man, administered a second shock and started an IV. A third shock brought back a pulse.

It took 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive at the hospital. Once doctors took over, Greenough watched as the American man’s family tried to figure out how they would come up with $35,000 for further treatment. The man needed two stents and a pacemaker.

Later, the family told Greenough that their father also had gone into acute kidney failure and fought pneumonia. But the man is doing much better now and is expected to recover.

Once things cooled down at the hospital, Greenough still had to figure out how to get back to the hotel. His money was with his wife, Rebecca, back at the resort. And, again, he didn’t speak any Spanish.

“I’m standing there in my robe in the middle of Mexico with no shoes and no idea what’s going on,” he said.

A receptionist called a taxi, which broke down about one-third of the way home. A replacement taxi brought him back to the resort, where he had to convince guards of his story — again using mostly hand gestures — and stall the cab driver until his wife just happened to walk past the front desk to pay for the ride.

Greenough has battled a language barrier before while working in Grand Island, but never under quite these circumstances.

“I should learn Spanish,” he said, “but it’s easier said than done.”

Bonus for smugglers: driver with a military haircut and credentials

SAN DIEGO (AP) — On the surface, it seemed like a simple task: Drive to a spot a few miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, pick up people and then drop them off at a McDonald's or other spot past the city of San Diego, and make anywhere from $500 to $1,000. No need to cross into Mexico.

Two Marines whose arrests earlier this month for migrant smuggling led to the stunning arrests of 16 of their fellowMarines at Camp Pendleton described in federal court documents such an offer being made to them.

U.S. Border Patrol officials say smuggling rings have been luring U.S. troops, police officers, Border Patrol agents and others to work for them as drivers — a crucial component of moving migrants farther into the United States once smugglers get them over the border from Mexico.

Border Patrol agents over the years have routinely caught migrants walking onto Camp Pendleton or floating in skiffs off the coast nearby. The camp, dissected by Interstate 5 leading to Los Angeles, sits along a well-traversed route used by smugglers.

Transporting migrants with American drivers can be more effective in avoiding detection. Customs and Border Protection has broad authority to question and search within 100 miles of the border.

If the driver is in the armed forces, with a military haircut and credentials, that's a bonus for smugglers because they believe they are more likely to get waved through a checkpoint.

"This is the kind of official corruption that smuggling networks of all kinds, whether it involves people or drugs, really look for," said David Shirk, an associate political science professor at the University of San Diego. It's ideal, he added, for criminal networks to use corrupt officials or military personnel, including "young, gullible and greedy" troops, to help them in their illegal activities.

"Recruiters" for smugglers have chatted up people at casinos and bars, passing out their cell numbers and saying if they ever want to make money as a driver to give them a call, U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Theron Francisco said. They've also placed ads online.

"They've advertised on Craigslist before to get people looking for work by saying drivers needed or people with cars and licenses," Francisco said. "Then they might call or text them and say they can get quick money by going south to an area close to the border and pick up people."

The rings often don't pay but keep promising to pay or bump up the money if more trips are done. A driver is not going to go to police to report being stiffed, Francisco said. If a driver gets arrested, smugglers simply move on to find a replacement. All 18 people arrested so far in the current case are junior enlisted Marines whose monthly salary is between $2,000 and $3,000 a month. None was part of the Trump administration's efforts that sent troops last year to help reinforce border security.

Marine Lance Cpl. David Javier Salazar-Quintero told authorities that he was "recruited" by a man he met in a swanky beach community who offered him a way to make extra cash by simply picking up people on the U.S. side of the border and dropping them off north of San Diego.

Salazar-Quintero said a fellow Marine, Lance Cpl. Byron Darnell Law II, introduced him to the man, according to federal court documents, and that he had made such trips for him four times but had not been paid.

One trip was a bust because no one showed up at the pickup spot. He was promised if he did another job he would be paid then and earn even more.

Law told the agent that Salazar-Quintero asked if he was interested in earning $1,000 picking up an "illegal alien."

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stopped Law and Salazar about 7 miles north of the border on July 3 and found three Mexican migrants who came into the country illegally sitting in the back seat of the black BMWdriven by Law, according to the federal complaint.

The three migrants told authorities that they agreed to pay $8,000 to be smuggled into the United States and were headed to Los Angeles and New Jersey, according to court documents.

Both Marines are riflemen at Camp Pendleton. They have pleaded not guilty to smuggling charges in federal court.

Marine Corps officials said information from that case helped them identify the other 16 Marines who are in the same unit. The Marines are accused of various crimes from migrant smuggling to drug-related offenses.

In a dramatic move aimed at sending a message, authorities made the arrests as the Marines gathered in formation with their battalion Thursday at the largest Marine Corps base on the West Coast, about 55 miles from San Diego's border with Mexico.