Reproduced here with permission of the North Platte Telegraph.  

North Platte Telegraph Editorial Published Sunday, September 7, 2003

Keith Blackledge YOUR TOWN AND MINE

Keith Blackledge
Keith Blackledge was editor of The Telegraph for 25 years before his retirement in 1992.

A gathering on the steps of the old federal building/post office at Fifth and Jeffers Tuesday is billed as a news conference. But of course everyone is welcome, and if you are interested in historic preservation, you might want to stop by.

The time is 2 p.m. It will be a kickoff in an educational campaign about Amendment 1 which will be on the ballot in November next year.

Too early to think about that? Well, my theory is that when time gets nearer to the election, there will be all that presidential campaigning and other candidates and issues beating our eyeballs and eardrums, and it will be pretty hard to get attention for Amendment 1. The time to talk about it is now, when folks may take the time to listen.

There is no big bankroll behind Amendment 1. Just some folks in the Nebraska State Historical Society, the Lied Man Street Program, and others who are interested in encouraging the renovation and preservation of historic buildings. I'm one of those people, as a member of the State Historical Society Board of Trustees and as a private citizen who has seen fine old buildings destroyed in our town that might have been saved.

If you wait until you see Amendment 1 on the ballot, you are likely to wonder what it is all about. The description will be brief: "A constitutional amendment to authorize exemption of certain improvements to historically significant real property from property taxation."

What that would make possible is legislation that already exists in many states to provide for a temporary exemption, not of the entire property, but of the increased value when a historical property is renovated. The Legislature can't do that unless the Nebraska Constitution allows it, so an amendment is needed before the Legislature can even consider a law enabling such a program.

Such temporary "tax abatements" on the improvements can make a difference in whether a developer, or a private individual, can afford to spend the money to renovate a building. Most states offer some sort of state incentive to encourage historic preservation and to make it financially feasible for private investors to do it. This is our time to get started.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington all have some form of property tax abatement for historic properties.

Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, , Michigan, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin all give state income tax credits on projects deemed worthy of preservation for historic reasons.

Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia have programs offering both property tax abatements and income tax credits. Income tax credits are NOT being considered in Nebraska.

Amendment 1 would not affect state tax revenues in Nebraska, since the state does not collect property tax. You can argue that local entities such as schools, cities and counties would not lose anything from current assessed value of the properties involved, and would eventually gain from the increased value as the temporary abatement terminates. Those of us who believe in this program believe everyone gains, since it is likely to result in improvements that would not otherwise be made, and in restoring to the tax rolls properties that otherwise would not be included.

If you travel elsewhere and see fine, old residences and business buildings restored, renovated and useful, you may wonder why more of that can't happen here. More of it can. It is made to order for towns our size and smaller. To get there, we need to say "yes" to Amendment 1 as the first step.

It's a little confusing to have two Canteen-related fund drives going at once, but I think we can handle it. Having more to do than anyone thought possible never stopped the original Canteen volunteers.

The Lincoln County Historical Society had been planning a drive to raise $6,000 to renovate the museum's Canteen display. About the time that got started, a campaign to raise $30,000 as part of a $140,000 Nebraska ETV documentary on the Canteen was announced.

The projects complement each other. The museum collection is important to the television documentary, and the documentary will be an excellent addition to the new Canteen display at the museum. Deciding if one has priority over the other is like the argument over whether the chicken or the egg came first.

The solution is to resolve to do them both as quickly as possible.

Donations for the museum display can be mailed to the Lincoln County Historical Society Museum, 2403 N. Buffalo Bill Ave., North Platte, NE 69101. Checks should be made to the Lincoln County Historical Society with a notation that they are for the Canteen display.

Pledges or donations for "The Canteen Spirit" ETV documentary can be mailed to the Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1321, North Platte, NE 69103. Pledge forms are available at the foundation office, 120 N. Dewey, at the North Platte/Lincoln County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 219 S. Dewey, and the North Platte Area Chamber of Commerce, 502 S. Dewey. Checks should be made to Mid-Nebraska Community Foundation Lincoln County Historical Society Fund.

Pledge cards offer Canteen-related categories. A $5 donation puts you at the cup of coffee level; $10 represents a contribution of hard-boiled eggs; $25 a plate of cookies; send $50 and you've contributed a bunch of donuts; $100 plenty of sandwiches. You can be recognized at the fried chicken level for $500 and at the birthday cake level for $1,000. All gifts are income-tax deductible.

If the ETV donations come in over the $30,000 needed, the extra dollars will go toward the museum display. Everybody is a winner.

Nebraska ETV will take the World War II Canteen story into the next generation of viewers, and the next generation of storytelling technology. It will be filmed for high-definition, digital television. The museum will receive a 45-minute video loop of interviews to add to its exhibit and full videotape and transcripts for archival use. Edited interviews will be placed on the NebraskaStudies.org web site for videostreaming on demand to any user worldwide. The documentary will be broadcast on the Nebraska ETV Network and offered to PBS stations nationwide. We will get a premiere event some time next year.

Could we buy any better advertising for our town at any price?

The present Canteen display was created in 1986. Wayne Griffin wrote the grant application to the Nebraska Humanities Council that got it started. Geraldine Young and Jerry Hollen spent a lot of time putting the exhibit together. Don Snoddy of the Union Pacific Museum provided the pictures.

But time and traffic wear on such things. The pictures are beginning to look tired and worn. The museum's new director, Chad Boehlke, has designed a project that will make the Canteen display more viewer-friendly and give it better focus within the museum.

He will describe that plan for anyone interested at a public forum Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. at the museum.

It's interesting how one thing leads to another. The museum exhibit and collection of clippings and letters helped Bob Greene in his research for the best-selling book: "Once Upon A Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen," which in turn helped generate enthusiasm for the ETV documentary as well as other media attention.

Greene's book also prompted the Omaha Community Playhouse to write a musical for its Nebraska Theatre Caravan. The musical, "Stories from the North Platte Canteen" will tour the state, including a visit to our town Sept. 25 with (tentatively) a special matinee Sept. 27.

The North Platte Telegraph
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