OMAHA (KPTM)- Dozens spoke out to Omaha City Council members Tuesday with their thoughts on a proposed tax increase on cigarettes and tobacco products.
The tax increase would help fund nearly $35 million towards a new cancer center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha.
Council president Tom Mulligan said Tuesday at the top of the hearing that the city would raise the tax 4.5% instead of the originally proposed 7% increase if approved.
For some, that's still too high. Opponents of the tax increase say it forces one group of people to help fund a project that so many others would benefit from. They also worry that it would turn away tobacco business. Opponent Chip Maxwell says he's already seen petitions around town against the tax with hundreds of signatures. "People say if they go through with this, I'm going half a mile down the street to Ralston, or two miles down to Harrison street outside the city limit and I'll do my business there. I am not going to cooperate with this, I'm going to defy if the city does this," Maxwell said.
But supporters say the city would directly benefit from the center, therefore, it should help with funding. Officials with UNMC say the center would bring in thousands of jobs, both in the construction of it and in running and maintaining it. They say it would also mean people are spending their new incomes in Omaha, directly benefiting the city.
One former UNMC cancer patient spoke up. She said that her treatment at UNMC was excellent, but could have been better if all cancer resources were under one roof. That's the main goal of the new center. "The treatments were quite debilitating, and when you have to navigate the campus at UNMC, which is extensive, it is sometimes as much as 3 city blocks that you have to walk to get over to a clinic appointment and then walk back over 3 city blocks to get back to your radiation appointments," explained Maggie Lehning.
Other alternatives to the city tax were suggested at the meeting. One included implementing a state-wide tax at a lower percentage that would also help fund other cancer centers across the state.
Some say they think UNMC officials should seek other private donations.
The issue will go up for a vote on Oct. 2
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