Taxpayers have long made an understandable complaint about local government in Nebraska: Even when the property tax rate stays the same, valuations go up, so citizens wind up paying more.
The Nebraska Legislature unanimously approved a bill this year to force change on how local taxing authorities handle the process. The governing bodies for entities such as counties, municipalities, school districts, community colleges and natural resources districts still have the authority to reap the revenue gain if they choose, but the state now requires them first to hold a public hearing on the matter.
The requirement is a responsible action to promote transparency and accountability in local government. The new process better informs citizens about the taxes they pay and provides an appropriate forum in which taxpayers can directly address elected officials on the issue.
The process also sends a needed message to local governing boards about how the upward climb in property valuations produces a steady increase in the tax burden on households even if the tax rate remains unchanged. Elected officials can still move ahead with the revenue boost if they like, but not without first informing taxpayers and giving them a chance to speak.
State senators made this change by passing Legislative Bill LB 103 by State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of the Elkhorn area.
The Omaha city government, for example, plans to collect about $11.3 million more in property taxes in 2020 than this year, given the 6.65% increase in total valuation within the city, estimated by the Douglas County assessor.
The city, no question, faces significant demands for services such as trash collection, street repairs and fire and police protection, but Omaha leaders have an obligation to make the case for their budget plans.
The new process under LB 103 is constructive, all around. It better informs taxpayers and gives them an opportunity to express their views. And it compels local government leaders to explain the budget situations they face and the choices they feel are necessary. It’s good to see state law promote this accountability to taxpayers.