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Senator Tom Brewer
Sen. Erdman introduced his property tax bill (LB 829) this week. There was a big turn-out of supporters and opponents. The hearing lasted until 6:00pm in the evening. Sen. Erdman’s bill is very similar to the ballot initiative I expect the people to bring this fall. I think pigs will fly before this is voted out of the Revenue Committee and the legislature will pass LB 829, so I sure hope the people will get behind the ballot initiative.
I want to talk about an issue that affects property taxes: Natural Resource Districts.
Nebraska has 23 different Natural Resources Districts. Unlike most States that perform these functions along county lines, the boundaries of Nebraska’s NRD’s are built around river basins, which is a very smart way to do this. Our NRDs are organized under the Platte, Republican, Loup, Niobrara, Elkhorn, Nemaha, Blue and Missouri river basins. The law charges the NRDs with a lot of responsibility. They do erosion and flood prevention and control. Drainage improvement. Forestry and range management. Development of fish and wildlife habitat. Pollution control and solid waste disposal, management of recreational and park facilities, and soil conservation. Our NRDs do a good job at something very important to Nebraska.
The one mission of the NRDs I want to focus on today is their responsibility for the development, management, utilization, and conservation of groundwater and surface water in Nebraska.
State geologists determine how much ground water can be used / pumped in a given NRD’s area. Using 100% of this amount of water is called being “fully appropriated.” Exceeding this water use is called “over appropriated.” 10 of Nebraska’s 23 NRDs have a water problem. They are either fully or over-appropriated.
NRD’s can levy 4.5 cents of property tax (per $100 dollars of value). With a super-majority vote of the board (3/5) they can increase their levy by 1 cent to 5.5 cents. To help alleviate the water problem in the 10 NRDs, the legislature authorized those NRDs an additional 3 cents of levy authority. This happened back in 2004 and it has been re-authorized three more times. The 3 cent levy authority “sunsets” again this year. LB 98 was introduced last session to re-authorize the 3 cent levy again. In layman’s terms, this means if I vote against LB 98, the 3 cent levy will sunset (end) and the 10 effected NRDs will no longer have this additional taxing authority. Voting for LB 98 may increase your property taxes.
This bill will come up this session. Before I vote on it, I want to hear from you. Should we re-authorize this additional 3 cents in taxing authority for NRDs, or should it sunset?
As it turns out, the 2004 law doesn’t require the money collected from the additional 3 cent levy to be accounted for separately. All the tax revenue collected by an NRD goes into the same pot. 7 of the 10 districts with water problems actually used part of the extra 3 cents, and only two of those NRDs were already at their 5.5 cent maximum levy. Its hard to tell if they needed the extra money to implement projects. Should an NRD already be at it’s 5.5 cent maximum levy before they use the extra 3 cents?
In the last ten years, the total property valuations in the NRDs taxing jurisdiction have increased from $2.37 billion to $6.8 billion. That means the “value” the NRDs can apply their maximum levy authority of 5.5 cents to has increased 186%.
Like I said to start with, the NRDs have a big, important job to do, especially the full and over-appropriated districts. I realize this job costs money. I was elected to lower property taxes. Re-authorizing this 3 cents may result in increased property taxes.
On another issue, why does the NRD N-CORPE need to own 30 square miles of land just to pump water? This land should be sold. This is why I support Sen. Groene’s LB 1123. This bill would protect the water rights the NRDs that need to comply with Nebraska’s stream augmentation project. This would allow the land to return to private ownership and restore over $700,000 in property taxes being paid on that land to schools, counties and NRDs.
Once again, before I vote on LB 98 for the extra 3 cent levy for the NRDs, I need to hear from you.
Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.