Next week local governing entities will finalize budgets and soon after that county boards across Nebraska will set officially the levies to disperse the tax load among property owners. It’s a process that happens every year and it usually comes off without much public scrutiny.
The lack of attention is unfortunate.
Budget-setting meetings ought to be the most heavily attended public meetings of the year because what happens at those meetings directly affects individuals, business operators and farmers. Taxes they pay on the property they own support schools, municipalities, counties, natural resource districts, community colleges and other entities.
Without property taxes all of those governmental services would not have the money they need to teach our children, police our communities, maintain the roads and look after our environment.
Taxpayers are affected directly by the money they give to the government and by the services their government delivers, yet few people, if any, will be at the meetings to witness the budgets or levies being approved. The apparent lack of interest either is a sign that people trust their elected officials to make the best decisions, or that they believe they have better things to do, like cutting the grass.
We suggest that by not taking an interest, Nebraskans risk getting the government they deserve. In a democracy such as ours, there is no substitute for watchfulness. It’s a responsibility of citizenship because elected officials make mistakes, and sometimes the mistakes have serious consequences.
This year the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners was forced to remove the county treasurer from office because that person failed to deposit millions of dollars in tax payments. It was an unthinkable mistake that caused numerous problems.
Here in Buffalo County, we’ve seen how inaccuracy in property valuations creates genuine hassles for property owners who must protest their assessments — some year after year. The accuracy problem came to a head when a Kearney citizen stood up at a county board meeting and declared enough is enough.
A spotlight shining on the valuation problems prompted action, and now the assessors office is working to improve its functions. Training, outside scrutiny, public education and an emphasis on customer service all are part of the response.
The goal is to increase accuracy and head off problems before they result in valuation protests.
Residential, commercial and agricultural property owners should be assured that their valuations are correct because accuracy is necessary to fairly spread the tax load.
Another crucial tax load factor is spending. When governments spend too aggressively, it hits all of us in the pocketbook. Remember, citizen participation is important. Attend budget and levy meetings and learn where your tax dollars are being spent.