A new law that Gov. Pete Ricketts says will protect Nebraskans against automatic property tax increases — LB103 — takes its maiden voyage next week as schools, counties, municipalities and other governing entities vote on their budgets for fiscal 2020.
Approved 47-0-2 during the 2019 Legislature, the provisions of LB103 activate whenever property values go up. In the past, rising property values became a windfall of additional revenue for governing entities, even though tax rates — or the mill levy — remained the same. Elected leaders didn’t even have debate, explain or vote on the increases. The increases in revenue occurred without a vote.
That changes this year.
The bill requires taxing entities to conduct a public hearing and vote before they can raise property taxes.
Ricketts said LB103 gives Nebraskans an opportunity to learn more about government spending and to address elected officials about proposed property tax increases.
With LB103 signed into law, Nebraskans now will receive public notice whenever a subdivision increases its property tax receipts. Notices from Kearney Public Schools, Buffalo County and the city of Kearney appeared in the Kearney Hub earlier this week.
KPS announced it is anticipating a 2.56 percent increase in property taxes, from $47,187,792 in fiscal 2019 to $48,394,868 in fiscal 2020.
Buffalo County anticipates a 12 percent increase, from $18,961,249 in fiscal 2019 to $21,267,542 in fiscal 2020.
The city of Kearney’s property tax request is rising 13 percent, from $3,739,965 in fiscal 2019 to $4,244,297 in fiscal 2020.
In pressing for LB103, Ricketts said, “Nebraskans deserve to be fully informed, and to have a fair say, before they pay more in property taxes.”
He is correct, but LB103 goes only halfway delivering what it ought to.
It provides some of the numbers Nebraskans need to know. But what LB103 cannot deliver is the effort and time Nebraskans ought to invest as citizens into learning more about the workings of their government. In that respect, what LB103 provides is an invitation from schools, counties, municipalities and other entities to taxpayers to attend budget hearings, ask questions and share ideas. When more people are involved, government gets better. For those who want to be involved:
The KPS hearing is 5:30 p.m. Monday in the Central Administration Building at 320 W. 24th St. The county will conduct its budget hearing at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the courthouse’s commissioners meeting room. The City Council’s budget hearing is 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the council’s meeting room at City Hall, 18 E. 22nd St.
And, yes, the meetings are open to the public.