NE Property Tax Question Looms Ahead of 2018 Session

By Mary Kuhlman, Nebraska News Service

With the state unicameral legislature out of session until 2018, policy advocates are using the downtime to drum up conversations about imbalances in the state's tax system, particularly agricultural property taxes. 

Jordan Rasmussen, a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs, says shifts in land values resulted in an annual property tax increase of about 11 percent on agricultural land from 2005 to 2014. 

And that's resulted in an over reliance on local funding for counties and education. 

While there's no one size fits all solution, Rasmussen maintains rural and urban leaders need to work together to address the problem.

"Something has to happen in this session, because the rural populations are just really struggling to come away with any income when the property tax bill is so high, and revenues are so low when you're selling corn as cheaply as it is going for right now," she stresses.

The Center for Rural Affairs is holding community conversations around the state to get input from property owners and local leaders. 

Several are scheduled for November, including a town hall in Genoa with Sen. Curt Friesen (D-34) on Nov. 7.

Rasmussen says the imbalance is felt particularly by school districts, with their primary funding source as local property taxes. 

She says Nebraska's education funding formula leaves a number of districts without state money, backing them into a corner. 

"Even though they don't want to, they have to continue to go back to the ag land property owners and those homeowners in their districts, to secure the resources that they need for everyday functionality,” she says. “Paying the teachers, keeping lights on, making sure the boilers are working, things of that nature."

While some argue that schools are spending too much money, Rasmussen disagrees. 

She explains many rural areas are seeing spending increases of just 2 to 3 percent each year, which is quickly absorbed by operating costs.