If it is true that every cowboy sings a sad song, then in Nebraska they all sing the same sad song about protesting their property valuation.
Protesting property values in Nebraska is like turning a lump of coal into a diamond. If you squeeze the same lump of coal in your hand all the days of your life, all you will end up with is a dirty hand, and if you protest your property valuation every year, all you will end up with is a pile of filing fee receipts.
Getting a decision on a property valuation appeal takes too long.
For this reason, I introduced LB 613 this year. LB 613 would limit the time that the Tax Equalization and Review Commission has to render a decision on one’s property valuation appeal.
The bill says a hearing must be held within six months after the filing date of the appeal and a decision must be reached within nine months of the date of the appeal; otherwise, the decision defaults in favor of the property owner and a refund must be returned to the property owner within the next 30 days.
Last week, a hearing was held at the State Capitol on LB 613. Everyone who testified in favor of the bill sang the same sad song about how long it took for the Tax Equalization and Review Commission to render a decision on their case.
One individual who testified advised younger generations not to bother with filing appeals because it takes too long. He went so far as to say, “It’s a waste of your time.”
Testimonials such as these aptly demonstrate why we have a big problem with property valuations in Nebraska.
The idea for this bill came to me from Brenda Bickford, a resident of Lincoln, who has filed several appeals to the Tax Equalization and Review Commission. Brenda is still waiting to get notice of a hearing for an appeal that she filed back in 2019. Brenda filed another appeal in 2020 and is filing a third appeal this year. No one should ever have to wait three years in order to get a hearing on an appeal filed three years earlier.
The fundamental problem lies with how properties are assessed. As Brenda Bickford found out, there is no formula that assessors use to value properties objectively.
If there was such a formula, property owners would be able to assess their own properties. Instead, the process of selecting which properties to include in an array for valuing a particular parcel is often subjectively determined by county assessors.
Because the method of assessing properties lends itself to this kind of subjectivity, it has resulted in a flood of cases for the Tax Equalization and Review Commission. To be fair, the Tax Equalization and Review Commission is not properly staffed to deal with the number of cases that are now flooding the system.
LB 613 will incentivize county assessors to valuate properties more fairly. Once LB 613 becomes law, county assessors won’t want to over-burden the system with appeals. If they do, the system will default in favor of the property owner, which is the way it ought to be.
It is my sincere hope that by introducing this bill, justice will be restored to the appeals process. In America, we are supposed to value a fair and speedy trial. That’s what the sixth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees for criminal cases. Why should property valuation appeals be any different?
Unfortunately, fairness and timeliness have been missing from our property valuation system far too long. So the time has come to fix the way we protest our property values, and when we do, our cowboys in Nebraska may change their tune and begin to sing a glad, glad song.