Lincoln County property owners have received pink-postcards — notices of a special public hearing — giving people a chance to talk to officials about higher taxes.
Despite the billing, elected representatives on both the county board of commissioners and North Platte public school board have whittled down the budgets since the cards were printed, so those entities don’t technically have to participate in the hearing. But they reportedly will anyway.
Top photo: Lynn Swanson of Wallace makes his opinion known at the county-wide public hearing in 2022.
The cards are a relatively new development in Nebraska. That process was created in early 2022 by the state legislature to give taxpayers an opportunity to address all the authorities that call for more property taxes – schools, cities, counties, villages, etc. — together in one place at one time before budgets and tax requests are set for another year.
This year the hearing will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the south campus, McDonald-Belton auditorium at North Platte Community College.
What will happen remains to be seen.
At the first hearing a year ago, taxpayer after taxpayer stood up in a crowded room at the North Platte public school’s McKinley Center administration building and did their best to persuade school, city and county officials not to raise their taxes.
They got few if any results. The next evening, the North Platte school board met and raised taxes with no mention of objections voiced at the hearing the night before.
Earlier this month, the pink cards were prepared and mailed before budgets were finalized for the NP schools and for Lincoln County and its departments. The cards incorrectly indicate that both entities are increasing their property tax calls above the allowable range.
The Sutherland school district is doing the same. And, because nearby Paxton and Medicine Valley schools tax some property in Lincoln County, they also must appear at the hearing.
The North Platte school district is by far the largest recipient of property taxes in Lincoln County. School administrators at one time planned to exceed last year’s tax request by 5%, but two members of the school board – Angela Blaesi and Emily Garrick – voted against it. The two votes stopped the 5% allowable increase. Five yes votes were needed from the six-member board. That stringent requirement — at least 70% approval — was another measure created by the legislature in the interests of giving property owners more clout before taxes are set.
As it works out, the NP school district will still increase their tax call compared to last year by about $2 million, but the increase will be within a range that can be approved by a straight majority of the board, and it does not require them to participate in the all-county budget hearing.
The NP school board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21 for a hearing on the tax rate. Public comments will be accepted. The meeting will be at McKinley Education Center, 301 West F St. It will be livestreamed at nppsd.org/page/npps-boe-meetings. (Scroll down that webpage to see the link.)
The school board will vote on the tax rate at its next regular meeting on Oct. 9.
North Platte city officials kept taxes below the threshold too, thereby avoiding the all-county hearing.
For several weeks, the Lincoln County board of commissioners worked on a budget in weekly public sessions that lasted two hours or longer. The sessions were available live and the recordings can still be seen on You Tube.
Starting from proposed budgets by each department, the commissioners first reduced their own budget by 5% and then called on the other departments to do the same.
As examples of a conservative approach to spending, they said no to a new storage building for the Lincoln County emergency management vehicles and, on the other end of the spectrum, no to a new desk for the county veterans service officer. In the last session, they poured over the budget for the courthouse building and grounds. They whittled away at overall spending and kept their property tax request within the allowable range.
(Budgets are allowed to increase because of higher property valuations plus “growth factors” – an adjustment based on new development — without requiring officials to attend the Lincoln County pink postcard hearing.)
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