Courtesy of the Unicameral Update

A bill in the Nebraska Legislature would give Nebraska taxpayers the opportunity to “create their own destiny” when it comes to property taxes, according to Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair.

LB644, introduced by Hansen, would require counties, cities, school districts and community colleges to participate in a joint public hearing before they could increase their property tax requests. The bill would also require that a postcard be mailed to all constituents notifying them of the hearing and providing information on the increased property tax request. 

The hearing would have to be held after 6 p.m. on day between Aug. 20 and Sept. 27. One representative from each participating political subdivision would have to attend.

Hansen said many of these political subdivisions have hearings at times that are inconvenient for constituents to attend. A joint hearing, he said, would provide one time where residents could come and understand their property taxes in simple terms.

“I think that kind of gives some clarity to the taxpayer and hopefully cuts down on some of the animosity and unanswered questions that they may have once they get a property tax statement and a bill in the mail,” Hansen said.

Hansen said it will take some time to draw awareness of the postcard and the hearing, but from the feedback he’s received, people are interested in attending, which he partially attributes to an increased involvement in local politics.

“In the state of Nebraska, a lot more people are getting involved, especially locally, in politics on both ends because there’s a growing concern about what’s going on with their money,” he said.

An amendment introduced by Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings was adopted 35-1 and would repeal a provision that allows political subdivisions up to five years to refund someone when they overcharge them for property taxes. Currently, there is also no interest that accrues on the refund.

“This bill makes that timeline a lot shorter, and then if they don’t pay within a reasonable amount of time, a year maybe, then they get charged 9% interest,” Hansen said. “Citizens of the state of Nebraska get charged 14% interest if they don’t pay enough to the state, so 9% is somewhat reasonable.”

Sen. John Arch of La Vista said he raised a concern during debate that joint hearings could be triggered by property tax increases due to wage inflation or real property growth.

Arch said Hansen addressed this concern in an amendment to LB644 adopted April 28. The amendment changes the bill’s definition of allowable growth to a political subdivision’s real property growth plus 2 percent inflation.

Political subdivisions are only required to hold a joint public hearing if they want to increase their property tax request by more than the allowable growth percentage. 

Hansen said the goal of LB644 is to get citizens involved with where their money is going and give them the opportunity to create change on their own.

“I’m just encouraging people to pay attention to the post card, look for it, share it with people and then go to the hearing” he said. “There’s not much else we can do as a government. We’re putting the ball in their court.”