Local entities provide tax explanations at required public hearings

Around 90 people attended a public hearing in Scottsbluff Monday to learn more about changing property tax askings and how their money would be spent.

LB644, or the Property Tax Request Act, was introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen and took effect this year. Its intent is to provide transparency in public spending. If any county, city, school district or community college increases its property tax request by more than 2% overall growth over last year’s asking, it is required to participate in a public hearing.

A joint public hearing including entities throughout Scotts Bluff County took place at 6:05 p.m. in the Judy Chaloupka Theater at Western Nebraska Community College. By law, all hearings had to be held sometime after 6 p.m. between Sept. 17 and Sept. 28.

Representatives of any local municipality or public entity exceeding the 2% threshold had to provide explanations of its calculations of overage and how the funds would be used.

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Those presenting were Tony Kaufman, mayor of Gering; Liz Loutzenhiser, director of financing for the City of Scottsbluff; and Rocky Robbins, the superintendent, Minatare Public Schools. No other local municipalities or entities hit the 2% growth threshold.

Kaufman said the City of Gering’s property tax request for non-bonded purposes was just over $1.9 million out of a total budgeted expenditure of $42.1 million.

The total assessed value of the city’s property differed by 7.9% from last year. The tax levy is currently $0.342697 per $100. Were the same $1.9 million to be raised from last year’s assessed property value, the levy would have been just $0.317638 per $100 —7.9% less.

Gering’s total operating budget exceeded last year’s by 12%. Its general fund operating expenditures for services such as the city’s police, fire, parks, pools, cemetery, library and administration increased 3.6%.

“We’re spending a lot of our dollars reinvesting in the infrastructure in our community,” Kaufman said.

Capital expenditures did increase 73% over last year, primarily due to electrical infrastructure upgrades. In total, capital expenditures are 29% of the budget; property tax revenue makes up around 5.8%.

Last fiscal year, the allowable increase for property tax revenue was around $88,200 — about $10.79 higher than the previous year per resident. This year, because of the higher assessed value, the allowable increase grew to about $139,600, or about $233 per person. This is $17.07 higher than last year per capita.

Kaufman said the majority of the property tax revenue for Gering goes to public safety, such as purchasing vehicles and equipment for the police and fire departments.

Loutzenhiser said the City of Scottsbluff has two tax levies, one for the city in general and one for the downtown corridor — the downtown improvement district.

The property tax request for the city in general was $2.175 million. The proposed property tax levy is $0.216 per $100 — the same as it’s been since 2006. Were the $2.175 million to be raised with last year’s assessed property values, the levy would be $0.205862 per $100. This means the growth increased by 4.92%.

The  the downtown improvement district’s amount grew by just 0.59% over last fiscal year. Therefore, it did not need to be covered in as much depth as the city’s use of the general property tax funds.

The property tax asking for the City of Scottsbluff this fiscal year is $2.28 million out of budget expenditures of $49.56 million. $11.5 million of that amount is for capital improveme3nts such as infrastructure. General budgeted expenditures, such as those that fund the library, parks and emergency services grew by 2.9%, while the capital expenditure budget for infrastructure grew by 8.35%.

Property tax funds make up 6% of the city’s revenue this year. The allowable increase for revenue was just under $46,400 last year, or an increase of about $3.19 per resident. This fiscal year’s allowable increase is just less than $102,100. This makes for a $148 burden per resident, or an increase of about $6.94.

Loutzenhiser said 92% of property tax in Scottsbluff goes toward capital expenditures such as street repair and getting vehicles and equipment for the police and fire departments.

Robbins said he’d also present the Minatare School District data at a school board meeting on Tuesday. The total assessed value increased the levy to $1.010844 per $100. This is a growth of 6.05% over what it would take with last year’s assessment to get to a proposed tax request of $549,142. In this case, that means 6.05% greater than $1.010844 per $100.

The actual levy was $1.072002 per $100, but with properties assessed at different amounts.

The increase is to help fill a reduction in state aid. Last year, the local property valuation was $48.4 million and they contributed $518,000 in property taxes. The district received $2.94 million in state aid.

This year, those same properties are valued at $51.3 million. The district only receives $2.82 million in state aid, however.

“Our solution is that we’re trying to ask our taxpayers to help chip in and we’re going to budget a little better this year to help that burden on everybody at the same time,” Robbins said.

With an extra $31,000 in property tax, he said the district will “eat” the additional $90,000 lapse in state aid by restructuring their budget.

He said this tax asking growth comes from three main factors. Namely, he said, state aid constitutes 86% of the district’s budget. The increase in year-to-year valuation was 35 times higher than last year, from an 0.17% to 5.88% increase; and inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years.

Many of those in attendance expressed their disappointment at the process of being informed about the meetings, as well as the fact that their properties were assessed differently at all and the ways the funds would be used. As required by state statute, notices were mailed to residents in effected districts.

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