0721_TownHall

Omaha's The Platte Institute hosted an online town hall meeting on the need for property tax reform. Leading the discussion were former state senator Laura Ebke, top left, Jim Vokal, Platte chief executive officer, and Sarah Curry, Platte policy director. (Independent/Brandon Summers)

Rising property taxes are a constant concern for Nebraskans.

Reform is needed, The Platte Institute, based in Omaha, argued during an online town hall Monday night about the issue.

Nebraska has the sixth-highest valuation increases for residential and commercial properties in the country, said Jim Vokal, Platte Institute chief executive officer.

“What we’ve seen over the last decade is, certainly in the ag sector, where most of the land mass is, valuations have increased substantially,” Vokal said. “We’re also seeing it in the urban parts of the state, too.”

Barbara Schmidt of Hastings, a landlord, said she has seen valuations for her rental properties increase by more than 280% since the 1990s.

“You can’t make a living when they keep raising property taxes like this,” she said.

Through the town hall meetings, the Platte Institute hopes to better engage the public on the issue of property tax reform.

Five events are being hosted, with one held every week, as the Legislature returns to session.

“The Legislature is eventually going to debate property tax legislation,” Vokal said. “We also know the odds tend to be against a plan passing, especially with the disruption as a result of the pandemic. Meanwhile, a number of voter initiatives are likely to qualify for the November ballot, but property tax reform isn’t one of them.”

Laura Ebke, former District 32 senator, attributed the difficulty in passing property tax reform to a deep urban and rural divide in the state.

“While folks in urban areas do pay property taxes, it’s not quite the same for them as it is for those who are paying property taxes on large segments of land,” she said.

Concern exists statewide, Vokal said.

“Property taxes make it hard to run a family or a business, or be an ag producer, because they are so high and it is so much of people’s income,” he said. “It’s a barrier to live in the state, quite frankly.”

Cindy Johnson, Grand Island Area Chamber of Commerce president, said property taxes are always a concern for local and area businesses.

“It adds or subtracts from the cost of doing business,” she told The Independent. “We want to support the appropriate property tax level so businesses can continue to invest in the community. They can invest in equipment, in production. They can invest in facilities, bring on more product lines, hire more people.”

Johnson warned there is a risk Nebraska could lose business to other states that are offering more attractive incentives.

“If the cost of doing business in Grand Island, or Nebraska, gets to be too high, businesses can be faced with a choice that we don’t particularly want them to be faced with,” she said. “It’s critical if we want to stack up against our competition, in a positive light, that property taxes remain reasonable.”

Further events promoting property tax reform are being planned, Vokal said.

“Hopefully, as the COVID crisis eases in the months and year ahead,” he said, “we hope to do some events in person, as well.”

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