Both sides were heard at a legislative hearing before the Education Committee as it considers LB 959, which would limit school districts to two-and-a-half percent revenue growth annually. Districts could exceed the limit by going to a vote of the people.
Martell farmer Rod Hollman told committee members though farm income is down, property taxes keep rising, leaving landowners frustrated and angry.
“We’ve survived drought. We’ve survived blizzards. We’ve survived 40 degree below zero weather while we’re calving and low prices, but this has made them really angry,” Hollman stated.
“I am here to tell you that we are bleeding in agriculture right now,” Dale Gronewold, who farms near Gothenberg, told the committee.
Gronewold said evaluations of farmland keep going up, sometimes dramatically, even as farm income has fallen. Echoing what many farmers and ranchers told the committee, Gronewold said he had talked to county assessors, to school boards, and to other government officials to no avail.
Meanwhile, Gronewold said farmers and ranchers face huge jumps in their property tax bills while farm income falls.
“We are bleeding to death and somebody has to help us,” Gronewold pleaded.
Shane Greczel, a row crop farmer in Knox County, said it is hard to understand how farm income can go down, but taxes keep going up.
“And when my income goes down, I have to reflect accordingly. I have to back off. I cannot expand my operation. I just ask that government would do the same thing when we take a look at it,” Greczel said. “There are times that we have to step back just a little bit, we have to consolidate, and we have to make do with what we have. That’s what business has to do. It’s what farming has to do.”
Public school officials, though, object to the proposal pushed by the governor.
York School Superintendent Mike Lucas said school spending isn’t driving up property taxes.
“I think the big elephant in the room regarding LB 959 and I’ll say this respectfully is school spending is not the problem,” Lucas told the committee.
Lucas spoke for many educators in stating that Nebraska schools keep tight budgets and rarely exceed three percent revenue growth.
Lucas did sympathized with the farmers.
“I love farmers and it’s sad to me to hear the us versus them,” Lucas said.
Yet, Lucas said the proposal would only hurt schools without truly putting a dent in property taxes.
Virgil Harden with the Grand Island Public School District objected to the governor’s proposal.
“There’s nobody in Grand Island Public Schools in our board or in our administration that says let’s go spend more money, because we can,” according to Harden. “We spend the money to meet the needs of our children and two-and-a-half percent does not cut it.”
LB 959 is the second of the governor’s two-pronged approach to cut property taxes (the other is LB 958). Two legislative committees will decide whether the bills will be sent to the full legislature for debate.