Ricketts talks property taxes during trip to Beatrice

January 24, 2019

Property tax relief was at the forefront of a forum held in Beatrice Wednesday where the public had an opportunity to address Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Agland valuations and what can be done to lower property taxes made up the bulk of questions proposed to Ricketts during the event at Vintage Venue in downtown Beatrice.

Ricketts began the forum with a brief speech where we touted recent Nebraska success stories and his plan to grow Nebraska. Following the speech he took questions for nearly 30 minutes.

Gage County farmers in attendance discussed concerns that high tax rates make it difficult to turn a profit, and could lead to a decline in Nebraska agriculture.

Ricketts said the concerns have been echoed across the state and noted that 30-40 percent of farmers’ top line is going just to pay property taxes.

“It makes it really hard to make a profit,” Ricketts said. “It makes it hard for farmers and ranchers to be competitive with surrounding states. This is something we have been working on the last four years to be able to get done.”

Don Schuller, a farmer from rural Wymore who last year lost an attempt to represent Beatrice and surrounding areas in the Nebraska Legislature, alleged that Ricketts isn’t doing enough, and compared the attempts to giving a morsel of food to a starving person.

“The state’s foundation which is agriculture is crumbling away, and crumbling away fast,” Schuller insisted. “Any of us here know that you do not add on to a building or any structure that has a poor foundation. The place you need to start is with agriculture and give it the highest priority, which does not seem to be what you’re doing.”

Schuller urged the governor to consider shifting the tax burden from farmers and spreading it evenly among the state. He also suggested that medical marijuana should be legalized, something Ricketts said he will reject until the Federal Drug Administration regulates it.

Ricketts said the key to relieving property taxes in Gage County and the rest of Nebraska starts with balancing the state budget by looking at the expense side. He added that raising taxes in other areas isn’t a viable solution.

“This is not something that happened overnight, so we have to think longer term about how to get out of it,” Ricketts said. “But raising taxes on one person to pay for somebody else’s tax relief, that’s not really tax relief. You’ve got to control your spending.”

Members of the public also addressed the ongoing Beatrice 6 saga as Gage County faces a $28.1 million judgment in the case.

Gage County officials are waiting to hear if the U.S. Supreme Court will consider their appeal of the $28.1 million verdict in the case where six people wrongfully convicted of killing a Beatrice woman spent a combined 75 years in prison.

In the meantime, Gage County resident Ron Miller urged the governor to remember that wrongful conviction cases can happen anywhere, and the state should take precautions.

“I would like to ask you to take back to Lincoln the appreciation that what happened here in Beatrice can happen to anybody, any community in this state from Wymore to Chadron,” Miller said. “This same screwy stuff can happen and I’d like to see some of the brains in Lincoln figure out what we need to do to prevent this from happening to other communities.”

Ricketts said he and other state officials are working with District 30 Sen. Myron Dorn, who has introduced bills that would give counties more options to pay federal judgments.

“We’re going to continue to work with Sen. Dorn on what we can do and I think that your feedback is good,” he said. “Not only is it important to address what’s going on here in Gage County, but look at it systematically how can we prevent something like this from happening in any of the counties across the state.”

Dorn has proposed bills that would allow counties to collect sales tax funds to pay for such judgments.

Allowing sales tax funds to pay towards judgments would ease concerns in Gage County after the board voted to raise property taxes to the legal limit as a means of paying the Beatrice 6 judgment.

Current regulations prevent Gage County from collecting sales tax in communities that already have a sales tax, primarily Beatrice.

Dorn has said that if a blanket ½ cent sales tax could be added it would generate around $1 million annually.

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