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County’s property value goes up
September 10, 2015 Jerry Purvis   

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Over the past year, Scotts Bluff County’s total valuation went up by 5.5 percent, or about $141 million.

According to County Assessor Amy Ramos, the county-wide valuation was $2.5 billion in 2014. The 5.5 percent raise in 2015 brings the total to $2.7 billion. Ag land accounts for a big portion of the increase. New construction also helped boost the total, as did percentage increases on existing property to stay within state compliance regulations.

“Oil and gas didn’t do as well this year,” Ramos said. “It didn’t go down, but it didn’t go up either. But centrally assessed property was kind to us this year.”

Centrally assessed property runs over county and state lines. That includes utilities such as the railroads, electrical and cell phone companies.
“It’s still real estate and personal property, but it’s assessed by the state,” she said. “They set the value in Lincoln and the money is allocated back to the counties. A good portion of this year’s extra valuation came from central assessment.”
Ramos explained that increases in valuation don’t necessarily mean an automatic hike in property tax bills. “If your valuation increases, your taxes should decrease if the taxing entities don’t raise their tax asking,” she said. “If those entities don’t ask for more than last year, your levy should stay the same or go down because of the increased valuation and your property taxes should go down.”

Some of the many taxing entities in the county include schools and their bond issues, Tax Increment Financing for economic development projects, the county ag society, airport authority, Western Nebraska Community College, cemetery districts, fire districts and others.

She said that by statute, all taxing entities must have the county’s valuation numbers by Aug. 20. Those boards must then hold budget hearings and submit their tax asking to the county clerk in September.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Rickets is currently developing ideas on how to lower property taxes in preparation for the 2016 legislative session.
Ramos said before there can be real property tax relief, the Legislature must decide how the state is going to fund the schools. “Schools are the number one consumer of property taxes. For Gering, it’s about 65 percent. That includes the school, the college and the ESU (Educational Service Unit 13).”
One proposal under consideration by the state is lowering the valuation on ag land from 75 percent of market value to 65 percent.
“A lot of the assessors in the Panhandle don’t think that’s a good idea,” Ramos said. “A lower ag land valuation will just shift the taxes to residential and commercial property. For people in small, rural communities where all they have is ag land, the taxing entities will have to raise their levies to make up for the value that didn’t come in.”

Ramos said the state needs to do something to bring in new revenue. In the 1970s, Wyoming was in the same levy situation as Nebraska is now, before the coal fields opened up and brought in a new revenue source.

“If we find some way to fund the schools, we won’t be hurting anymore,” she said. “The school funding formula is complicated and a lot of it is geared toward giving more help to the larger schools in Omaha and Lincoln. Smaller, rural schools don’t benefit as much.”
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