Ranchers plead for property tax relief

Pleading for property tax relief, panhandle ranchers told the Legislature's Tax Modernization Committee Monday escalating property valuations and taxes are making it impossible for them to earn a living.

The nearly three hour forum was attended by an estimated 400 people at the Harms Center in Scottsbluff, with close to three dozen people testifying. As expected property taxes were the main topic, with ranchers telling the lawmakers property taxes are comprising 30% and sometimes more of their input costs due to rising grazing land values.

State Senator John Harms of Scottsbluff, a member of the legislative committee, said he was not surprised by the testimony. He told KNEB news he agreed with several people who maintained a change to an income based approach for ag land valuation used by over 40 states should be considered. Harms said a shifting of school funding to include more state aid from sales or income tax is one of the options being suggested by the committee. Harms also agreed with many testifying that the K-12 funding formula should be simplified, although he indicated any change probably won't occur until the longer 90 day session session two years from now.

Jeff Metz of Angora, President of the Morrill County Farm Bureau, spoke on behalf of nearly a dozen Farm Bureaus in the panhandle.
Metz says when it comes to funding for schools, roads and other local infrastructure funded through property taxes, Nebraska farmers and ranchers continue to carry a disproportionate share of the property tax load in rural areas and that continues to be a major concern for their members. Metz agreed revising the state formula for K-12 education would help, and suggested even lowering the valuation percentage for assessment of agricultural land from 75% to 65% would make a difference.

The ag sector Monday also encouraged lawmakers to add farm machinery repairs or replacement parts to the state's sales tax exemptions currently granted for business and ag inputs.

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