Recently, along with fellow Lancaster County citizens, you probably received a notice in the mail noting the preliminary property valuations for 2023. In several instances property owners across Lancaster County watched their valuations increase by double digit percentage points and tens of thousands of dollars. In meetings and discussions following the receipt of these notices, we continued talking about the importance of starting conversations with our elected officials representing organizations who collect property taxes.
When property valuations increase at this level, this means you will be paying more in taxes. However, when we hear from our elected officials during these times, we hear, that they haven’t raised the tax levy. This is a sticky scenario because when your valuation goes up and the levy remains the same, you are paying more in taxes.
Here is a rough breakdown of your property taxes in Lincoln. Lincoln Public Schools through their levy for general funds and bonds receives about 61% of the property taxes you pay. The City of Lincoln receives about 16% of property taxes paid. Lancaster County receives around 13% of property taxes collected. The final combined 10% of property taxes are paid to Lancaster County Ag Society, Educational Service Unit 18, Lincoln Airport Authority, Natural Resources District, Railroad Safety District, Southeast Community College, and the Public Building Commission. Basically, LPS, the City of Lincoln, and Lancaster County receive 90% of the property taxes paid, with the others getting the final 10%.
The conversations with elected officials needs to begin immediately to manage their budgets to find a way to lower their property tax levy rate and budget modestly and be good stewards of the money paid in property taxes. The reason these conversations are important now is because, let’s say you currently pay $4,000 in property taxes and your valuation goes up 25 percent, you will be paying an additional $1,000 in property taxes next year, if the levy rates don’t change. We must start these conversations now with elected officials to make sure they are managing their budgets within in their needs and not taking the money just because valuations went up. The easy thing to do is keep the levy the same and take the windfall. However, the right thing is never easy! I would point out for the past several years, the Lower Platte South Natural Resource District has not increased their budget and has lowered their property tax levy multiple times, only taking the money they need and not the windfall of money from higher property valuations.
There is an important conversation to have during these discussions. This is about property tax asking. This is the amount the political subdivision asks to be remitted to them from the collection of property taxes. Generally during budget season, LIBA meets with various political subdivision about their budgets, asking them to lower their levy and be modest with their property tax asking. However, these conversations have not had the outcomes we would hope from our elected officials. The only success recently in these discussions was when LPS actually lowered the bond levy to only take the money needed for the bond payment. This was a small win, yet a win for the taxpayer.
What can you do now to make a difference? Contact your elected officials and ask them to budget responsibly and not take the windfall from the high increases of property valuations. They need to hear from their constituents. For instance, last fall during budget season, LIBA was the only testifier on the County and School budgets. We all need to reach out to our elected officials and ask them to hold firm against the easy route of just taking the windfall of money due to higher valuations.