Louisville voters reject a property tax increase amid the pandemic

Louisville voters reject a property tax increase amid the pandemic

As Nebraska legislators head back to Lincoln and into the last 17 days of their suspended regular session, they should keep in the back of their minds what happened in a Louisville special bond election on July 14.

Louisville voters rejected a bond issue that would have allowed the district to build a new elementary school, new vocational technology center, and other facility upgrades in response to the growing student population. For many, this decision from voters comes as a surprise.

The Louisville Public School District has been working diligently to manage the growth of its student body. Over the last seven years, the district has grown by 105 students, which is an 18% increase, while its property tax levy has slowly dropped.

Nearly 50 public meetings over the last three years have been held offering various proposals to address the growth issue which was straining the space needs of the school.

According to news reports, a total of 1,390 people cast ballots in the election, which represented a voter turnout of 62%. There were 918 votes against the bond issue (66.04%) and 472 votes for the bond issue (33.96%).

There were social media campaigns and people out promoting the bond for weeks leading up to the vote. Everything building up to the special election suggested that the bond measure would pass. It gives one a sense that in the current environment, even something as attractive as a new school is not enough to overcome the stress people feel about a property tax increase.

And while the stress of property taxes is no secret in Nebraska, in the wake of the pandemic there are more stressors than normal for families as they prepare to send their children back to school next month.

Nebraska’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many children finishing the school year remotely due to directed health measures. Now, with the 2020-21 school year approaching, there are some school districts in Nebraska electing to alter their schedules or delivery methods. In addition, an increasing number of parents have been reported to be considering homeschooling in the current environment.

It’s not clear what school is going to look like in the distant future, much less in the near term, given the adaptations that both schools and families are going to be forced to make in the upcoming months.

Given the school situation and the economic crisis that has stemmed from the pandemic, it is safe to say that Louisville voters decided not now on the decision to raise their property tax.

The special election in Louisville for a $30 million bond highlights another major concern – the property tax issue in Nebraska is not going away. The Nebraska Legislature has been trying to figure out a way to alter the high property tax burden for decades, but bond issues like this one can easily erase any headway state legislation makes to reduce the burden.

According to local news reports, the Louisville bond would have resulted in owners of a $100,000 home paying an additional $280 per year and a $200,000 home seeing their property tax bill increase by $560 per year. The estimated increase in tax on agricultural land would have been $16.80 per acre.

While most who have been following the property tax debates over the last few years know this, it’s important to remind readers that the state does not levy property taxes; local taxing entities (like school boards) do. What the state can do, is to shift the balance of funding for locally delivered services away from property taxes to state-generated taxes.

Education is the largest chunk of most property tax bills. The state has a constitutional mandate to provide for education and has seen fit to do that by allowing local property taxes to pay for most of that education.

Legislators should consider the answer that voters gave the school board in Louisville this week. That answer appears to be a resounding “no more property taxes.” That answer seems to make it incumbent on the Legislature to look at other ways of funding our public schools so that local school districts can reduce their property tax levies.

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