What you need to know about Truth in Taxation in Nebraska: Part 2
As a reminder, beginning this year, Nebraska’s counties, cities, school districts, and community colleges are required to directly notify taxpayers and hold joint public hearings if the budget they propose requires a more than 2% plus the real growth rate increase in property tax revenue compared to the previous year. This process is formally known as the Property Tax Request Act and more commonly referred to as joint public hearings or Truth in Taxation.
This is the second post in a two-part series that is diving into the implementation of Truth in Taxation in Nebraska. This post will review the key points of the first post and discuss how you can effectively prepare to testify at a Truth in Taxation hearing. You can read the first post here.
What is the purpose of a Truth in Taxation hearing and how will I be notified?
The purpose of the Truth in Taxation hearing, which includes all of the subdivisions seeking a tax increase in each county, is to require the elected representatives of the entities responsible for our property taxes to make their case for the additional money. It also gives the taxpayers a chance to share their views on the increase, how it will impact them, and to address their concerns to their elected representatives. Truth in Taxation itself does not tell elected officials they can’t raise property taxes, but the process increases government transparency and communication between taxpayers and their government before a tax increase can occur.
In September, property owners will be notified by a postcard of the time, date, and location of the hearings, which must be held after 6 p.m. to make them more accessible for working Nebraskans. The notice of the hearing will also be posted on the main page of the relevant county’s website.
What is the format of the joint public hearings in Nebraska?
The format for a Truth in Taxation hearing is largely explained in the bill that created the requirement, LB644. Here are some key parts of the bill that you should know about before testifying at a Truth in Taxation hearing:
- You will receive a Truth in Taxation postcard in the mail. The hearing details will also be posted on the homepage of the relevant county website.
- The postcard will have a phone number you can call with any questions.
- You will be required to provide your full name and address in order to testify. If you have a security concern, officials conducting the hearing have the ability to waive that requirement.
- It is highly likely that there will be a process for you to sign up to testify.
- You will have a reasonable amount of time to testify.
- There is no limit to the number of people who can testify.
Officials who are running the hearings will decide how much time you get to testify. A good estimate is to plan for 1 to 3 minutes. I know that doesn’t seem like much time, but if you are prepared, you will be able to clearly communicate your position in that amount of time. Remember you can follow up your testimony with a phone call or email to the political subdivision. The purpose of the hearing is to inform and listen to the taxpayers. A vote on the proposed tax increase will be taken at another meeting.
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your Truth in Taxation testimony:
- Draft your testimony ahead of time.
- Clearly state in the beginning of your testimony if you support or oppose the proposed property tax increase.
- Share your story. Officials don’t always hear directly from the people they represent, and your story matters. Focus on how the proposed tax increase will impact you. For example:
- Will the increase cause you financial strain or to redirect dollars from another important budget item like paying off debt or contributing more to your kid’s college tuition? How has your budget been impacted by property tax increases over time?
- Will the additional dollars go to fund something you care about? How will the funding impact you and your community positively?
- Outside of your personal story, keep your comments focused on irrefutable facts and areas of personal expertise.
- Keep your testimony simple and straightforward. Avoid complicated language or terms.
- Take notes, build an outline, or write down your testimony and practice so you feel comfortable and confident. Time yourself to make sure you are within the time limit.
- At the hearing, if your points have already been made clearly, it is completely OK to simply state your position and the common theme of why you support or oppose the increase, and then conclude your testimony. For example, “I oppose this property tax increase. As many of the previous speakers have stated, I am also on a fixed income, and the proposed tax increase paired with our current high inflation will cause me to experience significant financial stress.”
If you’d like some help preparing your testimony you can download our Truth in Taxation Toolkit which includes a fill-in-the-blank worksheet that helps you design a personalized testimony.
Nebraskans consistently cite high property taxes as a significant burden and concern. With the implementation of Truth in Taxation in Nebraska, we now have the ability to hold our elected officials accountable for their decision to raise property taxes and require them to make the case for why they need the additional funds from us. I hope that if you are subject to a proposed property tax increase that you will exercise your right to testify and let your voice be heard.
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