Budgets to be aired at joint public hearing Community

A first of its kind public hearing over budgets will be held Sept. 26. It is set for 6 pm in the county board room at the courthouse.

Known as a 644 hearing, the meeting became necessary under the provision of a new law, LB644.

If spending by a city, county or school board exceeds the allowable growth rate, the county must participate in a joint public hearing required by the law passed in 2021.

LB644, introduced by Sen. Ben Hansen of Blair, requires counties, cities, school districts and community colleges to participate in a joint public hearing and pass a resolution or ordinance before increasing their property tax request by more than an allowable growth percentage.

The bill requires counties to notify affected taxpayers of the hearing by postcard, the cost of which will be shared by the political subdivisions seeking to increase their property tax requests.

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The hearing, which must be held on or after Sept. 17 and before Sept. 29, must be open to public testimony. Its agenda may include only the proposed property tax request increase.

The county is responsible for organizing the hearing and sending out the postcards, whether the county’s tax request requires its participation in a joint hearing.

The joint hearing so far includes the county, the City of Tekamah and the Tekamah-Herman, Oakland-Craig and Lyons-Decatur school districts.

The county board held a public hearing on its budget during its regular meeting Sept. 13. During the brief hearing, County Clerk Sarah Freidel said the county will be asking for an additional $274,000 in property tax receipts. All of it will be poured into the general fund and the road fund.

The county also is seeking a one-time increase in its cash reserve as a buffer against a state-level proposal to curb the use of inheritance tax funds. Freidel said the county’s cash reserve is usually capped at $50,000 because it uses inheritance tax money like a cash reserve account. Because that use may be limited in the future, the county wants to increase the cash reserve to $150,000.

Figures from last week’s board meeting showed over $2.9 million in the inheritance tax account.

The county also is starting a capital fund to start saving money for larger road projects and will likely use available American Rescue Plan Act funding to start the account. For example, the county board recently rejected bids for work on county roads near Craig because bids came in well over projections.

The county is expected to ask for a tax rate of approximately 24.86 cents per $100 of valuation. Valuations in the county have been pegged at $1.879 billion, up nearly $90 million.

Following the Sept. 26 hearing the county board is expected to approve its budget and tax request at its Sept. 28 meeting. Under the new law, budgets must be sent to the state by Sept. 30.

Tekamah-Herman Schools is looking at a 4 percent increase in its general fund spending. Superintendent Dan Gross told the district’s Board of Education Sept. 12 that in a period of 8 percent inflation he didn’t want the district to be in a position where it hurts itself.

He said a special school board meeting will be held Sept. 28 to pass the budget.

The City of Tekamah is expecting to do roughly the same thing. After airing its proposed budget at the joint hearing, it expects to pass its budget during a special meeting later in the week.

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