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Property tax relief is coming to some farmers this year at a high price.

Tom Geisler is one of them.

Geisler had an eye cast Tuesday on legislation that was approved in the fading days of this year's Legislature that will allow Nebraskans who suffered damage in March's billion-dollar agricultural flooding disaster to seek a reduction in the value of their property for local tax purposes this year.

"That would help," Geisler said as he began to list some of the stunning damage incurred on his farm on the north edge of Winslow, not far from the Elkhorn River and close to Logan Creek. 

"We lost our house," he began.

"We lost livestock. Two thousand bales of hay all floated away. Storage bins gone.

"Our fences are completely gone. There's erosion around the machine sheds. There's sand removal to do."

The list goes on; the loss is devastating.

Perhaps $100,000 or so, Geisler estimated.

And it wasn't just financial loss; the treasured old house with square nails had been there since 1875.

The property tax relief will help, Geisler said.

But long-term structural property tax reduction is needed, he said. 

The 2019 Legislature opted instead for a $51 million a year increase in the state's property tax credit fund.

The short-term property tax relief provided for flood victims is included in a proposal authored by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard that applies to all urban and rural taxpayers whose real property is destroyed on or after Jan. 1 and before July 1 of any assessment year.

The damage must exceed 20 percent of assessed value to be eligible for tax relief.

Erdman introduced the legislation in January, long before the rain and snow and dislodged walls of ice came crashing down the rivers, spreading devastation across most of rural Nebraska.

"When I was a county commissioner in 2005, a lady's house burned down on Jan. 2 and she had to pay taxes on it based on its value on Jan. 1," Erdman said Tuesday. That prompted him to take action.

Erdman's proposal was attached to a Revenue Committee bill this year.

The reduction in valuation is for one year only, he said, when a new assessment would be in order based on any repairs or improvements to the damaged property.

In all likelihood, he said, the value of the property subsequently may be higher than it had been because of repairs and improvements.

The practical impact of this year's decrease in valuations because of flood damage would be a temporary shift in taxpayer obligations that was addressed during legislative debate.

"I don't care if my property taxes go up slightly for a year or two to cover people who have lost everything," said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, chairwoman of the Revenue Committee.

"They are scooping mud out of their homes and putting their treasures in their dumpsters."

The Nebraska Farm Bureau has been alerting farmers to this year's legislation and the July 15 deadline for seeking property tax relief.

Geisler, whose family is living in a rented house now, said he appreciated the Farm Bureau's alert.

"We're going to rebuild," he said. 

The house that was destroyed was in the family for five generations.  

"It's been our place since 1982," he said. "It means a lot."

Geisler has planted corn and beans this year.

"The corn looks pretty good and the beans are emerging," he said. 

"God willing, I hope."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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