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The Nebraska Legislature is currently considering a bill that would expand government authority over private property.

Under LB424, an unelected government body known as a land bank will be able to buy and accumulate any tax-delinquent residential, commercial or industrial property as long as it is determined to be in the best interest of the community. This scheme has been in place in Omaha for five years, but now state legislators want to expand it to the rest of the state.

Why should you be concerned?

* Land banks decrease the property tax base when they purchase property because it immediately goes off the tax rolls. This puts more pressure on private property owners because they end up being the ones who bridge the tax gap.

* If residents in your city want to purchase a tax-delinquent property, a land bank can come in and automatically take it from you with a lower bid.

* Land banks are permitted to hold land for any amount of time, as well as collect rent, lease, and sell land with the benefit of being exempt from paying taxes. If the land bank does sell the property, it gets 50% of the property taxes for five years.

* A land bank can own as much as 7% of the parcels in Lincoln. This is the equivalent to an area the size of six downtown Lincolns. It may seem unlikely that a land bank would ever gain control over this much property, but keep in mind that the nation’s oldest land bank in St. Louis is the largest property owner in the city, with 12,000 parcels.

* Nebraska’s only existing land bank in Omaha has accumulated so much land that it is currently giving away properties via a “vacant land giveaway,” and paying prospective buyers $5,000 to take these properties off their hands.

* Land banks represent an expansion of government, but you cannot hold land bank board members accountable because they are unelected.

* There is no recourse for neighbors to weigh in on how land bank properties are used because the City Council is not involved. Again, land banks are run by an unelected board.

* Cities and villages outside of Omaha and Lincoln will not be able to create their own land banks. In fact, the bill requires all other cities in Nebraska to either partner with the existing land bank in Omaha or another city. This means the property tax dollars that the land bank receives upon selling a property in your city could be shipped out of town to Omaha.

* Land banks can issue debt and bond without a vote of the people.

* Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed a package of bills last year primarily because it included legislation to expand land bank authority statewide.

If you want to keep the government from further encroaching on your property rights and stop this government land grab, you should contact your state senator and tell him or her to vote no on LB424.

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Coby Mach is president of the Lincoln Independent Business Association.

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