The Lancaster County Farm Bureau is composed of more than 8,000 members and represents the often overlooked needs of rural Lancaster County. The Farm Bureau has been closely monitoring the current Lancaster County wheel tax proposal, which engages Waverly and Hickman as partners.
The Farm Bureau opposes the wheel tax proposal, as currently drafted, for a number of reasons -- but the basic one is fairness.
Lancaster County farmers who are included in our membership are acutely aware of the great need for infrastructure repair and maintenance of bridges and roads that make up their farm-to-market roads. However, to impose an additional and patently unfair tax burden on these farmers when the property tax burden on their farm ground is already in a crisis situation would be devastating. We must also compete with farmers from surrounding counties who won't have to pay this wheel tax.
Simply, the last two things our farmers need are new taxes and more government.
Information compiled by the Nebraska Farm Bureau shows that, between 2008 and 2018, property taxes levied on farm ground in Lancaster County rose 209%, while residential property taxes rose 33% and commercial real estate increased by 41%. Adding the proposed wheel tax to this already inequitable property tax burden without any meaningful property tax reform would be devastating to the already meager income received by farmers at this time.
As an example, one county Farm Bureau leader has in his family farming operation five cars, two pickups, five trucks, one semi and nine trailers. This wheel tax would cost him $3,478 annually. In essence, it's another property tax.
Lancaster County farmers already pay substantial sales taxes on their purchases in the city of Lincoln. One obvious solution that would raise more revenue than the wheel tax would be a Lancaster County sales tax, but that would require a vote of the people, whom the Lancaster County commissioners seem reluctant to trust.
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In addition to the tax burden, do Lancaster County residents really need another level of government? Only six joint public agencies have been formed in Nebraska since the act legalizing JPAs was adopted in 1999. Fully half are in Lancaster County.
From the government's standpoint, a JPA is a dream, combining all the authority of each governmental body with none of the oversight. From a taxpayer standpoint, it's a nightmare.
Maybe the Legislature knew what it was doing when it did not provide the statutory authority to authorize a county wheel tax. Instead, the Lancaster County Board has found two municipalities -- Waverly and Hickman -- that seem to have the backing of their respective mayors and city administrators. These towns would benefit greatly from the increased wheel tax dollars, with several projects directed toward their communities.
The Farm Bureau hopes that the overwhelming opposition at public forums in Waverly and Hickman last month will cause those two city councils to respect the rights of the residents of rural Lancaster County and resoundingly vote down the JPA and wheel tax.
One county commissioner has publicly stated that, if that happens, Lancaster County will just turn to the City of Lincoln. Perhaps the will of the people will prevail, and the wheel tax plan will be consigned to the dust bin, where it belongs.
In putting together this plan for a JPA, Lancaster County is adopting a tax not statutorily authorized and doing so without a vote of the people. The county wheel tax plan is bad policy and places an unfair burden on farmers in Lancaster County during a time when they can least afford it.