The Hall County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday asked three state legislators to help hold property valuations at the same level while the state is coping with the fallout from the coronavirus.
The commissioners anticipate revenue shortfalls next budget year as a result of the pandemic.
Attending the meeting, via Zoom, were state Sen. Dan Quick (District 35), Sen. Steve Halloran (District 33) and Sen. Curt Friesen (District 34).
The commissioners wanted to know from the senators what can be done to assist businesses and taxpayers in Hall County.
“Hall County and Grand Island have basically been ground zero for COVID-19,” Commissioner Gary Quandt said. “Businesses are hurting. Many of them may not open again. People are hurting. Many of them are unemployed. Our farmers are hurting.”
Quandt added, “With the way people are hurting, it’s hard to turn around and raise their valuations when they’re not producing.”
Hall County’s levy has been kept the same or slightly lower for the last 10 to 12 years, board Chairwoman Pam Lancaster said.
Lancaster called raising valuations “a hard pill to swallow.”
“Did we enjoy the rise in valuation? Yes, we did. But we didn’t take advantage of anybody by raising the levy,” she said. “Now the issue is, if we were to lower the levy it would hurt us tremendously and have very little effect on the tax bill. That’s why the valuation is the issue. Everyone would have a portion of the responsibility to assist in getting us back to business, so to speak.”
There is no advantage to taxpayers in lowering levies, Lancaster argued, as it wouldn’t do much for taxpayers and it would be difficult for the county to get that revenue back.
Relief is needed, Quandt told the senators.
“We can’t continue to raise our valuations and raise taxes on the people in our community when things are going the other way,” he said.
As a solution, Halloran advocated for opening up the state’s businesses.
“COVID-19 is a serious virus, but it’s the way we have gone about managing it at the state level that has been incorrect,” he said. “We have laid a heavy hand upon business and we’re seeing the results of that and it’s a serious problem. The cure is worse than the disease.”
Friesen said he favors raising valuations over raising levies.
“In the past I’ve never been critical of what my county has charged me for property taxes. I’ve always thought the services I’ve received were commensurate with the taxes I paid,” he said. “With valuations going up, you don’t have to raise your levy, you can choose to cut spending, you can lower your levies.”
He added, “If there’s places we can cut spending, that’s what we need to do.”
Quick said the Legislature is waiting for July to address property taxes, when they will be able to see what revenues look like.
“We’re all feeling our way through this and looking at what we can do to address these issues and I don’t think we have all the answers yet,” he said.
The detrimental effect of closing businesses will only grow larger as those businesses remain closed, Lancaster said.
She asked the senators, who has the final authority to open businesses?
“Very clearly in the news, our mayor has stated that he and the governor together came up with this decision,” Lancaster said. “I didn’t know what latitude the governor is allowing people. What I know is that the county has not been involved in this. We have done what we felt is our job, which is to manage our buildings.”
She added, “We’ve listened to our governor as we closed things down. Now what do we do to get things back open as things begin to subside?”