More levy override elections expected as schools reach property tax lid

NEBRASKA CITY - Over 30 Nebraska school districts are at or over the $1.05 property tax lid on their general fund and John Spats of the Nebraska Association of School Boards says it is likely that levy override elections will become more common.

Nebraska City is at the lid and area schools Plattsmouth, Auburn and Weeping Water are less than a half cent away.

There are some districts, such as Palmyra and  Johnson-Brock that have room to grow under the lid, but Spats said many school districts are struggling with reliance on property tax.

Spatz: “We have a state funding formula, but Nebraska ranks 49th in the nation in state support for public education. As a result of that you’re seeing more and more pressure put on the local property tax payers.”

He said one might expect higher reliance on property taxes for school funding in states like New Hampshire, Texas and South Dakota because they do not have an income tax. In Nebraska, he said, there are other revenue sources, but the state formula is not able to get those resources to school districts that need them.

Spatz:  “A lot of times we struggle because the state aid formula is not as predictable as we would like and that does create a burden on school boards, but the good thing in Nebraska is that school boards have done a great job prioritizing how money is spent.

“If you run a business or you have a farm you realize there is a difference between investments and expenses. Schools in Nebraska rank second highest in the nation in the percentage of school funding that is being invested in the classroom as opposed to overhead or things where you won’t see the same rate of return.”

He said in many cases school board members in districts the size of Nebraska City are leading the charge for property tax relief.

Spatz: “For years we’ve been talking about property taxes in the state of Nebraska and it is an issue. Really, a part of our membership … 75 percent of school board members in the state of Nebraska has some tie or some connection to the ag industry, so school board members really do feel the pinch when it comes to property taxes.”

A state Department of Revenue reports indicates that Papillion and Westside Community Schools are currently over the lid on general funds. Nebraska City voters will decide May 11 on a levy override of nine cents.

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