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As lawmakers ponder options, farmers plead for property tax cuts

GAGE COUNTY, Nebraska (Cologne). Ken Prall’s house outside of Wymore has been on a construction site for more than a decade, with exposed insulation, steel scaffolding, plastic cladding drawn like curtains.

Pralle’s home is at the crossroads of his family’s past and future, but the future is hazy, he says. Its refurbishment, which began in 2009, came to a halt in the early 2010s after it faced what he calls a “tsunami” of property taxes.

“There is an element of hopelessness in this, because you do not have the ability to control your future,” he said.

Pralle owns about 600 acres of land, and he says the tax hike has left him struggling to make ends meet without being able to renovate his home.

Some of the legislative bills proposed this session, such as those introduced by State Senator Tom Breeze, aim to address this issue by increasing property tax credits through tax breaks. Breeze says it would play well with bills being championed by Gov. Jim Pillen, including a bill that would change the way land is valued in Nebraska. Breeze says the way things are right now is that the farmers feel they are in a quandary.

“Now we have another spike in agricultural land prices, and this will result in another significant increase in the property tax burden on farmers and ranchers in our state,” said Breeze, representing District 41.

But critics of Brizet’s proposals say the increase in post-tax tax breaks for farmers is unsustainable and could lead to cuts to other government programs.

“The most sustainable way to provide property tax relief in Nebraska is to fully fund K-12 education at the state level,” Rebecca Firestone, executive director of the OpenSky Policy Institute.

Governor Pillen has proposed increasing funding for education, but not to that extent.

Pralle hopes for a sweeping change in property taxes, but for now he’s biding his time and waiting to build again.

“It all depends on what these guys in Lincoln decide to do,” Prallet said. “I mean, that’s what it all comes down to.

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