The “inaugural” Joint Public Hearing as required by recently passed LB644 in the Nebraska State Legislature was held at the Bloomfield Community Schools foyer area, with near 200 in attendance for the presentation and public hearing on Monday, Sept. 26.
LB644 came into law in January of 2022, and with it brought a “pink postcard” alerting all parcel (land) owners if any of their governing subdivisions had crossed a threshold set by LB644 of 2% plus allowable growth in their budgets for the next fiscal year.
This year, a number of Knox County subdivisions crossed that threshold – Crofton Community Schools representing the local area, and Verdigre Public School, City of Creighton and Creighton Public School – all had to attend with a representative and read aloud their valuation increase, previous year’s levy, proposed increase in budget, proposed levy increase and previous levy compared to this year’s evaluation.
With LB644 being under the spotlight in recent months – the subdivisions carried out the letter of the law, reading mainly only the required notices, with no visuals, and only the forms similar to the postcard information for handouts, and then, with County Clerk JoAnn Fischer mediating the meeting, opened the floor for public comment.
The law stipulates that all those in attendance shall have the right to speak for a “reasonable amount of time” and that attempts will be made for a “reasonable amount” of people to be able to speak.
Everyone that wished to speak was required to sign in, as the Clerk is required by the law to prepare a report about the meeting.
Beyond that – the rules were relatively subjective.
Some counties allowed two minutes, Knox County allowed three, which was in the original, introduced bill but later changed to “reasonable time” – and Knox County moved the public comment period to the end of all the presentations at the suggestion of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, according to Fischer.
Added to the LB644 interpretation by NACO was a suggestion that was followed making the hearing “not a Q&A session” and informing those in attendance that their comments will not be answered if phrased as a question, and that there would be no “back and forth” at the meeting.
Though not everyone that requested time spoke at the meeting – there were seven speakers called from Verdigre, none for the City of Creighton, four for the Creighton School district and around 27 for the Crofton Community Schools’ tax request.
Following those that had signed up, the floor was opened for other comments and a few others speakers for each subdivision chimed in with their comments – the entire meeting recording can be found on the Crofton Journal Youtube Channel.
Most of the subdivisions represented were planning to have their tax request meetings Tuesday or Wednesday, also of this week, to allow time to have the budgets sent in to the State by the September 30 deadline.
The “pink postcard” bill as it has become known – was introduced by Senator Ben Hansen to the Nebraska Legislature, and in an email response to questions, Hansen indicated that there have already been numerous suggestions about how to improve the hearings, and that he is overall pleased with the participation he witnessed at the hearings he himself attended.
He indicated that in the coming months and legislative sessions that there would be a number of amendments introduced to make the bill more informative, more active and more effective for the taxpayers of Nebraska.