The ongoing pandemic and the government responses to it are still causing very serious damage to the economy. There are more people unemployed in the United States right now than any time in our nation’s history. The unemployment insurance office at the Nebraska Department of Labor is swamped with more claims that it has ever had to process in the history of the program.

For folks who farm and ranch, there is a different set of problems. Processor slowdowns have led to full freezers and lots of animals that cannot be slaughtered. The market is uncertain, and that is putting it mildly. One thing that remains constant is that property taxes are too high.

Last year, we had a different kind of emergency: blizzards and flooding. A lot of folks had ground that flooded last spring and has yet to make it back into productive use. One source of relief that I want to make sure folks know about is part of Senator Linehan’s LB 512 that was signed into law by Governor Ricketts at the end of May 2019. That forty-page legislative bill included a lot of moving parts. One very important piece was in the six pages added via Senator Steve Erdman’s AM 1755.

Senator Erdman’s amendment was based on his LB 482. It says that property tax values must be reduced for ground that has been destroyed in a calamity, to reflect the impact of that destruction. Under the language in Senator Erdman’s amendment, damage to land or an improvement is considered “significant” if it exceeds 20 percent of the property’s current taxable value.

When a property owner experiences a significant loss from a disaster, the owner should file a Nebraska Department of Revenue Form 425 (Report of Destroyed Real Property) with their County Assessor and County Clerk. Once the county board of equalization receives a Form 425 report, the county is required to adjust the assessed property value to reflect the loss during that assessment year.

There is a lot of debate about how to provide property tax relief. There is also a lot of debate about how to pay for the services that are currently funded with those tax dollars. But one thing is crystal clear to me: a property owner whose ground cannot be productive because of some disaster should not be paying taxes as if that ground was generating income as usual. It just is not right. If a property owner suffers a loss like this, that loss has to filter through to tax valuations and it should lower his tax bill. Taxing people on ground that they cannot use due to a natural disaster is not the Nebraska way. I am grateful that Senator Erdman’s common-sense amendment gives our folks some relief, even if it is only one year at a time.

You can read more about how to file a Report of Destroyed Property on the Nebraska Department of Revenue’s website at http://revenue.nebraska.gov/PAD/real-property.

My staff and I are continuing to monitor our state’s response to the hardships created by the flooding crisis and the pandemic.

Please contact my office with any comments, questions, or concerns. Email me at tbrewer@leg.ne.gov, mail a letter to Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1101, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or call us at 402-471-2628.

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