Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts made another trip up to Columbus Tuesday to speak about property tax reform, flood relief and veterans' affairs.
Ricketts was a guest of the Columbus Noon Rotary, in association with the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. Don Dreesen, president of the Rotary, said that the public event held at The American Legion was a way for people to get more informed about what was happening in state government.
“There are a lot of things going on in the state legislature and in Lincoln,” Dreesen said. “I think it informs the (residents) of Columbus of what’s going on in Lincoln. If they have questions, they certainly have an opportunity to ask the governor directly as to what his thoughts are. I think he has the opportunity to feel what people are thinking out here.”
Ricketts focused his speech on legislation like LB974, the property tax reform bill that is currently moving through the legislature. Discussions have been held throughout the state as to the impact of the bill on communities like Columbus, and Ricketts said that reducing property tax burdens on homeowners remains a major part of his agenda.
“Typically, the No. 1 issue when I travel across the state is property taxes,” Ricketts said. “That’s our big legislative priority for the year. LB974 would phase in another funding stream for K-12 schools; it would be a foundation or per-student aid that would ramp in over three years. While we’re doing that, we would take valuations down over three years in order to deliver that property tax relief.”
For a place like Columbus, Ricketts said he hopes that homeowners and taxpayers will be able to feel the benefits of the legislation after it is ratified.
“What it will do is provide property tax relief for homeowners,” Ricketts said of LB974. “If you look over the last few years that we have good data, property taxes have gone up 30 percent. This would help reduce that for your homeowners and stabilize those property taxes.”
With flood recovery still a topic of discussion in Columbus, Platte County and beyond, Ricketts addressed the ongoing efforts to continue to provide support for counties affected by the flooding. He noted that combined, 84 counties (including Platte, Colfax and Butler) had applied for $400 million in relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. With FEMA picking up 75 percent of the tab, Ricketts said that he is working towards finding a solution to pay for the state’s end of the bargain.
“FEMA will pick up 75 percent of that, but the state is responsible for 12-and-a-half percent and the counties (have) 12-and-a-half percent,” Ricketts said. “Part of my flood relief package not only accounts for the state’s ability to pay that 12-and-a-half percent, or about $50 million, but it also (has) another $9.2 million to help pick up the money that is going to be needed for counties that were severely impacted, Platte County being one of them.”
Many of the topics addressed in the speech were talked about during his State of the State address and he noted he was hopeful that people would understand what his priorities were for the coming year and where he was coming from on them.
“This just gives people a chance to hear what we have going on in Lincoln and ask questions about it,” Ricketts said.
Jeanne Schieffer, president of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, said that Ricketts has made more than his fair share of visits to Columbus during good times and bad. She was interested to hear what he had to say about legislative items pertinent to the Chamber, in addition to finding out what the plans were for 2020 in Nebraska.
“The governor has been very good to Columbus in terms of keeping tabs on what’s been happening here,” Schieffer said. “He’s been back for business celebrations, he’s also been here for challenges like the flood last year. We welcome him at any opportunity when he wants to come and share his thoughts on what’s been happening in the state.”
Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.
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