Property taxes, land valuation, budgets and entrepreneurial challenges were all key concerns asked to Gov. Pete Ricketts on Friday morning during his first official visit to Neligh since being elected.
More than 70 people attended the town hall meeting at the Neligh Senior Center, many of whom were from outside Antelope County. All but just a couple of questions to the governor actually came from people in other counties who said they heard about the meeting and wanted an opportunity to address the governor.
Neligh was Ricketts' second of four town hall meetings on Friday. Others were in Pierce, O'Neill and Ainsworth.
Watch the entire town hall meeting here
"The idea is to talk a little bit about what we have been doing with the legislature, update on some of the improvements we have made with the agencies, and then open up to questions and answers and talk about what people are really interested in discussing, whether it is going to be property taxes which tends to be a popular topic, or, you know, health care or whatever issue people want to discuss," Ricketts said.
Ricketts hadn't been in Neligh on an official stop since being elected and said it was important to come back to Antelope County. He said new Nebraska Economic Development Director Courtney Dentlinger of Norfolk has been talking to him about the efforts in Neligh.
He said town hall meetings are great opportunities for him to interact with people across the state and hear their concerns.
"I think it is really important for me to get out across the state and talk to Nebraskans about what is important to them," Rickett said. "It is one of the ways I try to stay connected with folks so that I know what is going on and can help use that for when I putting together priorities for the next legislative session or anything else that we want to work on."
Ricketts began the meeting by reiterating four items from his State of the State address — property taxes and property tax relief (LB 958, 959), controlling expenses (cut budget growth from 6.5 percent to 3.6 percent), the transportation innovation act and preventing the medicaid expansion from passing.
The governor said he believes Nebraska is the best place in the world because of the people.
"You know, we have the best place in the world to live right here in Nebraska. And the reason we have the best place in the world is because of Nebraskans," Ricketts said. "Nebraskans are involved in their communities, in their churches, in their schools. And by being here today you all are really demonstrating that very best spirit of Nebraska by coming out and talking about these important issues."
Ricketts also spent time discussing the school aid formula and different changes that have occurred with quality control funding, which impacts the local school levy.
He said 60 to 75 percent of all property taxes go toward school districts, which makes expense control vital.
"One of the things we removed in LB 959 was the minimum levy adjustment. And this is something that your school districts are limited to a $1.05 levy, okay. Well, if they fell below $0.95 they became less eligible for that equalization money. And so we took away that provision, because we thought it was a disincentive for school districts to drop their levies," he said. "You know, as valuations go up one way you can balance that off is take your levies down and keep your revenue neutral, right? So, if school districts felt like they couldn’t take their levy down because they would lose school aid money, they didn’t do it. So we wanted to take away that barrier. And so that’s one of the things we did accomplish with LB 959. We also took down the amount of the levy override they could do for the qualified undertaking, it used to be 5.2 cents and we took that down to 3 cents. So again, some expense control there. So we did make progress on that part."
Block funding has been a popular topic in Neligh and Antelope County for revitalization projects and economic development.
"One of the ideas, for example, I have talked to Speaker Paul Ryan about is block grants. Block grants are very program. Greg you’re nodding your head," Ricketts said, referring to Greg Ptacek, Neligh Economic Development Director. "Block grants are a hugely successful program the federal government administers. That is a way we can make sure we can do something in a way we can manage the budget and be more affective because it is controlled locally."
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