Editor's Note: The Antelope County News has spent several weeks examining documents on the City of Neligh's budget and property tax asking. All numbers from the City of Neligh are from public documents.
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When property values go up, taxpayers generally expect the levy to go down. But is that what happened this year with the City of Neligh's budget?
A closer look into the budget shows that not only did the levy go down, but the overall property tax asking from Neligh residents and businesses actually decreased 6 percent from 2013-14 to 2014-15, according to public documents.
In comparing property tax asking for the last two years, public documents show the City requested $507,263 last year compared to $476,742 this year.
The current fiscal year will end Sept. 30. The 2015-16 budget will be adopted next month.
The City of Neligh’s expenditure budget has generally been around $5 million each year, but taxpayers aren’t responsible for all of it. Instead, they pay about 10 percent of the City's budget. The property tax asking, or levy as its generally called, covers both the general fund and bonds from property taxes. The City of Neligh’s overall levy decreased from .968235 to .893182 in 2014-15.
City of Neligh officials have been under attack for the last several months by those apposed to annexation, accusing the municipality of constantly raising property taxes. Public documents show they've actually decreased in the last several years.
In fact, Neligh’s property tax asking has decreased 11 percent since 2012.
Some of the confusion, according to City Clerk Dana Klabenes, may be due to funding from both FEMA and the anonymous donation to repair the Old Mill Bridge.
Due to the threat of losing FEMA funding when the bridge could not be repaired within the presented timeframe, the City of Neligh opted to use those funds for water line improvements. Those funds were receipted in 2013-14.
Realizing the importance of the bridge, the City Council budgeted to take out a bond anticipation note for bridge repair in the event a grant from the Nebraska Game and Parks did not come through. Neligh did not receive the grant; however, with the anonymous donation for the bridge, the City no longer needed to take out the bond. A bond is still shown in the budget, despite it never being taken out. That clarification will be made once the budget is officially closed.
Klabenes said confusion may also be from FEMA funding being receipted and spent in separate fiscal years, although it occurred just a couple of months apart. Those funds appear in the budget but are really just a shift of federal dollars. The FEMA funding was receipted in August of 2014 with the note being paid in October 2014.
In comparing adopted budgets, which is the only apples to apples comparison possible from 2013-14 and 2014-15, the City of Neligh shows it increased its expenditure budget by about $300,000, or about 6.5 percent. However, when taking out the $500,000 of FEMA funding that was paid back in October, the City's expenditure budget actually decreased by 3 percent.
The City of Neligh's tax levy is currently .893 which has a bond of .407 for streets and other projects. Neligh has several bonds in place with a majority of them maturing in the next six years, according to documents.
Several bonds are for fire equipment, as well as sewer, water and street improvements. The largest improvement project bonded was in 2010 when 11 blocks were paved. This was for 3rd, D, F and 6th Streets. Klabenes said 3rd Street was paved at 8 inches rather than the usual 6 inches due to the high volume of truck traffic going to both grain elevators.
Officials said Neligh currently anticipates no major projects in the next few years for street or sewer that will require a bond.
Major Projects Ahead For Others
In comparing tax levies with area communities, Neligh isn't the only community with a bond payment over its general fund. Plus, several surrounding communities are expected to add bonds soon.
Each community will set its 2015-16 levy and budget next month, meaning levy amounts compared below will change in the upcoming weeks.
Tilden's current levy is .819 with .397 toward bonds. Tilden is in the design stage of a nearly $3.6 million water lagoon project that utilizes both a loan and grant from the USDA to be used to construct a new four-celled lagoon with appurtenances and provide lift station upgrades, as well as water meter installation for all users.
Nearby Elgin currently has a levy of .47. A major upcoming project for Elgin is a new water well due to having a high level of arsenic in one of its wells, according to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality. According to DEQ, the City of Elgin was approved for funding in 2013 through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The total project amount was at that time expected to be about $1.5 million with 20 percent to be forgiven.
Clearwater expects to finalize its application for a loan and grant for new sewer lines in August or September, which will also include water meters. This project is estimated to cost $2.5 million, according to Clearwater officials, and will include a flow study and possibly a new sewer lagoon. Clearwater's current levy is .49.