- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 15, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska property owners will soon get a statement in the mail telling them how much money the state has spent to reduce their property tax burden.

Gov. Pete Ricketts and Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley announced Tuesday that the state will send about 700,000 tax relief notices this week to property owners.

The postcards will highlight the property tax measures approved by Ricketts and the Legislature earlier this year. The package included $408 million over two years for Nebraska’s property tax credit fund, which uses state money to offset what owners pay in local property taxes.

“We want to make sure people understand what we’re doing to give them tax relief,” Ricketts said during a news conference at the Capitol.

Some lawmakers have complained that the public doesn’t realize how much property tax relief they have approved over the last few years. Under the most recent state budget, the total credit was increased by 45 percent - providing the owner of a $150,000 home with a $141 tax credit.

Sending the postcards will cost the state an estimated $274,000, said Ruth Sorensen, the Department of Revenue’s tax administrator. Sorensen said owners of multiple parcels will receive one postcard outlining the state’s contribution on each. Property owners would only receive the notice if their credit totals $50 or more.

Ricketts, who often talks about the need to restrain state spending, said the expense was worth it because it helped state officials communicate what they had done so far.

Nebraska counties typically disclose the property tax credit on the bills that are sent to property owners, but the format varies by county. Sorensen said some counties don’t clearly say who provided the tax credit, what its purpose is or how it affects a tax bill. For homeowners, the money is often credited to their mortgage and they were never shown the benefit.

The tax credit was created in 2007 under then-Gov. Dave Heineman.

Lawmakers have toyed over the years with the idea of making the tax credit more obvious to residents. Last month, members of a legislative super-committee floated the idea of sending each property owner a check with their total credit. The idea faced skepticism, however, because it raised questions about whether the checks would count as taxable income.

Hadley, of Kearney, said he expects lawmakers will continue looking for ways to lower property taxes.

“This problem didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “The solution isn’t going to happen overnight.”

A spokesman for a leading agricultural group said it appreciated what Ricketts and the Legislature have done so far. Farmers and ranchers have seen some of the biggest increases in property taxes because of soaring land values.

“It’s important Nebraskans understand that commitment, and the postcard only helps illustrate the manner in which tax relief is being provided,” said Bruce RIeker, a lobbyist for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.

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