Sarpy County farmers gathered with Nebraska Farm Bureau and state dignitaries to celebrate the passage of LB 580—a fix to a property tax issue created when Gretna annexed roughly 3,000 acres of land.
“This bill is a prime example that affected a fairly small group of people but affected them to a really great extent,” said Nebraska Farm Bureau President Mark McHargue.
Sarpy County farmer and Farm Bureau member Tim Lorenz has farmed southeast of Gretna for more than 35 years. Wanting to ensure farming as an option for his children, he brought the issue to the attention of Nebraska Farm Bureau as part of the grassroots process.
“On June 28, my landlord, the Harder Family, called me from Lincoln and said, ‘Tim, we got a problem.’ And I said, ‘Well, I go to the Sarpy County Farm Bureau meetings every month, I’ll mentioned it at the July meeting,’ which we did,” Lorenz said. “I felt this was the long-term answer to work through Farm Bureau. We currently rent farm ground that was affected directly, but my home is about a mile away, which could easily be annexed in the near future by other cities. So, we have skin in the game now and even more so potentially in the future.”
In addition to land he owns, Lorenz rents Sarpy County farmland from James Harder, who saw his tax bill jump from $10,000 to $62,000 with the loss of greenbelt status—a special tax valuation for farmland.
“The assessed valuation was $482,092. But for the next year, the 2023 assessed valuation, which would be paid in 2024, was $2,590,616. So that’s a 532.37% increase in the valuation. We know taxes are important, but when it comes to being 2 1/2 times more than what we can get for rent, that puts us into a money-losing situation that you can’t tolerate,” Harder said.
Bellevue Sen. Rick Holdcroft, along with several other senators, introduced LB 580, which allows land that is continually farmed to retain its valuation as agricultural or horticultural land until such time as the land is commercially developed.
“I was not aware of the issue until Tim Lorenz brought it to my attention. But the issue was back in 2017, we had Gretna annex about 3,000 acres of land for future growth and 880 acres of it was farmland. And because of the way the statues were written, that land was no longer eligible for the special taxation for agricultural land. We put together a bill, with the help of Farm Bureau, and brought it forward. State senators thought the bill was the right thing to do, and so we were able to get it across the finish line. It really was a team effort,” said Holdcroft.
While this issue was brought forward from Sarpy County Farm Bureau, the effects of LB 580 will benefit all farmers and ranchers across the state who are near growing cities and towns. Nebraska Farm Bureau hosted an event at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch to celebrate this crucial win. Tim Vala was another farmer involved in crafting LB 580. He would have been deeply affected by the loss of the greenbelt status.
“Farm Bureau got things done in a hurry. Tim Vala, my son, and Jim Harder met in Lincoln the first week in January. As soon as we got in the parking lot, Tim said, ‘We can never get this done by ourselves.’ So, yeah, Farm Bureau opens doors, It’s amazing. We got it done in less than one year,” Lorenz said.
For Holdcroft, LB 580 was not a rural versus urban issue, but rather an opportunity to support farmers and ranchers now and in the future with the ability to stay on their land and do what they love.
“It makes me feel really good, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. You really feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives. You know, that’s kind of why I ran for office. It’s all about service, service to people. I hope to continue to be able to do that,” Holdcroft said.