Bill making counties offer assessed value for property heard

Feb. 7, 2024, 6 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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Counties would have to offer to buy properties for their assessed value, under a proposal heard Wednesday by the Legislature’s Revenue Committee. And senators advanced a bill aimed at making dental services available for more Medicaid recipients.

Sen. Eliot Bostar introduced the proposal that would require counties to buy properties at the value they were assessed at for tax purposes. Bostar said he was motivated by significant increases in tax valuations in Lancaster County, including, in some cases, more than 100 percent a year for assisted living facilities.

“Some of this is blatantly absurd. But other cases I don't know. So let's introduce market forces into this government bureaucracy. If the county's assessments are correct, and they are at 100% of market value or lower, this is going to be fine. Then any property that gets sold to them, they can sell for that amount or more. They could make money off of it, if they're doing their jobs. If they're not doing their jobs, then people deserve relief,” Bostar said.

Monte Froehlich supported Bostar’s proposal. Froehlich said in one assisted living facility he and his wife own, property taxes increased from $88 per unit to $400.

“Such an unprecedented hike in property taxes would place a tremendous burden on any individual or business. But on our seniors -- the generation that has sacrificed so much – (it’s) unconscionable,” Froehlich said.

Asked about the increases, Lancaster County Assessor Dan Nolte said there are several steps property owners can take to protest their valuations. Nolte said some assisted living facilities, including Froelich’s, are taking those steps. “We’re not trying to jam it to anybody,” Nolte said, adding that the office would reevaluate the properties and make adjustments.

Johnson County Assessor Terry Keebler, representing the Nebraska Association of County Officials, opposed the bill. Keebler, a former Johnson County Commissioner, said people complain about their assessments, but often say they wouldn’t sell.

“We would a lot of times have them come in. ‘My value is too high.’ More often than not, it was ‘My taxes are too high.’ But if you ask him, ‘Would you sell it for that?’ We also got the reply most of the time. ‘No, it's worth more than that.’ It's a hard discussion,” Keebler said.

In action by the full Legislature Wednesday morning, senators advanced a series of bills, including a proposal by Sen. Lynne Walz to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for dentists by 25 percent. Walz said low reimbursement rates were having the effect of limiting the number of Medicaid patients whom dentists will accept. She said she introduced the bill after hearing from one constituent.

“She explained that two years ago her daughter needed a dental procedure done and was referred to a dentist in February. That dentist told her that they weren't accepting new Medicaid patients until August and that she needed to call back early on August 1, because acceptance is on a first-come, first-served basis, meaning her child had to walk around with painful overcrowding for months on end. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many of our neighbors,” Walz said.

Sen. Ben Hansen, a chiropractor and chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, said providers need to be fairly compensated, and of all the requests for increased provider rates, he thought this was the most important.

“If kids’ teeth are not well taken care of by pediatric dentists, it will have lifelong effects on their health in general. And so what we're starting to see in the state of Nebraska is almost a pediatric dentistry desert. Because I take Medicaid in my office, and if you do not get paid very well, over time you start to see less and less providers taking Medicaid patients, because they can't afford it,” Hansen said.

Sen. Rob Clements, chair of the Appropriations Committee, supported advancing the bill, but warned its $6 million annual cost will have to compete with other priorities down the line.

“I have also heard that it's hard to find a dentist that will treat a Medicaid patient, and that is true. There's priorities, though, of what's the most important. We could spray the weeds in the river, or do dental items, or we can pay the pharmacists who also are filling Medicaid prescriptions below their cost. And those are just three items today, and we'll have a lot of other ones,” Clements said.

Senators gave the bill first round approval, as they did for increased funding for weed clearance and pharmacy reimbursements.