The Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission approved a property tax increase Tuesday that a commission member called “minimal” and a taxpayer advocate called “avaricious.”
The proposal calls for the building commission’s levy to go up from 1.5 cents per $100 in valuation to 1.7 cents. That would result in a $2 annual increase on a $100,000 home.
Commission Administrator Paul Cohen said the money is needed for maintenance and repairs, such as tuck-pointing of the City-County Building and sidewalk panel replacement, and to help pay off bonds previously issued for courthouse renovations.
Cohen also said that not raising the levy could lead to a lower bond rating for the commission. That could lead to higher interest costs on future bond issues for such projects as a prospective new juvenile justice/county office building.
Cohen said he would have needed to ask for an increase regardless of bond rating concerns. He said further postponing maintenance and repairs would drive up their costs in the future.
Doug Kagan of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom urged the commission to reject the increase and instead include needed renovations and repairs in a future potential bond issue for the prospective new buildings. He said the increase appeared avaricious.
Commission members clashed over the proposal.
Aimee Melton, who also is on the Omaha City Council, said she could not accept a tax increase. She said the commission should find savings instead.
“Our first instinct of raising taxes is just the easy thing to do,” Melton said.
Clare Duda, who is on the Douglas County Board, disagreed . He said it would be irresponsible not to raise the tax rate. “The easy thing to do is to vote no, and let somebody else carry the water,” Duda said.
Mike Boyle, also a County Board member, called it a minimal, necessary hike. He noted that it was the commission’s first tax rate hike in five years.
The vote was 4-1. Boyle, Duda, City Council President Ben Gray and community representative John Christensen voted yes. Melton voted no.
The commission oversees the Douglas County Courthouse, City-County Building and a parking garage. The commission also receives revenue from rent from the City of Omaha and Douglas County.