Local taxes not really the highest
What a difference a decimal point makes! Just ask McCook, where citizens were embarrassed and angered to hear Sunday and Monday that the city's tax levy is the highest in the state.
Turns out, the report was wrong. Very wrong.
"This is not right," Red Willow County Treasurer Marleen Garcia said Monday after hearing on the radio and reading in the Gazette that McCook's property tax was $2.43 per $100 of property valuation. If true, that would have made McCook's levy the highest among all cities in the state with between 5,000 and 100,000 population. But, Garcia said, "The $2.43 levy total is a mistake. McCook's actual total tax levy for 2003 is $2.14."
Immediately, a statewide scramble began to find out how such a major mistake was made. It was Bruce Crosby, the Gazette's editor, who first discovered how the error happened. In comparing the Red Willow County tax statement for McCook with the statewide levy report prepared by the city of Norfolk, the editor found that McCook's levy for the Natural Resources District was listed as .31555, when it should have been .031555. In other words, a decimal point had been misplaced, pushing McCook to the top of the tax charts, when, in reality, it should have been in the middle of the pack.
Instead of the wrongly reported levy of 2.431667, McCook's property tax levy is really 2.147672. That makes McCook's levy lower than Holdrege, at 2.15; South Sioux City, at 2.17; North Platte, at 2.18; Grand Island, at 2.25; Papillion, at 2.26; Plattsmouth, at 2.27; Chadron, at 2.28; LaVista, at 2.28; Ralston, at 2.39; Hastings, at 2.39; and Wayne, at 2.40.
And it should get even better next year. After the air base debt is paid off, McCook's levy will drop by 17 cents per $100. When that happens, McCook's total tax levy should be under $2 per $100 of property valuation, placing it among the lowest dozen levies in the state.
After spotting the error, the Gazette's editor alerted those involved in preparing the tax levy report and distributing the news story statewide. This includes the city of McCook staff, which sent in the local figures; the North Platte Telegraph, which originated the news article; and the Associated Press, which distributed the story statewide.
It will be interesting to see if corrections are made in as prominent a way as the original story was displayed. Probably not. But, at least, we now know the truth. McCook's levy -- even with 17 cents added for the air base judgment -- is not the highest in the state among cities in the 5,000 to 100,000 population range.
In fact, a number of cities have higher levies, including McCook's neighbors, North Platte and Holdrege, and two of the cities in the Tri-City Area: Grand Island and Hastings.
All this doesn't make our tax bills any easier to swallow, but at least we have the comfort of knowing some places are worse off than we are.