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NRD tax refund ruling expected Jan. 21

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

CURTIS -- A ruling determining how an unconstitutional Natural Resources District tax will be refunded will be made in Red Willow County District Court on Jan. 21.

Middle Republican NRD members learned about the judgment, which covers a property tax collected in 2008, at their meeting Tuesday in Curtis.

The property tax, found unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court, is being held in escrow by the MRNRD until a legal means of providing a refund can be determined. Currently, there are no laws on the books describing this process.

During discussion on Ground Water Management, the board was informed of a letter from Department of Natural Resources Director Brian Dunnigan, dated Jan. 7, proposing an ambitious schedule for development of rules and regulations and Integrated Management Plan revisions related to Option 3, or the shutdown of groundwater irrigation in a selected area.

This schedule provided for a hearing in February. The board directed manager Dan Smith to respond to this letter and ask that this schedule be delayed at least 30 days.

"The board must have time to review the proposed changes, develop our rules and advertise a hearing," Smith explained. "We must be confident that all districts in the basin are considering revisions that are equivalent to their responsibility in water short years," he said.

Discussion was also held on the development of the district's proposed rolling average allocation method.

This proposal would help the district reduce its consumptive use, and if credit is given to past and future actions taken by the district, future action with regard to Option 3 may be eliminated.

In its December 2009 letter to the department, the district indicated that while it was considering Option 3 as proposed by the DNR, it was its intent to develop an alternate option that would keep the district in compliance with its Integrated Management Plan and help the state maintain compact compliance without ever needing to shut down ground water use in the rapid response area.

The district maintains that augmentation or surface water leases will continue to be a component that must be developed along with an allocation.

"The Department has indicated that they support the effort by the District and will continue to work with us to make the necessary technical evaluation of our proposal," Smith said.

Sen. Mark Christensen shared with the board proposed legislation that is intended to fix that part of LB701 that allows districts to collect an occupation tax.

The ability of districts to collect this tax for the purposes of funding projects that manage ground water use is currently being challenged in Lancaster District Court.

The District Court Judge acknowledged submitted briefs and exhibits on Dec. 14. Christensen's bill LB862, also sponsored by Sen. Carlson, changes the language to lift the bonding requirement for funding projects, certifying non-irrigated acres, and opens the closed class to districts that are in a river basin that require metering within that basin.

Two MRNRD watershed structures experienced damage as a result of heavy spring rains during 2007 and again in 2008. Structures 32A north of Culbertson and 80A in Maywood both experienced damage as a result of heavy spring rains and design flaws in the structures.

Funding for proposed repairs was recently approved by the NRCS for both structures. The contract has been awarded to BSC Construction of Curtis.

Assistant Manager Merrigan reported that technicians are about finished with flow meter readings across the district. Meanwhile, Owens, Office Supervisor, continues to prepare water use reports for producers in the district.

The Middle Republican Natural Resources District meets the second Tuesday of the month in Curtis at the Curtis Memorial Community Center. Meeting dates, times and agendas can be found on www.mrnrd.org.

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