CURTIS, Nebraska -- The Middle Republican Natural Resources District Board of Directors approved the 2011 Occupation Tax of $4.78 per acre of irrigated land by a vote of 10-1 at a monthly meeting at the Curtis Memorial Community Center, Tuesday evening.
The lone dissenting vote came from board member James Uerling, "Any acre under a shut down [through the Integrated Management Plan] shouldn't be charged a tax," Uerling said about the occupation tax.
He was referring to the IMP passed by the board earlier this year in which some acres in a water short year can be barred from irrigating their acres until the area is no longer in a water short year.
The occupation tax rate has to be submitted to the state treasurer by Friday. "If we didn't set the rate then we can't generate in any funds," said general manager Dan Smith. "This is separate from property taxes and is designed to tax the irrigated acres only, so [people] in town won't get it."
The tax is a way for the MRNRD to cover river flow enhancement projects such as ground and surface water leases and buyouts, augmentation, riparian and management of trees, or any other project that enhances stream flow. The funds from the occupation tax, which will total about 1.5 million dollars, cannot be used for bonds or general operating costs such as salaries.
A variance request from Dave Koetter was heard by the board. Request was for certification of acres on which acres were being taxed. "I am being taxed on 227 [acres], but only irrigate 180 [acres]," said Koetter. The land in question is located in Frontier County. According to the previous occupation taxes, only 180 acres of Koetter's land is being charged the occupation tax.
"There could be a lot of instances were acres were not certified but they could be irrigated, which means that more people would want to come in and add more acres to their operation. It is not in the district's best interests to add more acres," said board member Rick Spencer.
Board member Joseph Anderjaska said, "If we approve this then more [people] will come in looking for more acres."
"The map shows that there are areas [in request] that haven't been irrigated since 1992," said board member Rick McConville.
The board voted 9-2 to deny the request, with Uerling and board member Marty Schurr dissenting. Multiple board members brought up the question of rotating acres through allowing certification of the acres in question, but giving zero allocation to those acres. That suggestion was not brought to a vote.
The rule in question during the variance request was 4-6.5 from the rules and regulations of the MRNRD, "No later than Jan. 1, 2004, each owner or operator of a regulated irrigation well shall certify (1) the well registration number for that well, (2) the number and location of all acres irrigated at least once by that well between Jan. 1, 1993 and Dec. 31, 2002, (3) the maximum number of acres irrigated by that well in any one (1) year within that time period, and (4) the number and location of all acres irrigated by that well in 2003."
After the vote, Koetter said, "I don't feel I am wrong here with how a law that's only been around for 6 months to a year can trump 10-15 years of water irrigation."
In response to Koetter's comments, board member Kevin Fornoff said, "He didn't certify when we gave him the opportunity."
The board also recognized the Nov. 2 election results, and the four soon-to-be board members were present at the meeting. Smith thanked all the outgoing members for their support and work on the board, and congratulated the incoming members on their successful campaigns.
During the open forum, two people spoke, including Hitchcock County resident, William Barger: "I feel that McCook residents were misled during the election by Claude Cappel and what he wrote in the Gazette was ridiculous because most of the water areas he talked about had water tables going up not down. He tried to make everyone think that chicken-lickin; the sky is falling and that we need to reduce all those allocations, and I don't think that's the case at all. I think [the MRNRD board] has done an excellent job about keeping things pretty even."
Claude Cappel, who was in attendance, chuckled at the comments, but did not respond.
A question, posed by Barger, about how what changes could be made to the current IMP was answered by Smith, "The DNR isn't going to agree to any changes to the IMP unless they have an equivalent reduction in a dry year." The IMP is a joint plan from the MRNRD and the DNR and both parties have to agree to any changes.
In other action:
* The board voted, 10-1, in favor of giving Southwest Resource Conservation and Development $730.29, the revised amount they asked for to help in the project at Swanson Reservoir.
* The board voted to endorse the Tri Basin Coalition and to have Nate Jenkins hired to run the Republican River Coalition. Jenkins is also the assistant manager of the Upper Republican Natural Resource District.
"We were lacking public relations before and we need more of it," said Anderjaska about the position Jenkins will be taking over.
* The final item voted on during the meeting was for a new ATV to replace the current 2004 Suzuki. The board unanimously voted in favor of working with Deveny for a new Yamaha Grizzly.
"We should keep business inside our district," said Schurr about choosing Deveny over some of the other options.
The next board meeting is Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1:45 p.m., at Curtis Memorial Community Center. The meeting will follow a luncheon for the board members.