Sen. Groene responds to NCORPE release
To achieve property tax relief and limit government, I continue to pursue wasteful spending; the prime example is the NCORPE project and its unnecessary ownership of 19,500 agricultural acres. A recent newspaper guest opinion submitted by an NCORPE official is a case study of a wasteful government entity out of control. I must ask what do the subjects of government paying property taxes, pasture land rental rates, and public hunting lands have to do with groundwater management?
To counter some of NCORPE’s points made in the newspaper piece:
--Property taxes: Unless used for private purposes, government entities should not be paying property taxes; no matter how you sum it up, government paying taxes is double taxation. If NCORPE land had remained in private hands, Lincoln County taxing entities would be receiving approximately $757,000 in property taxes in contrast to the NRDs agreeing, for now, to voluntarily pay 2019 property taxes of $145,800.
--Management and labor cost of NCORPE infrastructure of 30 wells and 22 miles of underground pipeline. Without the taxpayer burden to maintain the land, NCORPE’s $370,870 payroll cost could be eliminated, saving more of your tax dollars. NCORPE could easily contract out the maintenance services for a fraction of their labor cost; even now, when a well has a malfunction the NCORPE staff hires a well service company to do the repair work. The wells are presently operated remotely eliminating any need for manual startups by an employee.
--Mortgage: Remember when NCORPE claimed they could not sell the land due to the mortgage? We have completely dismissed that claim by simply reading the mortgage documents. Now they claim a bond insurance document limits the sale of the land. The reality is if you sell the land and pay down the bond or you keep the land as collateral, it has the same result on the bond insurer’s exposure. What secures the bonds is the $10/acre occupation tax--period.
--May sell the Land: Yes, may sell the land. Our LB606 gives the NRDs the ability to voluntarily sell the land by protecting the continuation of the augmentation project, it does not mandate it. We have worked with the Attorney General’s office, the Department of Natural Resources, the Governor’s office and well-respected private water-law attorneys to create legislation that satisfies our state constitution’s beneficial use requirement. LB606 will make augmentation the beneficial use for a public purpose, thus eliminating the common law’s tradition of use on the overlying land. By defining augmentation as a public use, similar to how our state statutes handle municipal and rural domestic water projects, the beneficial use now becomes water necessary to accomplish surface water augmentation.
--Lawsuits: The statewide NRD bureaucracy scares NRD board members with fears of lawsuits. The two NCORPE lawsuits so far that have been brought are against an NRD’s eminent domain powers and related to property tax collections. In the Dundy County property-tax case, the court referred to language from a 1985 Supreme Court case that actually strengthens our argument for enacting LB606. In that case, the Court affirmed that ownership of as little as a half-acre of land encompassing the well was sufficient to satisfy the beneficial use requirement for a public purpose. The lawsuit they have not yet seen and should fear is when the Court is asked to answer the question, “How does pumping groundwater down a creek satisfy the common law’s requirement that use of the groundwater must
directly benefit the public’s domestic or agricultural need on the overlying 19,500 acres?” LB 606 when enacted will eliminate that fear.
I have taken on powerful political entities many times and I have become accustomed to being politically threatened and shunned, but nothing comes close to what I have witnessed dealing with the NRD establishment. My personal livelihood has been threatened, brave public servants who have aided my efforts have been confronted by the establishment, a helpful professor versed in water-law was told in no uncertain terms to stop or face exclusion from the good-ole-boy club, and local farmers and ranchers who have stepped up on this issue have endured character attacks. There is presently an unhealthy political environment within our State’s Natural Resource community. It needs to be addressed.