By Steve Nelson, farmer from Axtell, Nebraska and Nebraska Farm Bureau president
Can you hear me now? You’ll recall that catchphrase from the popular Verizon ad campaign promoting the company’s prowess in ensuring cell phone customers could connect from virtually anywhere. If only the Southeast Community College’s (SCC) Board of Governors had such a reliable network.
Last November, taxpayers from across the 15-county SCC area sent a message to SCC. It was loud and clear. It came in the form of voters overwhelmingly defeating a $369 million SCC bond measure with nearly 70 percent of the vote. The voters message; show restraint, don’t push massive property tax increases that we can’t afford. Despite the clarity of the message, it apparently never got through, or worse, was ignored by the SCC Board of Governors.
Despite the call for being cautious in taking more taxpayers dollars, in late September the SCC Board acted to increase their tax levy. Instead of a slight increase, the Board opted to take the maximum allowable levy authorized by the state for building construction. The Board’s action will effectively raise property taxes on SCC taxpayers and, in the process, appears to show complete disregard for the message sent by voters.
Partners in the Vote NO 369 coalition, which formed in opposition to SCC’s bond, had warned voters leading up to election day that passing the bond measure was too risky, given that should the bond pass SCC would still have the ability to raise their property taxes even more, by using the building construction levy authority.
Less than 12 months from the vote of the people, that’s exactly what the SCC’s Board of Governors did, pushing forward with their plans, and in the process showing how determined SCC was to take more taxpayer money and how easy it is to ignore the wishes of those who have to fund SCC expansion.
As a partner in the Vote NO 369 coalition, we’ve received numerous calls from angry taxpayers outraged by the SCC’s Board action. They believed, like so many others, that SCC should have gotten the message last fall. Their concerns are well founded. If a 2-1 vote against boosting taxes won’t get their attention, what will?
The smart move, and what we are encouraging the SCC Board to do, is to reconsider their action. While the heart of the matter is about the money, in the vein that SCC is intentionally and actively taking more from those who’ve signaled they aren’t ready to give it, the reality is SCC is breaking public trust, a trust that when taxpayers speak, the public entities accountable to them will listen.
We understand the SCC Board has a responsibility to juggle the needs of students and taxpayers. But we also know that strong public and private relationships are important for building educational opportunities; that includes having a relationship with taxpayers. There’s no denying SCC and the other community colleges have an important role to play in helping grow Nebraska. To keep those relationships strong, SCC’s Board would be best suited over the long-run in taking a step back at this time and recognize the needs of taxpayers. After failing to respond to their initial message, taxpayers across the area are wanting SCC to demonstrate they heard the message so they can stop asking, “Can you hear me now?”