MADISON COUNTY, Neb. -- For the first time ever, Madison County held a joint-public tax hearing, as required by a new state law.

The hearing is part of legislation introduced in 2021, forcing taxing entities to participate in a hearing to discuss why their requests have increased from last year should they meet certain criteria.

In attendance for the event were representatives for the Norfolk Public Schools District, Newman Grove Public Schools, Elkhorn Valley Schools, Battle Creek Public Schools, the City of Battle Creek, the City of Tilden, the City of Madison, and Madison County.

The night began with each of the taxing entities presenting their tax requests for the 2022-23 year and how their property tax levy would change compared to last year. After the presentations concluded, audience members would be given the opportunity to speak.

Each audience member was requested to provide contact information and was given two minutes to speak.

Should everyone who wished to speak get a chance to do so, audience members could then return and speak for another two minutes. While from different communities, many were there for a similar reason: questioning why their taxes might be going up.

Many in the audience talked about their struggles to keep homes and businesses afloat due in part to a combination of tax request increases, inflation, and the increase in assessed property value.

"School taxes, I'm all for it, I don't care," Caleb Henry from Norfolk said. "Property taxes raising is a bit ridiculous. I pay $1,200 a month for my mortgage. I pay $800 a month for my kid's daycare...and I pay for everything else. How am I supposed to afford my house payment when you guys add an extra $200 to it? I don't understand how I'm supposed to survive...I can't afford to live like this. This is beyond unfair. I don't remember voting on any of this...what happened to taxation with representation?" 

A frequent topic also brought up was the belief that taxing entities should do more to cut their budget. One such resident, Matt Johnson from Battle Creek, said the panel needs to stick within their means and stop making purchases that he called "a want".

"My main issue is with the (Battle Creek) school," Johnson explained. "We had a $7 million bond barely passed and now they want another $6 million for an 84 percent increase. What I see being done is not necessary. It's a want. You folks need to do what we do, you say let's stick within our means...let's have some respect for the taxpayers." 

Another concern raised from the audience was retired citizens and those living on fixed incomes. Many, like Johnathon Fox, said taxes are preventing residents from retiring and will eventually prevent them from living in the communities altogether.

"Some of these things need to be looked at and reconsidered and say this would be very nice for the school or county...but can we afford it?" Fox said. "It doesn't seem like there's much thought given into what the taxpayer has to live with. I don't see how retired people are going to continue to live in this community cause the taxes are just continually going up."

These taxing entities who were on the panel have not yet set their final tax requests, but will be doing so throughout this week.