By Russ Pankonin
The Imperial Republican
While the occupation tax in LB 701 recently passed its first test at the district court level, it still faces a likely Nebraska Supreme Court test.
Should the occupation tax be struck down by the high court, that would leave natural resources districts (NRDs) in the Republican River Basin without any funding options to stay in compact compliance with Kansas.
With that in mind, board members of the Upper Republican NRD continue moving forward with an alternative funding method known as an Improvement Project Area (IPA).
Manager Jasper Fanning told the board during their April meeting the way funds are raised through an IPA resembles an occupation tax.
This week, Fanning said the occupation tax on irrigated acres remains the favored option. But having the IPA funding provides yet another option, especially if the occupation tax is ruled unconstitutional.
Under the state statutes governing an IPA, the NRD must first vote to create an IPA and define a declared benefit area.
Since all irrigators in the district would benefit from the plan, Fanning said it’s possible all the district’s irrigated land
could be the declared benefit area.
Property owners in the declared benefit area would then have the opportunity to vote on whether they wanted the IPA or not.
If a majority of property owners in the benefit area voted for the IPA, then all property owners in the benefit area would be assessed a fee. The special assessment will be due within 50 days of assessment.
With an IPA in place, the board could sell bonds to fund compliance projects, with the IPA assessment pledged to repay the bonds.
In addition to augmentation projects, the board could also create their own retirement plan or possible compensation plan if regulations were imposed in rapid response areas in water-short years.
IMP in the final stages
Work on an integrated management plan (IMP) outlining water-short year regulations appears to be nearly complete.
Board chair Greg Pelster of Elsie said there may still be some minor changes but, for the most part, it’s complete.
He said he wants it to be in a constant state before sending the proposal to a public hearing. That action could happen at the May meeting with a hearing set for sometime in June.
The IMP includes regulations that would shut down irrigated acres in rapid response areas in water-short years to keep the district and Nebraska in compliance with Kansas.
Presently, the IMP offers no compensation to irrigators in the affected areas, which are near rivers, streams and tributaries in the district.
The IPA is being considered as a way to possibly compensate irrigators affected.
Basin task force created
Nebraska legislators passed LB 1057 in late March which will create a 22-member water task force in the Republican Basin.
Purposes of the task force include ensuring sustainable water use within the basin, maintaining compliance with the interstate compacts to which the basin is subject, and avoiding water-short years.
Each NRD in the basin is allowed two members on the task force, which has no binding authority.
Fanning and board member Tom Terryberry of Imperial were selected by the URNRD board as its representatives. Assistant manager Dirk Dinnel will also attend the task force meetings.
Fanning noted task forces are not created to affirm what’s being done, but rather to bring about some type of change.
“People promoting the task force want to divide how water policy should be set,” he noted.