URNRD bumping tax request to build reserves for more acreage retirement

    In 2020, more than 9,000 idled irrigation acres in the Upper Republican Natural Resources District will come out of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program retirement program.
    Potentially, irrigation pumping could resume on those acres. That would force the district to find additional ways to offset any resumed pumping.
    The district wants to provide enough financial incentive to entice landowners to permanently retire those acres.
    Right now, the district has built up $7.8 million in reserves just for that purpose.
    In 2006, the Nebraska Legislature authorized NRDs in fully and over-appropriated river basins to collect an additional 3-cent tax levy for water management activities. The levy authority expires after the 2017-18 budget year.
    URNRD Manager Jasper Fanning said they have been using the levy to build up those reserves.
    NRDs have levy authority of up to 8.5 cents per $100 of valuation, including the 3-cent levy. Fanning noted the URNRD has typically not requested the full levy amount, especially as ag valuations began to rise.
    Over the last several years, the district has levied the 3 cents for water management activities while keeping the general fund tax request lower.
    However, with the levy authority sunsetting, Fanning recommended the board use most of their levy authority this year.
    As a result, the URNRD will increase their tax request by $915,218.42, which represents a nearly 40 percent increase for the upcoming tax year.
    Fanning told the board during their September meeting Monday night the goal is to leverage local reserves with grant funds from state and federal sources.
    He estimated it will cost about $15 million to retire those acres coming out of CREP.
    He said the district has already applied for state and federal grant monies to use in conjunction with their reserves to offset the anticipated cost.

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