ALMA — A $17.1 million budget for fiscal year 2021 was approved for the Lower Republican Natural Resources District at Thursday’s board meeting, following a public hearing.
The approval includes a property tax asking of $1,349,340, which is the same as last year, and an occupation tax rate of $8 per irrigated acre for a third year.
The occupation tax is earmarked for projects that save water or augment river flows to meet LRNRD responsibilities for Republican River Compact compliance.
General Manager Todd Siel said that while the property tax dollars didn’t change, the levy will increase from 3.39 cents to 3.47 cents per $100 valuation because of a significant drop in property valuations.
The districtwide decline is $91.8 million, he said, and spread out across the district — all of Furnas, Harlan and Franklin counties, and parts of Webster and Nuckolls counties. It follows a drop of $89 million for FY2020.
“It’s been that way for several years,” Siel said, noting that LRNRD’s total valuation was $4.2 billion in August 2017 and now is $3.88 billion, a decline of more than $300 million in the last four years.
The $17.1 million budget for FY2021 compares to $14.3 million in FY2020.
LRNRD Assistant General Manager Scott Dicke said after the August board meeting that approximately $2 million of the increase are grants being sought to cover studies of potential flood mitigation projects in three watersheds: Thompson Creek in eastern at Riverton, Flag Creek at Orleans and Turkey Creek at Edison.
Siel said this morning they still hope to hear this month if the grants sought from the Watershed Flood Prevention Operations program managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are approved.
Also in the FY2021 budget are $2 million — about the amount raised by the $8 per-acre occupation tax annually — to pay down bond debt for the Nebraska Cooperative Republican-Platte Enhancement project.
NCORPE, owned and operated by the Upper, Middle and Lower Republican and Twin Platte NRDs, has repurposed groundwater use on a Lincoln County property from crop irrigation to streamflow enhancements in both basins.
Water flowing from NCORPE to the Republican River via Medicine Creek has allowed the three Republican Basin NRDs to maintain compact compliance.
Siel said the LRNRD board voted Thursday to refinance 2015-17 bonds for the district’s share of NCORPE costs to take advantage of lower interest rates now.
The combination of front-end money to pay down the debt and lower interest rates will cut bond maturity by three years — from 2038 to 2035 — and save the district $3.3 million, he said.
In their managers’ report for the board meeting, Siel and Dicke said the Nebraska Bostwick Irrigation District was shutting down on Thursday and the Kansas Bostwick district will do the same next week as irrigation season ends. Water for both is stored at Harlan County Lake.
They noted that the 281,390 acre-feet of water in the lake on Tuesday compared to 455,450 a year ago, when the lake reached record highs in late summer.
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