Photo by George Lauby
Land adjoining the South Platte River will continue to have a tax value of more than $2,000 an acre, despite Michael Humphrey’s claim that his land is pasture for cattle, worth about $850 an acre.
Humphrey, who owns the Double Dog ranch between Sutherland and Paxton, brought a tax protest to the Lincoln County Commissioners Monday. He said the land is primarily agricultural and should be taxed at the lower rate.
If Humphrey could make his claim stick, he would save about $7,000 a year in property taxes, according to county records.
He paid about $660,000 for the 330 acres of land in question, or about $2,000 an acre. He bought some of it in 2011 and some in 2012.
Humphrey made the same claim a year ago, but the county board of tax equalization (county commissioners) denied it. Since then, he said he has changed things to utilize the property for agriculture – adding about three and a half miles of cross fences as well as corrals.
Humphrey said he pastured 44 cows and calves for about eight months on the land.
“I think we’ve proved we are an agricultural operation,” he said.
Humphrey also uses the land to hunt and as a getaway. When questioned by Commissioner Duane Deterding, he said he spends about 25 percent of his time at his home on the property.
Humphrey said he was fortunate enough to make a sizeable amount of money in Colorado and buy the land in Lincoln County.
The commissioners questioned him for nearly an hour and finally rejected his claim.
Chairman Joe Hewgley said the proceeds from agriculture won’t pay the costs of the land, so the primary use of the land is not agriculture.
Humphrey said agriculture doesn’t have to be the primary reason for buying the land, just the primary use of the land. He said there is a “fortunate use” provision that comes into play, and cited Title 350, Chapter 10 of the Nebraska Department of Revenue’s administrative code.
Hewgley and tax appraisers from the county assessor’s office said that agriculture must be the predominant use for the lower tax rate to apply. They weren’t convinced that it is, despite Humphrey’s new fences, corrals, etc.
The purchase price was a stickler for Commissioner Willis Roethemeyer, who said “it’s what you paid over market” that made it seem that Humphrey wants to use the land primarily for recreation.
The vote was 3-0 to deny Humphrey’s protest. He can appeal to the Nebraska Tax Equalization and Review Commission.
After the vote, Hewgley said to Humphrey, “I know that is not what you wanted to hear.”
“That’s okay,” Humphrey said. “On to the next step.”