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Editorial: Land banks can help Nebraska communities. Gov. Ricketts should say yes
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Editorial: Land banks can help Nebraska communities. Gov. Ricketts should say yes

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Josh Moenning, the mayor of Norfolk, testified before the Nebraska Legislature last year about a major problem weighing on his city. Dozens of tax-delinquent properties, Moenning told lawmakers, threaten to reduce neighboring property values in Norfolk and create blighted conditions. The properties often sit for years due to significant tax liens that deter investors from buying the property. In many cases, the city ultimately must spend big amounts to demolish the structures.

Norfolk would benefit greatly, he said, if the city could return those structures to the marketplace, maintaining property values and avoiding blight.

Norfolk stands out for its dynamic economy and forward-looking civic culture, but the city lacks an important tool available in Omaha to address the problem: a tax-exempt political subdivision known as a land bank, which acquires vacant and tax-delinquent properties in order to get them back on the market.

The Omaha Municipal Land Bank came into existence in 2014 after city officials and business leaders here urged the Legislature to allow its creation, citing land banks’ success in other states. At the time, Omaha had more than 3,000 sites as “unfit and unsafe,” with more than 700 houses on the demolition list.

Current state law allows land banks in only Douglas and Sarpy Counties. Legislative Bill 424, introduced by State Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island, would enable other Nebraska municipalities to create a land bank if they so choose. The experience in Omaha demonstrates the positive results a land bank can provide, as testimony on LB 424 explained.

The benefits that Omaha has achieved have spurred leaders in other Nebraska cities, such as Norfolk and Grand Island, to request the ability to have the same land bank option. They are making a reasonable request, aiming to boost their economic development potential and quality of life.

It’s appropriate for the state to place sensible restrictions on land banks’ powers, and state law plus Omaha’s city ordinance do that. The Omaha land bank can’t levy taxes, for example. This session, state senators amended LB 424 to require some additional, appropriatate restrictions, such as forbidding a land bank from issuing bonds.

The Legislature has given LB 424 final approval. That’s a sound decision, given the clear need in Nebraska communities. Because the virus abruptly caused a long break late in the current legislative session, lawmakers won’t have a chance to vote on overriding a veto by Gov. Pete Ricketts should he take that action.

Economic development is one of Nebraska’s central priorities. So is local control. Ricketts can promote both those goals by giving his approval to the land bank legislation.

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