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Lancaster county taxpayers make up tens of thousands in fees that don’t cover costs

Published: Jul. 7, 2020 at 6:12 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Lancaster County is looking at an estimated $11 million shortfall heading into its 2021 budget.

One of the reasons they said the county struggles to fill that gap is the fees they charge for services aren't high enough.

The biggest examples are handgun purchase permits and marriage licenses; both of those fees are set by state statute.

"Once a fee is set in statute you have to go back to the legislature to change it and that's very difficult to do," Sheriff Terry Wagner said.

This puts the county and counties across the state in a tough place.

A handgun purchase permit has cost $5 since 1991 but cost the county up to $15 to process.

It adds up to an annual loss of between $29,000 and $39,000 a year.

"That means these handgun purchase permits are tax payer subsidized," Wagner said.

It's a similar story at the county clerk's office.

A marriage license costs $25 and $9 for a certified copy.

It costs the county clerk's office around $55 to process.

"It comes down to what do you want property taxes to cover," Dan Nolte, county clerk, said. "Should it cover things like marriage licenses or not and that's something the state legislature needs to address."

Senator Tom Brewer said the legislature is notorious for having unfunded mandates.

While Brewer said he personally doesn't believe the handgun purchase permits serve any purpose at all because gun stores have to do the same background checks, he said it's tough to get senators to get on board with raising fees.

“Maybe it’s only $5, $10, $15 here, or $40 there but in addition to income tax, property tax folks just feel overburdened and some of the smaller things end up being the torch that’s carried,” Brewer said.

Sheriff Wagner said this is an issue he’s going to continue to bring to the legislature.

Copyright 2020 KOLN. All rights reserved.

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