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Lancaster Event Center requests property tax increase to keep doors open

Published: Jul. 30, 2020 at 5:31 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - The Lancaster Event Center is facing an uncertain future after the coronavirus lead to the cancellation of 150 events over the last five months.

“When there are no events, there’s no funds,” Kendra Rannau, President of the Lancaster County Ag Society said.

Rannau and Bruce Gubser, a consultant for the center said with their situation right now, they can only afford to stay open until December, despite getting some COVID-19 relief funds and furloughing 92 full and part time employees.

Which is why they stood in front of the Lancaster County Board and asked the commissioners to consider a 3/4 cent property tax levy.

It would bring in $2.2 million and cost the average household $27-30.

"Most people spend that at McDonald's so it seems like we could keep the doors open," Rannau said.

It's not an idea the county board seemed on board with right away.

"The Lancaster Event Center is a luxury," Sean Flowerday, chair of the board said. "It's a luxury I love, a luxury I want for the community but there's a lot of things I can think to do with $2.2 million."

Flowerday said he doesn’t want to raise taxes at all, but if he did he would do so to build bridges, to help the health department or support non-profits.

Rannau said it’s important to remember the event center brings in money for the county economy.

In an average year, the event center brings in $40 million.

In 2020, with the National High School Rodeo Finals, the Family Motor Coach Association’s RV Club event and the hundreds of other events that were supposed to be held, they would have brought in $70 million.

They said this year with all the cancellations it looks like the center would bring in $20 million if able to reopen by this fall.

Rannau said many of the events canceled are back on the schedule for 2021, so they're hoping to make up for the $50 million loss.

But if it closed, the only event that would be held is the Lancaster County Fair.

"There's millions sitting out there and just to have it sit there seems silly to me," Rannau said.

County board members agreed that there's value in the center, but said it'd be really tough to raise taxes during such a tough time.

"How do we tell people I'm going to raise your taxes," Flowerday said. "Even if they're furloughed, we don't stop collecting property taxes, we can't. Or if they're renters how do we tell landlords when they don't make rent that guess what you have to pay us. This is really hard. In a good year absolutely, but this is not a good year."

Board member Christa Yoakum said many of the people who are without an income right now are the same people who likely can’t afford to attend an event at the center, so to ask them to pay for it to stay open would be insensitive.

The board didn't make a decision Thursday.

Instead, they're asking the community to reach out and give their input on the event center and the property tax increase.

Reach out to the board here: https://www.lancaster.ne.gov/661/Board-of-Commissioners

Copyright 2020 KOLN. All rights reserved.

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