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LANCASTER COUNTY TAXPAYERS SCREWED BY AGENA
Posted on Thursday, March 24 @ 02:45:49 CST by van

News and Views It has been said that "you can get more flies with honey than with vinegar." That works fine, if you are out to catch flies, but such is not the case in dealing with stubborn or just plain stupid political figures. It has also been said that the first step in training a stubborn jackass is to whop him up beside the head with a 2X4 to get his attention." Having attained "Grumpy Geezer" status, I must admit to using the application of a verbal 2X4 when dealing with pompous politicians who are either stubborn jackasses or dumb asses. Those who know me will attest to the fact that, for better or worse, that I "do my homework" and when I appear at a meeting of the Lincoln City Council or the Lancaster County Board, I am always well armed with facts and have something positive to offer my "government" which is worthy of their time and attention - whether or not I've been hired to appear.

Just a few days short of three years ago, I posted a story on vansopinion.com entitled "Has Bob Workman Gone Waco"? (Readers and media if they choose can pull up the article for background information) Commissioner Workman, while serving as chairman of the commission, in my less than humble opinion, had the unmitigated gall to give me a load of pontifical crap regarding my comments about the ongoing lackluster performance of Norman Agena, Lancaster County ASSessor. For many months I have refrained from pointing out again that when I took a poll years back, the majority of the respondents indicated a "trained" monkey could do a better job than Workman. That ladies and gentle was the Vox Populi speaking.

History has repeated itself. Last Tuesday, Larry Hudkins, the current chairman of the county board, a guy I have know and liked for many years, took inapproprate advantage of his position as chairman of the commission to unlawfully "shut me up" and cut me off from full participation in the public hearings being held by that body. While my regard for the friendship was strained to the maximum, I "kept my cool" and did not have a public confrontation, but rather a later private telephone conversation. I don't think Larry would ever screw-up on purpose, but he, like the rest of us, "puts his pants on one leg at a time", meaning he too can on occasion make a mistake.

For the record, Phil Seefeld, Larry's deceased brother-in-law and I logged many hours together flying aircraft and helicopters for our Uncle Sam in his Army. At the time, I didn't know Phil was the brother of Larry's wife Carol (Senator Carol Hudkins) for whom I have the utmost respect as a person and as a public servant. Through that connection and through a later fraternal connection, I got to know Larry as a friend rather than as just an acquaintance. Over the years, we have had many private discussions of matter of mutual interest. While we do not always agree on issues, we can disagree without being disagreeable. For the reasons given, I "cut him more slack" than other office holders. Also, for the record, Larry will be the first to tell you that everything I have ever told him, like it or not, was the cold unvarnished truth!

Prior to my attending the 22 March 2005, public hearing conducted by the Lancaster County Board, I had attended a meeting of the Lincoln Independent Business Association's (L.I.B.A.) "Government Committee" at which Norman Agena and a private assessor had been the guest speakers. It was there that I learned from his answers to questions asked by various of the 30 or so attendees, that Agena was in the process of putting in a new computer system and that under his current procedures neither he nor his staff checked every application for exemption to verify the validity of entries in every application for property tax exemption. Thus, the actual "non-profit" status of the applicant organizations was seldom if ever checked. A number of other questions were posed to Agena and his answers were to me alarming. Learning scores of properties to be considered for continued tax-exempt status was later in the day going to be acted upon by the County Board, I canceled a business appointment to go and participate in the hearings.

During the "Public Comment" period where each speaker is limited to 5 minutes to "agenda items", I informed the commissioners the Form 451, the property tax "Exemption Application" did not contain any requirement for the representative of the applicant entity to state the actual "non-profit status" pursuant to the I.R.C. (Internal Revenue Code) or Statutes of the State of Nebraska. Earlier at the L.I.B.A. meeting, Agena has told the audience there was on the forms, a "box to check if the organization was a 501(C.) 3" corporation. The commissioners were shown such a representation was not true. Three years ago, when I last checked, a clerk in Agena's office when asked how long the Form 451s were kept on file, said "three years." I also pointed out there was not requirement for the signature on the original Form 451 to be notarized.

Later, while the hearing was still in progress and before the board convened as the Lancaster County Board of Equalization (a separate function from the regular commissioners hearing), I obtained a blank Form 451A entitled "Statement of Reaffirmation of Tax Exemption"from the Assessor's Office. During the "Public Comment" period of that session, I showed and informed the commissioners the form and pointed out there no longer was a requirement for the signature on the form to be notarized, also, there was no statement making falsification of the form punishable "Under penalties of law."

Earlier in the day, Agena had stated to the L.I.B.A. audience he "trusted the applicants" rather than actually checking on the actual "non-profit status" of the applicants' organizations. He stated the only sanction he would apply if it was discovered an exempt property was actually not qualified for exemption would be for him simply "to put it back on the tax rolls."

I related to the commissioners the story of how millions of dollars of downtown property had enjoyed "tax exempt status" since 1957 and that the entity was not qualified for exemption under the I.R.C. or Statutes of the State of Nebraska, and stated there were many more such cases.

If the Assessor's Office does not keep a paper or an electronic copy of the original Form 451 for each exempt property or such a form by any other designation which justifies the original exemption for the entire life of the exemption, and if each year thereafter the only requirement is for the applicant to submit a Form 451A which simply states above the "authorized representative's" signature "the use of said property has not changed during the previous year," there is no way to check back to the original exemption!

An so it is that millions of dollars of taxable real property in Lancaster County, Nebraska is allowed by Agena to "slip through the cracks" and the honest taxpayers of Lancaster County, Nebraska and the City of Lincoln are getting screw through his negligence or incompetence. I'M NOT SURE THE COUNTY COMMISSIONERS UNDERST THE POTENTIAL MAGNITUDE OF THE PROBLEM. IF THEY DO, THEY DON'T SEEM TO GIVE A DAMN!

Had the chairman not squelched my objection to several of the applications for continued exemption, I would have pointed out items which should be carefully examined and likely denied. Among the false or outright fraudulent applications, the "authorized representative" of one property in particular which this year filed its form "out of time" should not be sanctioned for "late filing" but rather, he and the organization should be sanctioned for having filed fraudulent statements for four decades. Year after year Norman Agena has approved these fradulent forms, which I believe stems from his personal fear of the political consequence of acting honestly.

I have been told by Hudkins that while my "suggestions were good" and they "would be looked into", that my "lack of civility" and "personal attack on Agena" were inappropriate. Maybe so, but when, through his arrogance if not also his blatant incompetence he is continually SCREWING THE TAXPAYERS OF LANCASTER COUNTY out of untold thousands, perhaps millions of dollars of taxes, I suggest it is high time for the commissioners to all pay attention to public in-put and deal with Agena as he should have been dealt with years ago.

When any member of the county board stifles honest objections to the ongoing cavalier attitude of Norman Agena regarding continually exempting from taxation property owned by organizations which ONE OR MORE MEMBERS of the county board also personally know should not be exempt, I will not be silenced.

More people read vansopinion.com now than watch television Channel 5 where the council and commissioners meetings are aired, so I really don't need that medium to get the word out. A number of working reporters read this website with some degree of regularity and have my permission to use any or all of what they find useful to them.

Soon, notices of new postings will be forwarded electronically to every newspaper, radio and television station in Nebraska. There is another time worn statement which perhaps applies here relative to informing the public of the incompetence or abhorrent behavior of public officials - "There's more than one way to skin a cat." The Internet now reaches audiences around the world in seconds. The time to get information to hundreds of thousands of citizens requires little more than pressing a few buttons on a keyboard. Through this medium I and others will let the people know that when they are right, they "CAN BEAT CITY HALL."

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