Date of this Version
Many changes have been occurring in rural Nebraska in the area of local finances. Recent school finance legislation has changed the formula that distributes state aid to schools (LB 806) and also imposed new property tax levy limits on school districts (LB 1114). Discussions have also arisen about consolidating county offices and services. Given all these changes, how do rural Nebraskans feel about these issues? How do they feel the new school finance legislation has affected the quality of education in their local school district? Do they support the consolidation of certain county government offices and services with a neighboring county? How do they feel the consolidation of these offices and services will impact the quality of the services they provide?
This report details results of 3,036 responses to the 1999 Nebraska Rural Poll, the fourth annual effort to take the pulse of rural Nebraskans. Respondents were asked a series of questions about local finance issues including: their perceptions of the impacts of the new school finance legislation, whether or not they support the consolidation of various county offices and services, and how they feel consolidation would impact the offices’ ability to carry out their functions. Comparisons are made among different subgroups of the respondents, e.g., comparisons by community size, region, income, occupation, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged:
• Forty-three percent of rural Nebraskans believe the quality of education in their local school district has not changed as a result of the changes to the school aid formula. Thirty-four percent believe the quality of education has either greatly decreased or decreased somewhat as a result of these changes, and twenty-three percent believe the quality of education has increased.
• Over one-half of rural Nebraskans believe the property tax levy limits have not changed the quality of education in their local school district. Thirty-three percent believe these limits have caused the quality of education to decline, and nine percent believe they have caused the quality to increase.
• Respondents with higher educational levels were more likely than those with less education to believe the levy limits had caused the quality of education in their school district to decrease. Forty-six percent of the respondents with a graduate degree believed the levy limits had caused the quality of education to decline in their local school district, but less than one-third of those who had not attended college shared this opinion.
• Although the pattern was not entirely consistent, there was some tendency for the following groups to be the most concerned about the quality of education being affected by changes in the school aid formula as well as property tax levy limits: those who have children at home; those who are married; and those age 30 to 49.
• Most rural Nebraskans oppose the consolidation of county offices and services. Over onehalf of the respondents opposed the consolidation of six of the eight offices or services listed. The remaining two offices had over forty percent opposing their consolidation.
• Most rural Nebraskans believe the consolidation of various county offices with a neighboring county would negatively affect their ability to carry out their functions if they were located in the neighboring county. Over one-half of the respondents believed the consolidations would have a negative impact for seven of the eight offices or services listed.
• The two offices and services receiving the most support for consolidation are the county weed superintendent and county jail. Thirty-nine percent supported the consolidation of the county weed superintendent office and thirty-six percent supported the consolidation of the county jail. Support for consolidating the six remaining offices ranged from 21% to 30%.
• The offices or services receiving the most opposition toward consolidation are the county sheriff, county treasurer, and county clerk. The proportions opposing the consolidation of each of these offices were 67%, 63% and 61%, respectively. Additionally, at least two-thirds of the respondents believed these offices would lose some of their ability to carry out their functions if they were consolidated and located in a neighboring county.
• The groups most likely to oppose consolidation - regardless of the specific office or service under consideration - included the following: those living in communities with less than 500 people, women, those age 65 and older, persons with incomes less than $20,000, the widowed respondents, and those whose education had not gone beyond the high school level.