Plaintiff is a development company that purchased farmed land in 2016. At the time of purchase, it was assessed as agricultural for property tax purposes, and received “greenbelt status.” In 2018, the company leased the land to a farmer who planted alfalfa in September of that year. In December 2017, the Douglas County Assessor gave notice to plaintiff that the land would no longer have greenbelt status for 2018 because the assessor’s office noticed surveyor stakes and grading of the property. Pursuant to Nebraska law, the plaintiff filed an application with the assessor to have the land put back under greenbelt status. The plaintiff explained that after grading took place in June, alfalfa would be grown on the property pursuant to the lease. The assessor’s office denied the application on July 15th, the statutory deadline for the decision, when it saw grading equipment on the property in late June. After following the correct process to appeal the assessor’s office’s determination, the plaintiff protested the determination to Nebraska’s Tax Equalization and Review Commission (TERC). After a hearing, TERC affirmed the assessor’s office’s denial of the greenbelt application because no agricultural activity was happening on January 1 or July 15th in 2018. The plaintiff appealed TERC’s determination.

The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the TERC determination because TERC wrongly considered the use of the property on July 15th. The statute that authorizes greenbelt status states that eligibility “shall be determined each year as of January 1.” Further, a review of the relevant statutes shows that greenbelt status requires the land to be “primarily used” for agriculture or horticulture purposes, and does not prevent greenbelt status on land that is being platted and subdivided into separate lots. The court then reviewed the evidence to determine the property’s use as of January 1, 2018. The evidence showed that the land was “the same as every other agricultural property in Nebraska after a fall harvest[.]” Therefore, TERC’s decision to affirm the denial of the plaintiff’s application for greenbelt status was arbitrary and unreasonable. The court reversed the decision of TERC and remanded with directions to sustain the protest.

Fountain II, LLC v. Douglas Cnty. Bd. of Equal., 315 Neb. 633 (Neb. Jan. 5, 2024).