The Gage County Board of Supervisors is expected to formally support a sales tax bill at its next meeting that would generate funds to pay off the Beatrice judgment.
The board had a second discussion regarding the proposed bill at its Wednesday meeting, where it was stated the board will take action to formally support the proposal in two weeks.
The bill is being proposed by Myron Dorn, who is currently the County Board chairman. He was elected in November to represent District 30 in the state legislature next year and intends to introduce a sales tax bill to help Gage County pay off the $28.1 million Beatrice 6 judgment.
“I visited with state senators about it and I get a lot of positive feedback,” Dorn said. “I get some that would not be for it. This is countywide sales tax that could be collected in the whole county, which currently you can’t."
Under the proposal, counties could impose a sales tax only to pay off federal judgments. Currently, Nebraska counties aren’t allowed to collect sales tax in communities that are collecting their own sales tax. The bill would allow counties to impose a blanket sales tax over the entire county.
Dorn clarified that while current regulations also require a vote of the public to implement, the draft of his bill would allow a county sales tax to be added by a supermajorty vote of a County Board, requiring 2/3 of the members to vote in favor.
A summary of the bill calls for a ½ cent sales tax that would be removed once a judgment is paid off. Dorn estimated that in Gage County, that ½ cent sales tax would generate around $1 million annually.
A reoccurring theme during years of discussions related to the Beatrice 6 case has been a belief that the state should pay for at least a portion of the judgment. County Board member Matt Bauman said a sales tax measure is a “more global view” and that pursuing the sales tax option has better odds of becoming a reality.
“The state is not going to pay for this,” he said. “This is a local issue. We’ve strung that guitar how many times up there and they’ve been very willing to listen, as we’ve got the same response.”
Board member Erich Tiemann added that the legislation could also be used by other Nebraska counties that someday find themselves in similar legal woes, and stressed that since the bill stipulates sales tax collected can only be used toward federal judgments, it would not be permanent.
“It’s one more place to tax people which I don’t like, but like Matt said, this spreads it out,” Tiemann said. “Instead of all of it being on property owners, it affects everyone equally that way.”
Dorn on Wednesday asked for a board vote at a future meeting to formally support the bill, saying it would help the chances of it passing.
Dorn has stated that allowing sales tax funds to pay towards judgments would ease concerns in Gage County after the board voted to raise property taxes to the legal limit as a means of paying the Beatrice 6 judgment.
The board voted in September to raise property taxes, adding 11.7 cents of mill levy and bringing the county’s total levy to to the legal limit of 50 cents. That amounts to an average increase of up to 8 percent on a property owner’s total taxes, depending on where their property is. For taxpayers, that additional 11.7 cents amounts to around $120 annually on property valued at $100,000.
The increase is expected to generate $3.8 million annually that would likely be paid in installments over eight years.
Dorn said if approved by the state, Gage County would use the additional sales tax funds in a similar way, making payments to the Beatrice over time.
“My thought was as you collect it, if you collect $1 million you pay that as you go along. What it would do is shorten up the final payments of what we’re doing now,” he said. “Currently we’re paying at that roughly 12 cents of levy.”
The Beatrice 6, Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, James Dean, Kathleen Gonzalez, Debra Shelden and the estate of Joseph White, were convicted in the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson in her downtown Beatrice apartment, and ultimately spent a combined 75 years in prison until DNA evidence showed another man had committed the crime.
They sued Gage County for violating their civil rights in what they called a reckless investigation in federal court.
Officials are currently hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear the case and ultimately rule in Gage County’s favor, though the board has advised it’s a long shot. Additional lawsuits are also pending to determine if insurance should cover some of the $28 million judgment.
Area Middle School students participated in the Educational Service Unit winter science camp this week focused on STEM activities.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) serves as a way to get students interested in learning, according to Annette Weise with ESU5 professional development.
“We hope to get kids to think further about science and get excited," she said. "We want them to do activities, explore and think deeper.”
Beatrice, Southern, Freeman and Deshler schools participated in Tuesday’s camp. Tri County, Thayer Central, Meridean, Bruning-Davenport, Diller-Odell, Fairbury and St. Paul’s Parochial of Plymouth had a session later in the week.
Patrick Brommer, ESU5 Science teacher, supervised the break-out box activity.
“They are using some cypher codes and code breaking skills to get the locks open. They are going to get really frustrated with this and so they are building resilience, but they are going to have to use logic and problem solving to be successful,” said Brommer.
Nic Ziegler, ESU5 technology integration specialist, supervised an activity where students made paper airplanes, with an extra catch.
“Students needed to create an electrical circuit for a light that would stay on during flight," he said. "The design challenge is for the paper airplane that would fly the farthest,”
Weise discussed another challenge where the students made towers designed to be structurally sound.
“The tallest tower that would hold the weight of the tennis ball is also a design challenge," she said. It’s made of just straws. They have to do a little more problem solving... Every STEM activity involves trial and error. My favorite part of the day is having students here at the ESU. We are all educators, but not all of us get to work with youth in our daily jobs. It’s very exciting."
The event is the latest example of students implementing STEM studies through activities aimed to be fun and engage students.
Beatrice residents and shoppers at Indian Creek Mall have an opportunity this holiday season to give back to the men and women who serve in the United States Military.
Shoe Sensation, a store at the mall, is working on an initiative called Socks for Troops, which collects socks to send to current and former military members and their families. The project began this year on Nov. 1 and ends on Christmas Eve. This is the third year that Shoe Sensation has participated in the project.
Shoe Sensation manager Loren Gates said that the store gives the socks to a local charity, Recycling for Life, which distributes the socks. He said there has been a good response so far this year, and that the box is around half full. Gates said there was an uptick in donations after thanksgiving, and that giving has leveled off since.
“I think with the holiday season, people are more in the giving mood,” said Gates.
The Beatrice location is one of three Shoe Sensation stores in the state. Each store participates in the drive each year.
Gates said the collection is important to the store. Employees decorate the collection box every year, and this year they chose a patriotic theme. Every customer that makes a purchase at the store is asked if they would like to contribute.
“It’s to give back to the community and to give back to the soldiers, who give a lot of themselves. Some of them have given their lives,” he said.
Recycling for Life founder Valerie Greaux distributes the socks to veterans. She collects other clothing items throughout the year and takes them, along with the socks, to the Veterans Affairs office in Lincoln. Greaux said she is from a military family herself, so the project is near and dear to her heart.
“My main thing is helping hardworking people who can’t make ends meet,” she said.
Greaux said that the Shoe Sensation drive brought in 200-300 pairs of socks last year.
Greaux is a member of the local Lyons club, which she said supports her efforts. Earlier this year she was awarded the Melvin Jones award for her work on Recycling for Life.
Greaux said Recycling for Life works on other projects as well, including running two food pantries and creating Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for families in need. Recycling for Life is an ongoing project, and people can donate any time.
“It’s just a help up to let people know that there are people out there who care,” Greaux said.