The Gage County Board of Supervisors is supporting a bill that would allow the state to help pay for federal judgments, potentially easing property taxes.
Last year the County Board voted to raise property taxes to the legal limit to raise funds to pay the $28.1 million judgment in the Beatrice 6 case.
LB 474, introduced by District 30 Sen. Myron Dorn, would allow the state to contribute funds for certain judgments by implementing a procedure for counties to seek reimbursement from the State Claims Board, not currently available.
On Wednesday, the County Board unanimously voted to take a formal position in favor of the bill.
“It allows for funding from the state, or basically puts in place a claims process for judgments,” Explained County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann. “It has a lot of rules stipulated out, be it through qualifications or dollar amounts, but I talked to Senator Dorn the other day and he said it wouldn’t hurt to have support from the county on this saying how we feel on this.”
A similar bill was introduced last year by then senator Roy Baker, though the County Board didn’t take a stance on the bill. Tiemann said that decision was made because of pending litigation in the case at that time.
“In the past a similar bill went forward,” Tiemann said. “We did not comment on it or push for it either way because we were still in litigation. As far as this year, we haven’t done anything on it yet just because it’s not out of committee. Now that it’s going to be heard, it’s time.”
The bill is set to be discussed at the capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21.
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.
The board voted in September to raise property taxes, adding 11.7 cents of mill levy and bringing the county’s total levy 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.
In January, the County Board approved a similar letter of approval for another of Dorn’s bills that would allow a sales tax collected throughout the county to generate funds to pay toward the judgment.
Dorn’s proposal would change the way counties can collect sales tax and better allow them to raise funds to pay for federal judgments.
Currently, Nebraska counties aren’t allowed to collect sales tax in communities that are collecting their own sales tax, such as Beatrice. The bill would allow counties to impose a blanket sales tax over the entire county.