BEATRICE – Gage County Board members today approved the county’s new $36 million budget, with a 12-cent tax rate increase to pay the Beatrice Six case civil judgment.
The board came in for criticism during the public hearing on the budget. The tax rate hike brings the county to its state cap of 50-cents, and is expected to increase the overall tax bill for a Gage County resident by around six to eight percent. The total property tax bill includes tax requests from several other government entities.
Beatrice resident Bryan Koch feels the rate increase is “ludicrous”. He said residents shouldn’t be saddled with the taxes to pay a judgment in a case from decades ago.
:22 “my pocket”
Gage County remains in litigation on the federal jury decision and judgment of over $28 million, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will agree to hear the appeal.
Gage County’s portion of the overall tax bill is increasing from about $8.6 million the past year, to about $12.6 million the coming year. Officials say it will take several years to pay off the judgment in a lawsuit brought by six people who served prison time for the murder and rape of a Beatrice woman, in 1985.
County Board Chairman Myron Dorn, a candidate for state legislature this year said if the county is successful on its last appeal, it can credit back the additional tax money to residents.
Dorn said a bankruptcy attorney has said the county is not in a dire enough situation to qualify for bankruptcy…in a case described as “uncharted territory” for a Nebraska governmental entity. Using examples of a Beatrice property where the total tax rate is $1.93, Dorn compared that with a city of Lincoln property.
:21 “of mill levy”
Dorn pointedly responded to public claims about Gage County’s situation.
:17 “viable county”
Don Schuller, of Wymore, is running against Dorn in the 30th District State Legislative race. He has maintained the State of Nebraska should help pay the judgment against the county, should have budgeted for it, and that the county should have formally made that request.
:37 “some good”
Gage County Board members said they’ve had repeated discussions with the Governor’s office and state lawmakers about the prospect. At least two legislative bills were introduced this year on that issue. One would allow state payment, while the other would authorize a state loan to help pay the judgment. Neither advanced for final action.
County Attorney Roger Harris said a lot of discussion about options has been held behind closed doors as the case is pending on appeal.
:29 “bond issue”
The new Gage County budget and tax rate were approved unanimously, by the seven-member board.