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Sales tax bill to pay Beatrice 6 gets county’s support

January 3, 2019
The six people convicted and later cleared of killing Helen Wilson in 1985: (from top left) Joseph White, Tom Winslow, JoAnn Taylor, Deb Shelden, James Dean and Kathy Gonzalez.

Gage County officials are supporting a proposed bill that would allow a sales tax collected throughout the county to generate funds to pay toward the Beatrice 6 judgment.

The bill is being proposed by Myron Dorn who is leaving his position as the chairman of the County Board of Supervisors to start his first term as a senator representing District 30 in the state legislature.

Wednesday marked Dorn’s last meeting on the County Board, and a resolution to support his sales tax bill at the state level was unanimously approved by the board.

Dorn’s proposal would change the way counties can collect sales tax and better allow them to raise funds to pay for federal judgments. In Gage County’s case, the added funds would help pay off the $28.1 million Beatrice 6 judgment.

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.

“It basically takes the sales tax bill that is up there now for counties and includes some of these different exemptions that would qualify Gage County or any county paying a federal judgment to allow this type of sales tax,” Dorn said. “…The net result is it will take some of the pressure off of the property tax. The only way we can pay for this today is property tax. This hopefully will bring in about $1 million a year.”

Currently, Dorn said 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.

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.

Dorn asked the board to pass a resolution supporting the bill, saying it could improve the odds of the bill eventually being passed. Though he cautioned there could be amendments to the proposal as it progresses through the legislature.

“I don’t know how this bill will end up when it gets up there, if there will be changes to it or not or has a possibility of passing,” he said. “That is up to the senators up there. The way it is going to be proposed is only for the payment of a federal judgment. The sales tax will end when that judgment is all paid off for however long of period that takes.”

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.

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.

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