Starting next year, Gage County residents will no longer have to pay countywide sales tax
BEATRICE, Nebraska – With the impending payment of a massive federal civil rights lawsuit, Gage County homeowners will experience something rather unusual in the next year: tax reductions on two fronts.
Wednesday, the Gage County Board passed a resolution that would stop the collection of a half-cent countywide sales tax beginning January 1, and the newly proposed budget could reduce the county’s tax rate from 50 cents to around 45.1 cents. The 50 cent levy was mandated by state law in order for the county to impose the half-cent tax to satisfy the so-called Beatrice Six human rights decision.
Erich Tiemann, the chairman of the Gage County Board of Commissioners, discussed the resolution to eliminate the sales tax, which was approved by a vote of 7-0. “There was also a great deal of concern that if a sales tax was implemented, it would be permanent. The Gage County Board emphasized that this sales tax is transitory. The staff of Senator Dorn emphasized that this was a temporary sales tax for a specific reason, and nothing else.”
The first payment on the judgment, around $1.9 million, was made in January 2019, according to County Clerk Dawn Hill. This means that the enormous federal judgment will be repaid in slightly more than four years, or roughly half the period projected. Tiemann stated that the county was dedicated to restoring order.
“We made a stance as a board that we were going to continue the path, continue maintenance and operations, and we were going to aggressively pay this off. We had a goal of somewhere around seven or eight years we could have this paid off. We’re going to cut about 30 percent off of that, approximately.”
Due to sales tax, greater property tax revenue, insurance settlement funds, improved property valuation, and a $4 million state contribution, the final payment on a judgment projected to exceed $30 million will be made in May of next year. A payment in September will come from the county’s current budget, while the last payment in May will come from the budget for the following year. Tiemann stated that it was wonderful to inform the public that the judgment handed to six persons or their estates in a wrongful conviction action and verdict is nearing its conclusion.
“Hey, this is almost over, we’re there, the light is getting closer all of the time.”
Due to the fact that the county’s fiscal year begins in July and that tax collection is based on a calendar-year timetable, county officials say it required some ingenuity and consultation with Senator Myron Dorn’s office and the Nebraska Revenue Department to decide the final payment approach.
Emily Haxby, a member of the County Board who was elected partway through the settlement payments, commended previous county and state initiatives.
”Senator Dorn, as a freshman senator getting this sales tax law enacted, was a huge step, plus the $4 million in payments that he was able to come through with. There was a lot of cooperation with the senators that helped Gage County. John Hill (former county board member) and Erich both made many trips (to the legislature)…and especially Dawn, too…there’s a lot of paperwork to get budgets, to get that all together.”
Tiemann praised the people for its patience while the county of Gage dealt with a precedent-setting ruling. “I am aware that there were negative sentiments from various organizations, but the general public was overwhelmingly supportive. They would inquire as to what was occurring. I understand how difficult it is when we cannot discuss what we are doing. But due to litigation, lawsuits, and ongoing discussion with our attorneys and other parties, there were so many things we were unable to discuss with the public that we wanted to explain. We appreciate the public’s support and the board’s permission to continue forward with this.”
Gary Lytle, a member of the board, stated that strong legal counsel that led to the acquisition of insurance settlement funds through two specifically retained attorneys was also crucial to advancing the process.