Gage County Democrats want the state to pay the Beatrice Six jury award, and a group attending a Thursday night meeting in Beatrice heard calls for a show of numbers at the state capitol, to oppose high property taxes.
The public session drew about 40 people, with several airing their anger over high property tax bills and what might happen to taxes in Gage County.
Don Schuller farms near Barneston. He says the county Democratic Party recently wrote to Gov. Pete Ricketts, asking that he budget for payment of the jury award from the state’s cash reserve.
“The reasons the state should pay include: all six were charged and tried by the state of Nebraska in state court according to the procedures set in state law, they were sentenced to state prisons, and their appeals were opposed by the attorney general’s office. The state transferred funds to Richardson County when it was faced with bankruptcy when the cost of criminal cases exceeded their financial resources,” Schuller said.
Ricketts has said publicly he would not budget for the settlement.
Schuller said having a possible judgment and costs in the county’s future discourages new businesses and residents from moving here.
“The Beatrice School’s and Southeast Community College’s bonds both failed,” Schuller points out. “It would lower the value of residential, commercial, and agricultural property, which in turn could mean higher levies to fund the operation of schools, the county, and other units (of government). It would be a severe burden on many, especially farmers who are struggling for profit.”
While the meeting began with a discussion of the impact of the federal jury award, it morphed into anger about the burden of property taxes in the state.
Schuller says he like to see a local committee formed to push for legislation that would assist Gage County is avoiding a tough financial situation because of the $28.1 million verdict. Costs, with legal fees, are likely to rise well above $30 million.
Craig Bolz, who resides in Palmyra, said the governor and 49 senators are the key to resolving the issue of taxes.
“The first day of the legislative session, I want 3,000 taxpayers in the Capitol. I want 5,000. I want them from Scottsbluff, Ogallala. I want people to put some skin in this game,” Bolz said. “Go to the Capitol, very peacefully, very politely. We’re not there to raise hell or cause anybody trouble, but we have to go to our senators and say, ‘we demand that this problem get solved.’”
Bolz described the Governor’s push for property tax relief last year, “like spittin’ on a fire”.
He says a show of people is needed at the state capitol on the first day of the legislature, and every day after.
The new session begins, January 4th.
Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this report.