Gage County residents will see a huge jump in their property tax bills as the county raises rates to pay the $28 million judgment awarded the Beatrice Six.
The courts have awarded the judgment to six Beatrice residents wrongly convicted and imprisoned for the 1985 rape and murder of Helen Wilson.
Beatrice resident Bryan Koch tells the Gage County Board the tax hike is ludicrous.
“I don’t know how Gage County can hold somebody liable, I was six-years-old in 1986, and I know the county was forced to be under a judgment, but I had absolutely nothing to do with this,” Koch tells the board members. “I’m not the county prosecutors in 1986. I wasn’t the sheriff. I wasn’t the investigator. And I’m not saying these people don’t deserve compensation, but not from my pocket.”
The tax hike will raise the Gage County tax rate to the maximum allowed by state law: 50 cents.
Even with the tax hike, it will take years to pay the judgment.
Gage County Board chair Myron Dorn says the county has no choice and he objects to how some residents have portrayed the action.
“We don’t want to do this. We would like to have some other option. We don’t,” Dorn says. “But, when people start saying they should move out of Gage County, that’s a fear factor, that’s not a factor that should be commented on, because Gage County still is a very, very good, viable county.”
County Attorney Roger Harris sees no other way to pay the judgment, pointing out that while property owners might be angry, state law leaves few options for the county to pay it. A bankruptcy lawyer told county officials the county is not in a dire enough situation to qualify for bankruptcy.
The county has appealed the judgment to the U.S. Supreme Court, an appeal considered a long-shot. Officials have also considered appealing to the Unicameral for state help to pay off the judgment or a loan from the state to pay the judgment.
Gage County officials approved the tax hike unanimously.
Doug Kennedy, KWBE, contributed to this article.