Douglas County Treasurer slammed with property tax payments, lien bids

6 News report on 3,600 properties with outstanding bills prompted a large response from taxpayers, investors
A record number of people decided to pay their outstanding property tax bills last month in Douglas County.
Published: Mar. 9, 2023 at 7:11 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A record number of people decided to pay their outstanding property tax bills this past month in Douglas County.

The Douglas County Treasurer believes the big reason for it was a story seen only on 6 News.

Douglas County now has millions of dollars it didn’t have a month ago.

“We started with $8 million in the tax sale,” Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing said. “Between people coming in and paying, and the people buying those tax liens, we were able to reduce that to $36,000.”

From $8 million in outstanding property tax bills down to $36,000. That means government entities get the dollars they were expecting so they can provide services expected by the citizens.

But there’s another number that really stood out for the Douglas County Treasurer.

“The first thing I look at is 532 people came in and actually paid their taxes. So those taxes didn’t have to go to the tax sale,” he said.

What do they usually get?

“Maybe 200 or 300 — it about doubled,” Ewing said. “We believe we got more people to come in and pay their taxes because of the news coverage and proposed legislation.”

6 News has recently aired stories on Nebraskans who felt victimized by a specific part of the tax lien sale.

One such Nebraskan was Kevin Fair of Scottsbluff. The only reason he’s still in his house is because he sued.

Here’s how it works: Investors buy outstanding tax bills, earn 14% interest and continue to pay the taxes for three years if the homeowner doesn’t step in. And when it gets close to four years, the investor can sell the home and keep all the profits; the original homeowner gets nothing.

Fair owed $588 in back taxes, but investors could now sell it for $60,000 — and don’t have to share a dime.

Nebraska is one of 12 states that does it this way. The U.S. Supreme Court will look at a similar case next month.

Other states allow investors to get what they’ve paid, plus interest and fees, but allow the homeowner to get what’s left after the house is sold.

“I am never wanting to see someone in a position where they could potentially lose their home,” Ewing said.

In addition to the 500+ homeowners who paid their back taxes, investors purchased more than 3,000 tax liens, paying nearly $7 million to Douglas County.