Published On: Thu, Dec 27th, 2007

Freeholding case could drag into 2009

WYNOT—  A legal quagmire concering property taxes and school alegeance continues to drag on.
The Freeholding issue, which has allowed the tax base of the Wynot School District to erode, could still have a different outcome — it has now moved into a higher court in Nebraska.
The issue appeared it might spell the end of the Wynot School District before the district joined into an interlocal agreement this year with the Newcastle, Coleridge and Laurel-Concord school districts to share staff and services.
Attorney Dave Domina represents several people from the Wynot School District who appealed the results of action taken at three separate Freeholding Board meetings and two District Court hearings.

“The case is docketed with the Nebraska Court of Appeals at this moment,” said Domina. “My clients’ opening brief is due Dec. 26.
The briefs of the Freeholders and the County Attorney are due Jan. 25. Domina then has 15 days to file a reply brief.
After the briefs are all submitted, the case goes on a list for scheduling on the Appellate Courts Call for Oral Argument.
Since this is a civil case, criminal appeals, juvenile cases, worker’s compensation cases and divorces involving child custody have priority over it.
Domina suspects it will be quite some time before the issue is resolved. He said if the case moves to the Court of Appeals or Supreme Court, it won’t be heard until very late in 2008 or early 2009.
Domina said he is happy to present his brief to the Appellate Court as there are several elements that favor the side of his clients and the Wynot School District.
According to Domina, his brief will present logical, thoughtful and thorough arguments for reversing the District Court’s decisions.
Both Domina and District Court Judge William Binkard have made it clear the issues in the case are very intricate.
“The issues are complex,” said Domina. “They involve both substantive law and important issues of legal procedure. Our position is founded on sound legal analysis and research. Sometimes both sides have sound positions and the law turns on a policy question. This case has public policy elements about it – we think those elements favor our position.”
A combination of the Wynot school enrollment and a vote to override the maximum amount allowed for the school levy triggered a state statute that allowed landowners in the Wynot District to file Freeholding petitions.
An avalanche of Freeholding petitions were filed in 2006 asking to have land transferred out of the Wynot District into the adjoining Hartington School District, which had a lower tax rate or levy.
The Freeholding saga has included several starts and stops, a do-over by the Freeholding Board, which includes the County Assessor, Clerk and Treasurer, and the filing of appeals in District Court.
In the District Court order, which was handed down in July 2007, Judge Binkard ruled the majority of the land should have been transferred into the Hartington School District.
The 17-page order, which included an attachment consisting of 19 pages, also allowed tax money held in an escrow account to be dispersed.
A little over $81,000 went to the Hartington District while $15,106 was given back to Wynot School District, according to Cedar County Treasurer Carol Wortmann.
Earlier, close to $26 million in valuation had been moved from the Wynot School District into the Hartington District, according to the decision made by the Freeholding Board.
Binkard ordered a portion of that amount to be transferred back into the Wynot District due to the land not being contiguous to the boundary of the Hartington District, along with a few untimely filings, said Cedar County Assessor Don Hoesing.
Several filings have been made since the ruling came out of District Court.
Documents thus far include a Notice of Appeal, transcripts of the court filings in the Office of the Clerk of District Court and the testimony and exhibits from the two trials held before Binkard.
Domina also filed a motion with the Court of Appeals to consolidate the cases for briefing and argument in the appellate court.
The County Attorney and the lawyer for the Freeholders consented to the motion. The freeholding cases are now combined for a single decision in the appellate court.
Domina stated, in language everyone can all understand, what the results of the up-coming decision would be.
“Hartington will keep the funds if we lose. Wynot will get the funds if we win,” he said.