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Several school districts underpaid due to error from Douglas County Treasurer

Published: May. 24, 2022 at 5:43 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Douglas County Treasurer admits a huge error in dispersing money to school districts.

It’s a mixup that’s been happening for 61 years. Some districts paid millions too much, others are shorted by millions.

Every year the Douglas County Treasurer receives around $25 million from OPPD in lieu of property taxes.

The county overpaid Omaha Public Schools by $5.7 million. The city and county also received too much.

Other school districts in the metro took a loss. Elkhorn schools were underpaid $4.2 million, Ralston $4 million, Westside $3.7 million.

That’s about $13 million that was misplaced.

According to state auditors, the bad math has been taking place in Douglas and Sarpy counties for 60 years.

“This was not an intentional error on our part,” said Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing. “This was simply a mistake in interpreting state statute.”

Ewing has been Douglas County Treasurer going on 16 years. He says three previous treasurer’s never caught the mistake either.

Nebraska state auditors say the formula of who gets how many dollars is based on the taxing levy. Instead, the treasurer’s office had based it on the size of the school district -so the more students in school, the more money the district received.

“This is not the case of us doing anything other than misinterpreting a state statute and carrying on a tradition that had been established when this law was put in place in 1960,” Ewing added.

But what about the school districts who, it appears, have been missing out on millions of dollars every year?

The treasurer met with Elkhorn Schools Tuesday afternoon.

Underpaid $4.2 million dollars, the district is “concerned about this substantial loss of revenue” and the board of education is working on “next steps to remediate the matter.”

Westside schools is out $3.7 million. District officials are also trying to figure out “next steps to ensure taxpayer dollars are distributed appropriately to support our students and staff.”

The same miscalculation is one of the reasons the Sarpy County board fired its treasurer last year.

These four school districts that were underpaid in Sarpy County, including OPS, have sued the current Sarpy county treasurer.

Tuesday afternoon Omaha’s finance director issued a statement calling into question whether the original formula is really wrong. The city was overpaid $4 million last year out of this electricity fund.

“The City of Omaha was just recently made aware of the alleged overpayment of the OPPD in lieu,” Finance Director Steve Curtiss said. “Annually, the city manages its budget to produce a small surplus and will use this to manage this reduction in revenue. No discussion about paying back anything has yet occurred. We will review these developments in light of the recent re-interpretation of this law, our assessment of its legal accuracy, our understanding of the original intent of this law and the role that 60 years of precedence plays.”

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