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E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
* Funeral Service notes: (see more on the obituaries page)
* Magdalena S. "Madeline" Snell, 103, of Ainsworth 1:30 p.m. March 27
* Steve Schaaf, 62, of Atkinson 10:30 a.m. March 27
* Gene Bronzynski, 73, of O'Neill 11 a.m. March 26
* Charles Hart, 87, of Dallas, S.D. 11 a.m. March 26
* Dale Van Houten, 74, of Butte 1:30 p.m. March 22
* Susan T. Glerum, 61, of Brewster 11 a.m. March 22
Meeting reports located below for:
March 20-21 Brown County Commissioners
March 20 Region 24 Emergency Manager on flood damage
March 13 Ainsworth City Council
March 13 Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors
March 12 Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education
March 6 Brown County Commissioners & Ainsworth City Council joint session
* Wilkins earns sixth-place medal Thursday at Class C-1 State Speech
(Posted 9:30 a.m. March 22)
Class C-1 State Speech
Thursday at Kearney
1. Omaha Brownell Talbot, 128; 2. David City, 118; 3. David City Aquinas, 74; 4. Wahoo Neumann, 62; 5. Sutton, 60; 18. Ainsworth, 10.
Ainsworth’s Sam Wilkins finished with a sixth-place medal in extemporaneous speaking after making the finals by being ranked third and first in his two preliminary rounds.
Alyssa Erthum received a superior award in persuasive speaking, with ratings of 47 out of a possible 50 points in each of her two preliminary rounds.
Adriana Hood received a superior award in informative speaking. Hood earned ratings of 46 in each of her two rounds.
Jenna Williams also picked up a superior award by picking up ratings of 45 in each of her two preliminary rounds.
* University of Nebraska Extension provides flood cleanup resources
a.m. March 22)
As Nebraskans begin returning to their homes in the aftermath of widespread historic flooding, the University of Nebraska Extension has mobilized a number of resources to aid in the road to recovery.
“Extension is committed to helping Nebraska recover from this disaster,” said Chuck Hibberd, dean of Nebraska Extension. “Our team of statewide experts is available to offer assistance with immediate needs and will be there every step of the way for as long as it takes.”
Those affected by the flood are likely unsure of where to begin. Extension encourages individuals returning to homes and properties to first take steps to ensure their safety. When a home or building is flooded, there is likely damage to the structure. Buildings need to be thoroughly dried, and before drinking water it is critical to test domestic wells for bacteria. Also, be cautious when working in and around contaminated floodwater.
Extension has compiled a list of the state’s certified public health environmental laboratories where homeowners can obtain a water test kit. This information is available on Nebraska Extension's flood resources website, https://flood.unl.edu, which serves as a resource hub for families, homeowners, businesses and producers facing flood cleanup. New and updated information will be added to the site on an ongoing basis.
Tips for homeowners facing food-safety concerns after the flood can also be found on the flood resources website. This includes guidelines to help people decide when to throw out food and how to disinfect food that can be saved. For instance, screw-topped or crimp-topped jars or bottles of food that have come into contact with floodwaters should be thrown out, even when the jars have not been opened.
Extension is also a resource for those wanting to help flood victims. The Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center near Mead and Haskell Ag Lab near Concord are serving as donation locations for hay (large bales) and fencing materials for livestock owners and managers impacted by the flood. Those wishing to obtain the donated materials should contact the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.
“We’re partnering with a number of state agencies and organizations to do what we can to help those who need it most," Hibberd said. "We’re all in this together."
* Broadcasters Association holding fund drive Friday
(Posted 7 a.m. March 22)
The Nebraska Broadcasters Association has kicked off a
Nebraska Strong flood relief drive today in partnership with the American Red
* Area fire departments collecting items to take to Boyd County
(Posted 7:30 a.m. March 22)
Brown County residents may still drop off items to send
to Boyd County in the Ainsworth Fire Hall. Items need to be dropped off to the
Ainsworth Fire Hall before noon on Saturday, as the final trailer load of items
will be delivered to Lynch Saturday afternoon.
* President approves disaster declaration for Nebraska
(Posted 7 a.m. March 22)
President Donald Trump signed a disaster declaration for Nebraska Thursday. Nine counties were approved to receive individual assistance including: Butler, Cass, Colfax, Dodge, Douglas, Nemaha, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington were approved. In addition, 65 counties were approved for public assistance. Counties that were not initially approved could still be declared.
Public assistance funding is available to eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work in 65 counties, including Brown, Rock, Keya Paha, Holt, Cherry, Boyd and Blaine counties.
Counties not included for individual assistance as part of Thursday’s disaster declaration are being reviewed by FEMA as damage assessments continue. Homeowners and businesses that have had damages are encouraged to report those to local emergency management. As counties qualify, they will be added.
Individual assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster. Individuals and businesses who sustained losses in the designated area can begin applying for assistance by registering online at or by calling 1-800-621-3362. The toll-free telephone number will operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week until further notice.
All public assistance requests were approved, but only for debris removal and emergency protective measures. As damage assessments continue, more counties and categories of work are expected to be added to the list.
Furthermore, Federal funding is available on a cost-sharing basis for hazard mitigation measures statewide.
The response to the historic weather events Nebraskans face has been overwhelming. Information, both accurate and inaccurate, is coming from every direction. In an effort to streamline some of that information, staff at the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency’s Joint Information Center is continuously collecting information and posting links on social media and the NEMA website.
In addition, there are several reputable websites and phone numbers for information on donations, aid, and other services:
: Help in connecting those in need with people offering resources. This is a partnership with NEMA and the Nebraska Preparedness Partnership. Governor Ricketts has proclaimed Friday “#NebraskaStrong Day.”
: The Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance (NDBF) has information on avoiding investment scams, which increase during disasters. NDBF also has a consumer hotline, (877) 471-3445 or (402) 471-3445.
: The Nebraska Attorney General’s office has a website for reporting scams. If you receive an unsolicited call for donations, use caution. Know to whom you are donating. Never give personal information including credit card information to an unsolicited caller.
: Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is tweeting information on local water testing, mental health resources, and other health-related information. Local water testing will take place at Fremont, Norfolk, and Verdigre between now and March 24.
: Red Cross is no longer accepting donations of goods. They thank everyone who has donated, but they have received more than they can handle. Monetary donations can be made on their website. Select “I want to Support Disaster Relief.” Donations can also be made by texting REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation. Donations can also be mailed to American Red Cross, 2912 S. 80th Ave., Omaha NE 68124
* Flooding damages 15 bridges on state highway system, including 2 in Boyd County
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 22)
The Nebraska Department of Transportation is reporting at least 15 bridges on the state highway system have washed out or have been damaged.
The known bridges are:
Highway 11 just south of Butte
Highway 281 just south of Spencer
Highway 12 Mormon canal west of Niobrara
Highway 12 Niobrara River west of Niobrara
Highway 13 East of Hadar
Highway 15: Two bridges resulting in a closure from Linwood Spur to south of Schuyler
Highway 14: Two bridges resulting in a closure from the junction of Highway 92 to Albion
Highway 39 just south of Genoa
Highway 57 south of Stanton
Highway 94 Truss Bridge east of Pender
Highway 116 South of Dixon
Highway 121 South of Yankton
Highway 275 West Center Road
Truckers are advised to only take marked detours and avoid county roads in these areas. Many of the county roads are unable to support semi-truck traffic.
NDOT will provide detours for each bridge that has either been washed out or requires repair through 511.nebraska.gov
Plan your travel by checking 511 prior to leaving for your destination. 511 provides the most up to date travel conditions available through 511, Nebraska’s Advanced Traveler Information System. The system is available at all times via phone by, online at www.511.nebraska.gov, Nebraska 511’s smartphone app or by dialing 511.
Motorists are reminded to make sure everyone in their vehicle wears a seatbelt and children are in a car safety seat.
* Lions Club votes to donate toward area flood relief efforts
(Posted 7:45 a.m. March 21)
The Ainsworth Lions Club Board voted to provide the Ainsworth Volunteer
Fire Department with a $200 donation to help with supplies needed
in the area due to the devastation from flood water and ice.
Lentz led a discussion regarding the club’s participation in the 2019 Bike Ride across Nebraska event, with the riders' overnight stay in Ainsworth June 4. A review of activities from the 2008 BRAN ride was presented, including food sold and served by the club to some of the riders. The board discussed what the club might do this year. Some other organizations, to include churches and commercial food service businesses, will make food available to the riders. It was suggested the Lions Club representative continue to meet with the support groups to obtain more information on how the club could best assist with the BRAN visit.
Lentz reviewed the slate for officers and directors, and members to be nominated for a vote to be held later for the 2019-20 terms.
She also reported that information had been received from the Nebraska Department of Transportation to renew the agreement for the Lions Club Trash-off project along shoulders of Highway 20 east of Ainsworth. The agreement has been signed, with dates and times to be determined later for the spring and fall clean-up events.
* Turpin provides update on flood damage to county roads
(Posted 7:15 a.m. March 21)
In a continuation of Tuesday’s Brown County Commissioner meeting, Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin told the board Wednesday the main plan for the roads department in the short term is to make sure everyone in the county has at least one route to make it out from their homes.
“Some people are still having to travel through standing water to get out,” Turpin said. “We are trying to run blades and repair washouts.”
Turpin said the roads department has repaired the culvert that failed 2 miles north of Ainsworth on Meadville Avenue, and installed a second culvert at that site. However, the Sand Draw Creek crossing on Meadville Avenue remains closed, and there are large hay bales placed on the north and south sides of the box culvert on the road to keep vehicles off. Turpin said the Sand Draw box culvert will need wing wall work before the roads department can come in and back fill.
Commissioner Buddy Small said Rahn Matteo with Norfolk Contracting visited the site and will get something designed and to the commissioners. Small said half of the road at the box culvert washed out.
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said he believed the board needed to call an emergency meeting when that proposal was received so the county could make a decision and get the work done as soon as possible.
Turpin said a bridge near Jason Appelt’s property also needs work, and is a priority along with the Sand Draw box culvert because the bridge is Appelt’s only access point to feed his cattle.
The highway superintendent said the bridge near Camp Witness also fell in, but that was a bridge the county was planning to vacate anyway. He said the county would still need to go through the process of vacating the bridge even now that it has fallen in.
“A lot of the bridges in the county took the high flows quite well,” Turpin said. He said both Niobrara River bridges on Meadville Avenue and Norden Avenue appeared to weather the flooding well.
However, he said there are at least 10 culverts so far the roads department has found in need of repair.
The Norden Road has been reopened to traffic, but motorists are urged to use extreme caution as there are still some spots that have washed.
Even a week after the flooding, the status of some roads is still unknown because they cannot be reached.
“On Monday, we got three roads open but had to close another four after we found culverts that had been undermined,” Turpin said. “We are trying to get sand hauled in and fill holes. If we tried to just put rock in all of them, we would be out of rock. There is washing on just about every mile of road.”
Turpin said South Pine Avenue had been repaired and was reopened, but areas west of the T intersection were mostly underwater. He said Moon Lake Avenue still has standing water across it in several spots and is considered closed.
Turpin said several residents have contacted him offering to assist the county with trucks or equipment.
“It would be nice if we could have some guys with trucks haul material from South Dakota for us,” he said. “But, it will be several days before the road in there will be open for us to get to the material. Just having some truck drivers go get material for us would be a big help.”
Commissioner Denny Bauer said, if people were going to use their equipment to assist the county, the board needed to come up with a set rate of compensation.
“We need to have an agreement in place on what we are willing to pay, and then people can decide whether they want to do it,” Bauer said. “We need to be fair to everyone.”
The commissioners discussed hiring additional temporary workers for the roads department. Turpin said several people had volunteered to work for the county if needed.
Wiebelhaus said he believed anyone hired should be hired as contract labor at a rate of $20 per hour.
Turpin said the roads crew is digging in and working on as many projects as possible.
“We will get through it,” he said.
Bauer said the roads department was doing a good job.
“99 percent of the people understand the situation and know things have to dry out a little before we can do too much,” Bauer said.
Wiebelhaus said he knew the roads crew was tired.
“Be careful how many hours you guys work,” Wiebelhaus said. “I don’t want you to get run down.”
Turpin said he is having the roads department employees work five, 10-hour workdays at this point.
The commissioners discussed how to pay for materials and other costs, including overtime, associated with repairing damage from the flooding.
Turpin said each roads department worker was documenting everything, and they have been taking pictures of the damage.
The documentation is being completed in anticipation of a federal disaster declaration that would unlock FEMA disaster relief reimbursement funding.
Bauer said it would be cleaner for the county to pay for the repair work from its inheritance tax fund, and the board approved paying for the costs of flood repairs from that fund.
In the only other action item Wednesday in the continuation from Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners approved the low bid of the three it received for armor coating work. The low bid of $13,294 per mile was supplied by Figgins Construction of Red Cloud with the county also responsible for supplying the gravel needed.
TopKote of Yankton, S.D., submitted a bid of $13,698 per mile, and Sta-Bilt Construction of Harlan, Iowa, bid $18,176 per mile for the armor coat work.
On Tuesday, Mike Murphy with the Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District told the commissioners there would likely be assistance available for flood mitigation from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Murphy said there would be value in the NRD and the county partnering with the NRCS after identifying potential projects.
“That would open the door for extra assistance in making repairs and improvements,” Murphy said. “If there is a disaster declaration, you pay to make the repairs and hope to get reimbursed for at least some of it.”
In an unrelated item, Murphy reported the loss of the Spencer Dam in Boyd County still fell under the Nebraska Public Power District’s ownership.
An alliance of Natural Resources Districts and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission had signed a purchase agreement in September for the Spencer Dam and NPPD’s senior water rights, but there was a two-year window within that purchase agreement for the groups to find the funding needed for the purchase.
“We still feel there is huge value in those senior water rights,” Murphy said. “But, those water rights going forward, at this point, are questionable. There is a precedent with previous dam failures. There should be some productive talks with the Department of Natural Resources. At the end of the day, all we really wanted were the water rights.”
* Nebraska broadcasters to host telethon for flood victim support Friday
(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 21)
On Friday, radio and television stations from around the
state will team up for a one-day relief effort in partnership with the American
Red Cross. Led by the Nebraska Broadcasters Association, the #NebraskaStrong
Drive for Flood Relief will run from 5 a.m. until 11 p.m. this Friday.
* NDOT postpones meeting on Highway 20 bridge project over Long Pine Creek
(Posted 2:45 p.m. March 20)
The Nebraska Department of Transportation has cancelled
the public information open house set for March 28 in Long Pine regarding
proposed improvements on the Highway 20 bridge over Long Pine Creek in Brown
* Region 24 Emergency Manager Fox provides update on flood recovery efforts
(Posted 1 p.m. March 20)
Region 24 Emergency Management Agency Director Doug Fox
provided an update on the recovery efforts from the historic flooding in
Nebraska. Region 24 covers Brown, Rock, Keya Paha, Cherry and Boyd counties.
* State provides update on flood resources available
(Posted 1 p.m. March 20)
Overnight, the number of cities under emergency declarations in response to the devastation from the historic weather events increased to 89. There are 77 counties under declarations, 4 tribal nations, and 5 special government areas such as unincorporated townships. Declarations cover more than 80 percent of the state.
As Nebraskans are beginning to return home to flood ravaged communities, the reality of what comes next hits hard. It can be overwhelming.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency website -- has an interactive map of declarations, a chart of estimated damage costs, and general information on the floods.
There are many resources available, and the state of Nebraska has compiled information on agencies providing assistance and information. A 24-hour call center has been established at the Joint Information Center at NEMA. The call center is staffed by state employees from a variety of agencies who are available to connect citizens with the resources needed. The call center number is 402-817-1551. This is not a FEMA resource number. A federal declaration has not been made. If a federal declaration is made, a FEMA contact number will be announced.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture has set up a hotline for donations of hay and other farm supplies. That hotline number is 800-831-0550. The Nebraska National Guard is currently executing hay drops in areas where livestock are cut off from feed. In addition, NDA has a Rural Response Hotline for farmers and producers who need emotional support or someone to talk to.
When disasters occur, there are always people who try to profit off of the needs of others. Fraudulent funding schemes are popping up on the Internet. To find a legitimate agency for monetary and other goods and services donations, contact 211. To reach 211, simply dial 211. If you have difficulty reaching 211, dial 866-813-1731.
Any Nebraskan knows that neighbors helping neighbors is everyday life in the heartland. Our National Guard troops are our neighbors, friends, and family.
Sunday, Natasha Hilsgen, a staff sergeant with the Nebraska Air National Guard, helped with food rescue efforts to Fremont. Hilsgen said the sun was just setting as the National Guard convoy crossed the bridge into town. The town had been without fresh supplies of food and water for two days as it was surrounded with flood waters.
"As we approached the town, I saw people coming out of their houses, standing on street corners, waving and clasping their hands in joy,” Hilsgen said. "We drove to the HyVee store to begin distribution efforts. As we rounded the corner we saw the parking lot filled with hundreds of people. A great cheer rose from the crowd when they saw the convoy.”
Hilsgen reported people from the community thanked the Nebraska National Guard and all the volunteers with hugs and handshakes. A long line formed as supplies were unloaded at the store.
"As we began carrying bottled water into the store, an elderly lady, who had been for waiting hours hugged me and was overcome with emotion,” said Hilsgen. "She was so thankful and relieved knowing that even in difficult and trying times, there are Nebraskans doing things 'the Nebraska way' by watching out for our most vulnerable citizens.”
Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry, and a flooding disaster of this magnitude has an impact on everyone. Farmers and ranchers have immediate and immense needs as caring for their animals and keeping them safe is a top priority. It’s devastating to lose livestock under any circumstance, and this is on such a large scale.
Nebraska has been appreciative of the overwhelming response of donations of hay, feed, equipment, etc. In addition to local offers of assistance from Nebraskans, ag-related donations are coming in from all over the country.
* Chipps announces retirement from Northeast Community College
(Posted 9:30 a.m. March 20)
Dr. Michael Chipps, who has served Nebraska’s community colleges for 40 years, announced he will retire from his position as president of Northeast Community College later this year.
Chipps shared his intentions with the Northeast Board of Governors and the college community this week.
“Northeast is a special place for students to learn, faculty to teach, and for staff to support and promote student success,” Chipps said. “After several weeks of reflection on our major initiatives and my own desire to make sure the college is positioned well for the future, I have informed the board that I plan to retire later this year and write a new chapter in my life.”
Chipps’ last day will be December 31.
He said he is grateful for the many accomplishments that Northeast has achieved and a number of initiatives that have been undertaken over the past seven years at the College.
Northeast was recognized by the nation’s largest organization that works closely with community colleges during Chipps’ tenure. In 2013, the American Association of Community Colleges named Northeast one of four national finalists for its Awards of Excellence as an Outstanding College/Corporate Partner for its collaborative work with the Nucor Detailing Center in Norfolk. In 2015, AACC named Northeast a top four national finalist for its Exemplary CEO/Board of Trustees Award of Excellence. In addition, Northeast Community College was one of six colleges recognized by AACC in 2018 for outstanding student success for its five-year advising model that is transforming the College’s culture.
“I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to lead Northeast with a visionary board that has established a succinct mission and clear goals that has positioned the college well for years to come.” Chipps said. “I have also had an exemplary senior leadership team and a college family who are laser-focused on making Northeast one of the premier community colleges in America. Together, we have accomplished so much and have impacted the lives of countless students.”
Northeast Board Chairman Steven Anderson said, “With our Vision 2020 strategic plan at the forefront, Dr. Chipps is ensuring that Northeast Community College is strategically committed to its graduates in securing highly skilled jobs while addressing the workforce needs of northeast and north central Nebraska. His work each and every day is testament to that fact.”
Anderson said Chipps is 100-percent committed in seeing Northeast students succeed.
“Although they may not witness the work of its president every day, the students of Northeast Community College are the recipients of Dr. Chipps’ endeavors to improve their lives and the lives of their families and friends,” Anderson said. “He goes out of his way to speak with individual students to make them feel welcome and highly valued.”
Chipps, who began in February 2012, is the eighth president of Northeast Community College and its predecessor institutions. Previous to leading Northeast, he served as president and chief executive officer of Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte and McCook. He also held several instructional, student services and administrative positions at Central Community College in Grand Island and Hastings.
Anderson said Chipps has moved the college to serve rural northeast and north central Nebraska by contributing to the economic development of its 20-county service area and beyond.
“Under Dr. Chipps’ leadership, Northeast Community College is not only positioning itself as a trailblazer both within the state and region, but also as a shining example of what rural community colleges nationwide can aspire to become,” he said.
* Commissioners approve tax exemption for portion of The Nature Conservancy
(Posted 7 a.m. March 20)
Based on a recommendation from the county attorney and county assessor, the Brown County Commissioners Tuesday, acting as the Board of Equalization, approved an application from The Nature Conservancy to exempt 572 acres with a building site from property taxation.
The 572 acres include a public trail system, the Hubbard Center for Conservation Learning and the Holland Visitor Center.
Assessor Terri Van Houten said the conservancy currently pays about $12,000 in property tax on the 572 acres, while paying more than $123,000 in total property tax on all of its 31,785 acres.
County Attorney Andy Taylor said, as a non-profit organization, the conservancy could likely ask for all of its property to be declared tax exempt if it chose to. He said the portion they were asking to have exempted has beneficial uses for the public.
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said he spoke with Rod Palmer, who was the Brown County Attorney when The Nature Conservancy initially purchased the land in Brown County in 1982.
Wiebelhaus said Palmer was confident The Nature Conservancy provided a document to the county indicating it would not ask to have property removed from the tax rolls.
“Rod said he told county officials at the time to frame the document because the county would likely need it at some point,” Wiebelhaus said.
Commissioner Buddy Small said several current county officials searched for that document, but it was not found.
Commissioner Denny Bauer said, even if the letter surfaced, it might not mean anything.
Taylor said it would depend on who wrote the letter and whether that person could bind the conservancy to any kind of agreement.
“We have looked everywhere, but I don’t think we can base a decision off a letter,” Taylor said. “There is nothing attached to the deed. I think, if there would have been a binding agreement, it would have been noted.”
Audience member Marty Graff said The Nature Conservancy purchasing land in Brown County was a contentious issue back in 1982 due to the possibility of the land being removed from the tax rolls.
Small said the last time the commissioners had any dealings with The Nature Conservancy were in court after the county denied the conservancy’s application for a perpetual easement on more than 800 acres it was selling to a private individual. Small said the courts sided with the conservancy that the county could not deny the perpetual easement, and the county spent more than $20,000 in attorney fees.
Taylor said, if the commissioners denied this exemption, he had no doubt The Nature Conservancy would file an appeal with the TERC Board and the county would lose.
Wiebelhaus said there was nothing to prevent The Nature Conservancy then from coming back next year and asking for all its property to be tax exempt.
Wiebelhaus moved to allow The Nature Conservancy’s tax exemption for the 572 acres based on that portion of the conservancy’s holdings having a different purpose than the remainder of the conservancy’s property in that the primary purpose of the 572 acres was for the public’s education and benefit.
The board unanimously approved that motion to exempt the 572 acres.
In another agenda item Tuesday, the commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with Rock County to have Brown County provide veterans services to Rock County for a three-month trial run from April through June, with Rock County paying Brown County $2,500 for that service.
The commissioners were scheduled to discuss flood damage and potential sources to fund road, culvert and bridge repairs, but Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin was unable to make the meeting Tuesday due to being on site with repair efforts. The commissioners recessed Tuesday’s meeting until 5:30 p.m. Wednesday so Turpin could be present and provide the board with an update.
* NEMA continues work to assist flood victims
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 19)
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency continues to work with multiple public and private partners to serve those affected by the floods in Nebraska.
Members of the public who have questions can call NEMA’s Joint Information Center at 402-817-1551.
Twenty-nine counties have had mandatory or voluntary evacuations across the state since flooding began last week.
Over the last 24 hours, the Nebraska State Patrol, working with the Nebraska National Guard and the Nebraska Department of Transportation, led three convoys of semi-tractor/trailers and fuel tankers from the Omaha area to Fremont. The first convoy left Omaha on Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and arrived in Fremont two hours later. Monday, a faster route was created by NDOT that allowed two more convoys of trucks, including one with 17 semis full of supplies, to make the journey.
Information on road closures can be found on the Nebraska 511 map at www.511.nebraska.gov. Nebraska 511 can also be accessed through the 511 smartphone app or by dialing 511.
Agriculture producers who have been impacted by the blizzard and flooding and are now in need of hay, feed stuffs, fencing materials, volunteer help, equipment, etc. should call the Nebraska Department of Agriculture at 800-831-0550.
Those with hay, feed stuffs, fencing materials, equipment, etc. who are willing to donate are asked to contact the Department of Agriculture.
Of the calls that NDA received Monday, about a third were from farmers and ranchers in need. Two-thirds were from people offering supplies and assistance.
The Nebraska Preparedness Partnership is currently accepting donations. The donations will stay in Nebraska. Call Sandra Hobson at 402-979-7207 or email her at email@example.com for more information.
A list of reputable national and state organizations can be found on the Nebraska Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster website, www.nvoad.org. By giving to any of these organizations, donors can be sure that their funds will be distributed to those most in need.
The American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund is accepting donations at www.redcross.org or call 1-800-HELP-NOW (1-800-435-7669).
* Boyd County residents remain on water restriction, public water not safe to drink
(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 19)
Boyd County residents are asked to continue to limit water use as much as possible. Water use restrictions include: limiting flushing of toilets and minimizing bathing, laundry and dishwasher use.
Running water is currently available for Butte residents but the water is not safe to drink without boiling. To use the water, boil for 1 minute and let it cool before using.
In accordance with the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, the public water supply in Boyd County not within the village of Butte’s supply may be contaminated. Boiling is not recommended at this time because it may not be effective. This means the water may not be safe for drinking, preparing food, brushing your teeth, or making ice. Bottled water should be utilized until further notice.
The Rural Water District is continuing to work to return the water system to regular function.
For those with private wells, at this time bottled water is also recommended for drinking and food preparation. It is recommended to test private wells for coliform bacteria. Water test kits are available in the Lynch Community Center and the North Central District Health Department office at O’Neill. Kits can also be ordered online at www.nebraska.gov/dhhs/water-test-kits/private.html. Test kits are free, but the cost of a coliform test is $15 to $20.
If a private well tests positive for bacteria, disinfection is needed. It is best practice to contact a well professional to handle disinfection.
* Livestock producers urged to report losses to USDA's Farm Service Agency
(Posted 10:45 a.m. March 18)
Nebraska USDA Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Nancy Johner is highlighting FSA resources that may be important to farmers and ranchers as they assess flood and blizzard impacts on farms and ranches across the state.
Programs such as the Livestock Indemnity Program, Emergency Conservation Program, Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program, Disaster Set-Aside Program and Emergency Loan Program are disaster safety net tools available through FSA.
“As producers continue to address their individual circumstances, we want them to be aware of these programs and information we may need to deliver assistance to them,” Johner said.
The Livestock Indemnity Program financially assists producers when they suffer loss of livestock due to adverse weather. Producers must notify their county FSA office of losses within 30 days of when those losses become apparent. A phone call is an acceptable form of notification, Johner said.
Documentation of losses also is critical for LIP, Johner said. Documentation can include items such as veterinarian certification, other independent third-party certification, rendering receipts, dated photos or video. FSA also will need to know the type and weight of the animals lost.
The Emergency Conservation Program can provide some cost-share assistance to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and to help restore fences damaged or lost due to natural disaster. The program does not trigger automatically, and Johner said it is critical that producers, if they think they may want to access this cost-share resource, contact their county FSA office about the program before taking any action to repair damages.
The Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program can, in certain situations, financially assist with livestock feed losses. This may include situations where forage or feedstuffs were destroyed by flood waters. The program also may be available to assist with costs incurred for transporting livestock feed to eligible livestock during an adverse weather event.
There also may be options for producers through FSA farm loan programs, including the opportunity for existing FSA loan customers to delay a loan payment through the Disaster Set-Aside Program or access the Emergency Loan Program, Johner said.
“It is important for producers to contact their county FSA office to report their weather-related impacts and discuss all the program options that may be available to assist them, as well as the steps involved with accessing these programs,” Johner said.
* Region 24 has ordered flood cleanup kits
(Posted 9:15 a.m. March 18)
Region 24 Emergency Manager Doug Fox reported, with numerous homes experiencing flood damage in the area, the Region 24 office has ordered 100 flood cleanup kits that can assist residents who have water damage they are cleaning up.
Fox said the kits should be in to the office by the end of the week. Call the Region 24 Emergency Management office at 402-684-2424 to get on the list for a flood cleanup kit when they arrive.
For emergency responders and others exposed to floodwaters, the North Central District Health Department reports that tetanus can be a concern for those working in and around floodwater.
Tetanus can be an increased concern for emergency responders and others who have a higher risk of cuts or wounds while working in floodwater.
The North Central District Health Department urges those cleaning up or otherwise working in floodwater to check their records to be sure their tetanus vaccination is up to date. There is a link on the NCDHD web site at www.ncdhd.ne.gov to allow people to check their records, or call 402-336-2406.
For those needing a tetanus shot, contact your local provider or the North Central District Health Department has vaccine available.
* Supply drive initiated to help flood victims
(Posted 8 a.m. March 18)
A group of Brown County residents has initiated a supply drive to collect items for flood victims in neighboring communities.
After those communities assisted this area following the 2012 wildfires, residents in our area want to help those folks now that they are in need.
Anyone wanting to donate items can drop them off at the Ainsworth Fire Hall between 9 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. If you have items to donate and want someone to pick them up, call 402-760-1362.
Suggested items include bottled water, cleaning supplies, personal hygiene items, disposable gloves, trash bags and non-perishable food items.
* Meadville Avenue remains closed in 2 locations
(Posted 7 a.m. March 18)
Brown County Commissioner Buddy Small reported Meadville
Avenue remains closed in two locations. Approximately 2 miles north of
Ainsworth, a culvert has washed out. Small said large bales of hay have been
placed on both sides of the Sand Draw box culvert, making travel impossible
across that portion of Meadville Avenue.
* Motorists urged to heed barricades, road closures in area counties
(Posted 11:30 a.m. March 16)
All area residents are urged to obey road closures and barricades. Rock County Sheriff James Anderson reported there have been cases in Rock County of drivers either ignoring barricades or actually physically moving barricades to drive down closed roads.
In one instance, Anderson said a pickup driver in Rock County went around a barricade and drove into a washout.
Anderson said, after consultation with the county commissioners and roads department, the Rock County Sheriff’s Department will issue citations to any motorists found to have driven around or moved a barricade.
Drivers are urged to use common sense and obey the road closures that have been issued by roads department in the area counties. Failure to obey posted roads could result in injury or death and puts at risk not only the driver but emergency responders.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 11:15 a.m. March 16)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
two-vehicle accident that occurred Tuesday, March 12, in Ainsworth.
* Private water wells may be impacted by flooding
(Posted 11 a.m. March 16)
Recent flood conditions can pose threats to the quality of private water supplies. Flooded private water wells or wells suspected of being impacted by flooding may need to be tested to ensure that they are safe according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
“Cloudiness or a change in taste or smell are signs of possible contamination,” said Sue Dempsey, administrator of the DHHS Drinking Water Program. “However, if there is any indication that the water supply has been breached by flood waters, even without noticeable changes in taste or smell, I encourage residents to get a water sample kit for testing.”
Nebraskans can request kits from the Nebraska Public Health Environmental Laboratory to test for coliform bacteria. Order kits online at http://www.nebraska.gov/dhhs/water-test-kits/private.html or by calling (402) 471-3935 between 8 and 5 Monday through Friday.
If people don’t know whether or not their private well has been impacted, only drink bottled, boiled, or disinfected water. To disinfect water bring it to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. Water may also be disinfected by mixing six drops (1/8 teaspoon) of ordinary household bleach per gallon of water. Mix the solution thoroughly, and let it stand for 30 minutes before using. Very cloudy water may be strained through a clean cloth before disinfecting or boiling, and the amount of household bleach should be doubled.
Since bacterial contamination may reoccur after a flood, conducting another water analysis a month or two after the first test is advised.
Public drinking water supplies are being closely monitored by a team of DHHS field staff and some systems have been impacted by the flooding. Local officials already have or will notify impacted residents as information becomes available.
The State Emergency Operations Center has been opened to address this and other emergencies related to the storms and flooding this week in Nebraska. A link to updates from the SEOC can be found at https://governor.nebraska.gov
* NDOT reports several bridges compromised by floodwater
(Posted noon March 15)
Department of Transportation reports at least four bridges on the state highway
system have washed out or have been damaged and advises motorists to not travel
in north central and northeast Nebraska until flood waters recede.
The known bridges on state highways that have washed out or sustained substantial damage are:
Highway 281 just south of Spencer
Highway 11 just south of Butte
Highway 12 at Niobrara
Highway 22 just south of Genoa
Many bridges will remain closed until bridge inspection can occur. Please do not drive on bridges until they have been inspected and reopened. Do not drive around barricades.
Once the waters have receded, NDOT will provide detours for each bridge that has either been washed out or requires repair.
Please remember, just a few inches of water can impact a vehicle’s ability to navigate, cause it to stall, or even float it. Should you encounter water over a roadway, never drive through it and do not drive around barricades or flagged closures.
* Man reported missing after Spencer Dam failure Thursday
(Posted 7 a.m. March 15)
Officials have confirmed the Spencer Dam partially failed Thursday, and a surge of floodwater damaged the south approach to the Highway 281 bridge east of the dam.
Angel’s Straw Bale Saloon southeast of the Spencer Dam was destroyed by the floodwaters, as was a residence adjacent to the business.
Officials reported Kenneth Angel, who lives in the home that was washed away, is missing, and search and rescue efforts will continue. Emergency responders on Thursday rescued one individual whose residence was surrounded by ice and water.
Floodwaters also destroyed numerous structures in the community of Niobrara.
* Ricketts, NEMA officials provide update on flooding, evacuations
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 15)
Gov. Pete Ricketts, Nebraska Emergency Management Agency officials and partner agencies Thursday provided an update on the current flooding and severe weather impacting the state. The agencies are continuing to monitor conditions, fielding calls from citizens and community partners, and providing information and resources to keep citizens safe.
“As snow and rain pass, many communities have experienced devastating flooding. This could last for quite some time,” Ricketts said. “Nebraskans should watch the weather and waterways in their communities closely in the coming days, and be prepared for historic levels of flooding even if it has not hit their community yet. As Nebraskans know, conditions can change quickly, and everyone needs to be prepared.”
Following a declaration of emergency Tuesday evening, NEMA opened the State Emergency Operation Center in response to hazardous conditions caused by blizzards and flooding impacting the majority of the state.
NEMA staff and partners began working 24-hours-a-day in the SEOC at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. The SEOC will remain open as needed. NEMA is tracking conditions across the state, responding to requests for assistance from local emergency managers and developing a common operating picture to keep local officials aware of the situation.
The SEOC is staffed by officials from NEMA, the State Patrol, Department of Health and Human Services, Fire Marshal, Department of Transportation, Department of Natural Resources, the Military Department, and other agencies.
Flight operations will begin Friday as weather permits. Be advised that if you are using a drone, use caution and keep away from operational flights near rivers.
Evacuations have taken place throughout the state, including the communities of: Randolph, Norfolk, Beemer, Cedar Rapids, Belgrade, Dannebrog, St. Edward, Genoa, Northern Butler County, Horseshoe Lake, Inglewood and Eastern Richardson County.
The Washington County Sherriff has ordered a mandatory evacuation of the eastern portion of the county. The Reception Center at Fremont is available for shelter.
The Nebraska National Guard has deployed multiple high-water vehicles and Army National Guard soldiers to both Norfolk and Genoa to assist with stranded individuals and evacuations. Sandbagging is being done throughout the state. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has had requests for 22,000 sandbags. Three million are available.
Nine Lincoln Urban Search and Rescue members have been deployed to Columbus. Five to 20 people and five dogs are on a list for rescue at Columbus. A family with a child is the priority. A Buffalo County Emergency Management deputy was hit by a vehicle while taking photos. His condition is unknown. Currently, there are two individuals unaccounted for and one confirmed fatality in Platte County. Details involving the fatality will be released at a later time.
* Northeast Community College evacuates students from residence halls
(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 15)
Northeast Community College has taken emergency action to evacuate its students living on its Norfolk campus due to rising floodwaters on the nearby North Fork River.
At the request of City of Norfolk officials, college officials abided by a request Thursday morning to move students off-campus. Approximately 545 students who live in Burkhardt, Path and Simon residence halls were transported off campus by Northeast busses, while others used their own vehicles. Many of the students are staying with family and friends, but approximately 200 others are in one location at First Christian Church at Benjamin Avenue and Victory Road – approximately a half-mile from the campus.
“The safety or our students and employees is of the utmost importance to us,” said Dr. Michael Chipps, president. “We want parents, loved ones and friends to all know that our students are in good hands here.”
Northeast Community College falls within the evacuation zone that city officials identified as an area for potential flooding since the campus is adjacent to the city’s flood control levee.
Chipps said work on the north side of campus over the past year has played an important role in reducing storm runoff on that side of campus.
“The board of governors authorized a storm water drainage system and detention pond to channel the flow of water and move it away from the residence halls and other campus buildings. That work was brought into full action the past few days as the normally dry detention pond has turned into a churning lake. We are so fortunate to have this system in place for dire situations like today.”
The Northeast Emergency Response team, led by John Blaylock, executive vice president, gathered early this morning to prepare for the evacuation. Chipps said the team did an exceptional job of organizing and executing the evacuation.
“The Emergency Operations Center has been in action for several hours and continues to do an amazing job. It is also inspiring for College officials to work alongside the Resident Assistant/Student Assistant team who continues to provide superior leadership in carrying out the evacuation. Their leadership skills have been put to the test and they are commended for their leadership.”
Chipps spoke to the students and thanked them for the way they handled the evacuation.
“Students, I always thought you were amazing, but you continue to demonstrate that over and over again like what you did here this morning. Thanks for being very receptive to the evacuation and doing what we asked you to do.”
Chartwells, Northeast food service provider, supplied some food while 150 pizzas were ordered from local establishments to feed the students both lunch and supper.
Resident Assistant Carli Huston in Path Hall, of Holdrege, said, “We’re all in this together and it’s going to be okay even though this is not the best of situations. Like Dr. Chipps said, we just want to make sure everyone is safe.”
All Northeast locations in Norfolk, O’Neill, South Sioux City and West Point will be closed on Friday. As far as the students are concerned, Chipps said he has been informed by city officials that students will need to remain off campus for the time being.
“This is a complex and delicate situation in many parts of our service area. Our prayers go out to those who have been impacted by the floodwaters. I assure all of you that the response by College staff evidenced by me this morning is one of Northeast’s finest hours.”
* Additional bridge washes out in Rock County
(Posted 4 p.m. March 14)
Darrell Olson with the Rock County Roads Department
reported Thursday afternoon a bridge has washed out on Road 889 on Short Pine
Creek approximately one-half mile east of the Cuba Church.
* NDOT advises no travel in north central and northeast Nebraska
(Posted 3:15 p.m. March 14)
Nebraska is encountering significant flooding across the state. Melting snow coupled with rain has created flooding in many parts of Nebraska, especially in north central and northeast Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Transportation is advising motorists to not travel in north central and northeast Nebraska. Flooding continues to increase, causing water to run over multiple roadways. Please do not travel unless absolutely necessary.
Plan your travel by checking 511 prior to leaving for your destination. 511 provides the most up to date travel conditions available through 511, Nebraska’s Advanced Traveler Information System. The system is available at all times, online at www.511.nebraska.gov or by dialing 511.
Again, this is a rapidly evolving event. Please remember, just a few inches of water can impact your vehicle’s ability to navigate, cause it to stall, or even float it. Should you encounter water over a roadway, never drive through it and do not drive around barricades or flagged closures. Turn around – don’t drown.
Motorists are reminded to make sure everyone in their vehicle wears a seatbelt and children are in a car safety seat. Never use cruise control in wet weather.
As a reminder, the State Patrol Highway Helpline is available 24 hours per day for motorists in need of assistance. Drivers can reach the State Patrol by dialing *55 from any cell phone.
* Travel not advised on Highway 20 or anywhere in north central Nebraska
(Posted 11 a.m. March 14)
Due to whiteout conditions and ice and snow, the Nebraska Department of Transportation is advising that motorists stay off Highway 20. The NDOT reports Highway 20 from Wood Lake west is impassable, and whiteout conditions persist across much of north central Nebraska. Ainsworth to Wood Lake on Highway 20, travel is not advised. Travel is also not advised on Highway 183 from the Highway 20 junction to the South Dakota state line, and travel is not advised on Highway 12 from Springview west or from Highway 12 east from Springview to Highway 137. Travel is not advised on Highway 7 south of Ainsworth.
* Meadville Avenue, Norden Avenue, Carns Avenue closed in Keya Paha County
(Posted 8:45 a.m. March 14)
Keya Paha County Commissioner Mike Tuerk reported there is
ice across the road on the north side of the Meadville Bridge. Meadville Avenue
is closed in Keya Paha County.
* Carns Bridge out across the Niobrara River
(Posted 8:45 a.m. March 14)
The southern approach to the Carns Bridge has been washed
out, so 450th Avenue in Rock County is closed. There are barricades on both the
Rock County and Keya Paha County side of the Niobrara River approaching the
* Spencer Dam washes out, damaging Highway 281 bridge
(Posted 8:30 a.m. March 14)
Video and photos are beginning to surface potentially confirming that the Spencer Dam has been washed out. The washout also led to a portion of the Highway 281 bridge below the dam being damaged and leading to a large hole on Highway 281. Highway 281 is closed north of O'Neill and south of Spencer. There are also reports of downed power lines near the Niobrara River bridge on Highway 11 south of Butte, and the bridge across the Niobrara River north of Stuart has also reportedly been compromised.
* Several county roads closed due to flooding
(Updated 6:45 a.m. March 14)
Numerous roads throughout the county remain compromised due to extensive
flooding Wednesday, and travel is not advised on any rural road in Brown, Rock
and Keya Paha counties.
On Highway 7 south of Ainsworth between mileposts 38 and 39, there is water running across the highway.
On Highway 137 north of Newport, there is water across the road approximately 5 miles north of the Highway 20 junction and from mileposts 17 to 22.
A flash flood warning has been issued for the Niobrara River in the area of the Spencer Dam. Reports indicate the Spencer Dam may have been compromised, which also led to damage on the river bridge on Highway 281 below the Spencer Dam.
Brown County Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin reported Thursday morning that
travel is not advised on any rural road in Brown County until the water levels
recede and roads department personnel can assess the damage.
The Brown County Sheriff's Department reported Meadville Avenue is closed due to the collapse of a culvert 2 miles north of Ainsworth.
Turpin reported South Pine Avenue has been closed 1 mile south of the end of the asphalt due to the road being undermined.
In addition, 434th Avenue south of Highway 20, Road 872 west of South Pine Avenue, and Road 877 east of South Pine Avenue are also closed.
The Norden Road has been closed by the county from Road 880 north, and the Moon Lake Road has water running across it in several areas and the county is advising motorists to stay off that road as well.
All roads south of Highway 20 between 423rd Avenue and 430th Avenue have now been closed by the Brown County Roads Department.
The city of Ainsworth has closed South Street from Main to Ulrich streets.
In Rock County, Darrell Olson with the county roads department reported 890 Road through the Sand Creek, Willow Creek and Rock Creek areas is closed. Also, 888 Road is closed from the 455th Avenue intersection one mile where Rock Creek crosses.
The Newport Road, 457th Avenue, is now closed from Highway 20 to the WPA Road southwest of Newport.
Road 878, known as Lingenfelter Road, is closed for a 5-mile stretch from Highway 183 to the KBR substation. And, in the Rose area, 854 Road, known as the Duff Road, is closed in its entirety from Highway 183 to the Brown County line.
From the Nebraska Department of Transportation, Highway 91 between Brewster and Dunning is now closed. There is also water across Highway 91 east of Brewster. A 6 to 7 mile stretch on Highway 183 north of Rose has water across the road in numerous locations. There is also water across Highway 7 north of Bassett, and Highway 7 south of Springview.
Travel is not advised on local roads in Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties. Motorists will be traveling at their own risk due to the potential of floodwater undermining roads.
* City Council approves several items related to $2.12 million wastewater projects
(Posted 6 p.m. March 13)
The Ainsworth City Council Wednesday approved several items related to the planned major wastewater improvement projects in the city.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the five agenda items Wednesday related to the $2.12 million projects the city planned to undertake, including replacing all water meters in the city and upgrading several portions of the city sewer system with cured-in-place pipe.
The council approved a resolution to accept a USDA loan in the amount of $1.274 million, and approved a USDA water and waste water grant agreement in the amount of $453,000.
Schroedl said the city was also eligible to receive $385,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to complete the estimated $2.12 million projects.
The two additional resolutions approved Wednesday dealt with reimbursements of expenditures already made relating to the improvement projects, and a resolution of necessity for construction of enlargements and additions to the existing sewage treatment facility.
Schroedl said those items relate to the interim financing the city planned to obtain through Ameritas to fund the work before receiving the loan and grant funds from the USDA.
She said the city had already spent about $30,000 on the projects, mostly related to water meter inspections and design aspects of the projects. She said CDBG funds could not be used for the water meter replacement portion of the project, so those would have to go toward the cure-in-place pipe replacement portion.
Councilman Brad Fiala asked what the timeline was to start construction on the projects.
Schroedl said the current water meters have now been inspected, and Olsson Associates was working on a design plan and specifications for the projects. She said the city would likely be ready to go out for bids on the projects in five to six months.
“The earliest start would be this winter for the water meters,” Schroedl said. “The cure-in-place pipe would be next spring.”
In a final agenda item related to the wastewater projects, the council approved a USDA legal services agreement with Palmer Law Group. Schroedl said the USDA requires the city to have legal services in place for the project. She said the billing for any work done by Palmer Law Group related to the wastewater improvement projects would be billed separately, though she didn’t anticipate legal expenses would be very high on the projects.
In other business, the council adopted an ordinance Wednesday changing the city’s fee schedules.
Fees were increased for annual dog and cat licenses, and a per-day impound fee set by the vet clinic was included for all pets impounded by the city.
Swimming pool fee rates also will increase this year, with the daily rate increasing from $3 to $4 and the individual and family season pass prices also increasing.
Fees charged to rent Ainsworth Conference Center meeting rooms increased from $30 to $40 if renting one meeting room for four hours or less. The deposit required to rent the Conference Center gymnasium doubled from $150 to $300, with the cost to rent the gym remaining at $200 per day.
In a final action item, the council approved Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan’s recommendation to reappoint Heather Lutter to the City Board of Adjustment for a three-year term, and to appoint Jordan Nuffer as an alternate to the Board of Adjustment for a three-year term.
During her report, Schroedl said the two parcels the city submitted for the Nebraska Public Power District community solar project were not ideal, as the two parcels were not in NPPD’s service territory. She said she was working to come up with additional sites that might work for the project.
She also reported there was currently no waiting list for Community Development Block Grant housing rehabilitation loan funds. Anyone interested in potentially applying for the low-interest loan funds for housing improvements may contact the city office.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. April 10.
* Substantial portions of Nebraska experiencing flooding
(Posted 10:45 a.m. March 13)
Nebraska is encountering significant weather across the state. Melting snow coupled with rain has created flooding in many parts of Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Transportation is advising motorists this flooding event is rapidly evolving and will continue to change throughout the rest of the week.
Plan your travel by checking 511 prior to leaving for your destination. 511 provides the most up to date travel conditions available through 511, Nebraska’s Advanced Traveler Information System. The system is available at all times via phone, online at www.511.nebraska.gov, Nebraska 511’s smartphone app or by dialing 511.
Again, this is a rapidly evolving event. Please remember, just a few inches of water can impact your vehicle’s ability to navigate, cause it to stall, or even float it. Should you encounter water over a roadway, never drive through it. Turn around – don’t drown.
Motorists are reminded to make sure everyone in their vehicle wears a seatbelt and children are in a car safety seat. Never use cruise control in wet weather.
For safe-driving tips information, visit NDOT’s website, http://dot.nebraska.gov/safety/driving/
As a reminder, the Nebraska State Patrol Highway Helpline is available 24 hours per day for motorists in need of assistance. Drivers can reach the patrol by dialing *55 from any cell phone.
* Tuesday fire destroys pickup northwest of Ainsworth
(Posted 7:15 a.m. March 13)
Firefighters were called Tuesday to a report of a pickup on fire northwest of Ainsworth.
According to Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala, just after 7 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters received a call of a pickup on fire at the residence of Randy Schwindt 3 miles west and one-half mile north of Ainsworth. Fiala said a pickup was plugged in, and a faulty cord started a fire in the engine compartment that spread to the cab of the pickup.
The pickup was parked next to the house, but Fiala said an east wind helped keep the fire from reaching the home. The pickup was considered a total loss.
Firefighters returned to the fire hall by 8 a.m. Tuesday.
* Melting snow, rain causing washouts in Keya Paha County
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 13)
With all the moisture and melting
snow in the area, several rural roads in Keya Paha County have had water wash
* Ricketts issues emergency declaration with pending storm system
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 13)
Gov. Pete Ricketts on Tuesday, in consultation with the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency, issued an emergency declaration in anticipation of severe weather issues set to impact the state.
The emergency declaration will allow NEMA and other state agencies to address potential impacts from the impending severe winter storm expected to affect the Panhandle area, as well as anticipated flooding across other areas of the state.
“Nebraska has experienced a significant amount of severe weather and precipitation over the last couple of months,” Ricketts said. “Nebraskans should watch the forecast closely in the coming days, and be prepared for severe weather events in conjunction with potential historic flooding. As Nebraskans know, conditions can change quickly, and everyone needs to be prepared.”
The emergency declaration allows NEMA to coordinate response and recovery activities with local jurisdictions, state agency partners, and a variety of other stakeholder organizations. The emergency declaration allows local jurisdictions who require assistance with capabilities and resources to direct requests for assistance to the State of Nebraska.
The National Weather Service issued a Winter Storm Warning for the Panhandle region in anticipation of a major winter weather system entering the state. This storm will be dangerous and life-threatening with significant impact on transportation, utilities and agricultural producers. Snowfall amounts in excess of 18 to 24 inches are possible and 50-60 miles per hour winds will make travel difficult to impossible.
Motorists are urged to exercise care and travel is not recommended as the winter storm system enters the state. Residents should anticipate rapidly changing winter conditions with this storm system. The governor’s office urges Nebraska residents and agricultural producers to take precautionary measures to protect life and property.
In addition, flooding will be a primary concern in many areas of the state due to warmer temperatures generating runoff from snowmelt. While this storm system is expected to deliver record levels of snow in the Panhandle, it is expected to generate 1 to 3 inches of rainfall in the eastern portions of Nebraska. Frozen ground and high soil saturation levels will allow snowmelt and precipitation to run off into rivers and streams that are currently frozen. Significant flooding is possible along the Loup, Platte, Elkhorn and Missouri rivers. Ice jams in several locations may exacerbate flooding.
The governor’s office has authorized NEMA to implement ice dusting operations on the Loup and Platte Rivers when conditions permit. The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality has issued a permit to conduct this operation once weather conditions change. If feasible, NEMA will commence operations as early as Friday. The agency will pre-position coal ash material at the airports in Columbus and Wahoo to facilitate the aerial application of the material on river ice. A private aerial applicator will apply the material at the direction and oversight of NEMA and local jurisdictions.
The agency is also working with a variety of partners including the United States Army Corps of Engineers to stage sandbagging supplies associated with flood fighting measures directed at the local level.
The Nebraska State Patrol, the Nebraska Department of Transportation, and the Nebraska National Guard will be coordinating personnel and equipment needed. NEMA strongly encourages individuals or families with functional needs to reach out to their local officials in advance of the storm system reaching their area. This will permit local officials to plan appropriately and identify the resources needed to provide assistance.
* Care Center Board approves administrator job description, employment agreement
(Posted 3 p.m. March 12)
The Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors Monday approved a job description and employment agreement with current Administrator Stephanie Rucker to continue in her administration role after the facility’s management agreement with Rural Health Development ends March 31.
The Care Center Board voted during its February meeting to end the management agreement with RHD. Rural Health Development employed Rucker as the facility’s administrator as part of the management agreement. Ron Ross with RHD agreed to waive a non-compete clause in Rucker’s employment contract to allow her to continue to serve as the care center’s administrator under the supervision of the board.
The board Monday approved the terms of her employment agreement, and a job description for the administrator position.
Rucker reported there are currently 23 residents in the Sandhills Care Center, with 12 private pay residents, 10 receiving Medicaid assistance and one receiving assistance from Medicare. There were no discharges in February.
Rucker reported agency nursing expenses were coming down, with the facility spending just over $27,000 in February on agency nursing. She reported the international nurse hired by the care center would arrive in Ainsworth from South Korea this month, and would replace an agency LPN.
The Sandhills Care Center generated $124,292 in revenue during February, with expenses of $127,200 for an operating loss during the month of $2,908.
The board opted to hold future meetings in the Sandhills Care Center moving forward as opposed to meeting in the Ainsworth Conference Center. The next board meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. April 8.
* National Weather Service provides update on pending winter storm
(Posted 2:30 p.m. March 12)
A meteorologist with the National Weather Service provided
an update Tuesday on the track and impacts of a winter storm that is expected to
arrive Tuesday night and last through Thursday morning.
* Four Ainsworth speakers qualify for state championships during C1-6 District
(Posted noon March 12)
Class C1-6 District Speech Meet
2nd: Sam Wilkins—Extemporaneous Speaking STATE QUALIFIER
Adriana Hood—Informative Speaking STATE QUALIFIER
3rd: Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking STATE QUALIFIER
Jenna Williams—Informative Speaking STATE QUALIFIER
5th: Maren Arens & Ben Flynn—Duet Acting
Superiors: Libby Wilkins—Humorous Prose
Libby Smith—Persuasive Speaking
Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking
Jenna Williams, Henry Beel, Coy Carson, Adriana Hood, Cody Kronhofman—OID
Team: 5th of 9
“We went into districts this year not really knowing what we would be facing,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “With so many meets canceled due to weather, we weren’t able to see much of our competition. I was very happy with the results. Our seniors had good success, and the novices are proving that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.”
Wilkins, Hood, Erthum and Williams will compete in the NSAA Class C-1 State Speech Championships next Thursday, March 21, on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus with rounds beginning at 8:30 a.m.
* School schedules second annual community betterment day for April 26
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 12)
Ainsworth Community Schools has planned its second annual community betterment day for Friday, April 26, with a weather date of Tuesday, May 7.
During Monday’s meeting of the Board of Education, Activities Director Jared Hansmeyer asked the board if it would again support the event financially. He said the board last year allowed up to $4,000 for supplies for the betterment event, though the students did not end up spending close to that amount on the various projects that were completed.
During the betterment event, students work on community projects under supervision. Numerous projects were completed last year from Johnstown to Long Pine, including cleanup activities, painting, and other tasks.
Board President Jim Arens said the event was successful last year.
“This is a good way to get kids involved,” Arens said.
Board member Brad Wilkins said he heard nothing but good things following last year’s betterment day.
Fifth- through 12th-grade students spend the entire day on betterment projects, with kindergarten through fourth-grade students spending a half a day on projects close to the school.
In other business Monday, the board accepted the resignation of elementary teacher Sarah Williams. Williams, who also served as the district’s principal for several years, submitted a letter of resignation effective at the end of the 2018-19 year after 29 years at Ainsworth Community Schools.
Also Monday, the board authorized the Ainsworth Educational Facilities Leasing Corporation to pay an invoice on the agriculture and industrial technology building addition project.
Superintendent Darrell Peterson said there would likely be three more invoices remaining to complete the project.
“We have been using the shop area and the classrooms,” Peterson said. “They are remodeling the old shop area now.”
The superintendent said the contractor was nearing completion, and planned to be wrapped up by the end of this month. They are installing flooring in the old shop area and finishing a hallway.
The board approved the 2019-20 school calendar, which includes a start date for students of Aug. 15. First semester tests are scheduled for Dec. 19-20, with the second semester to begin Jan. 6, 2020. Graduation is set for May 17, with second semester tests administered May 20-21.
Following an executive session Monday, the board approved contracts for Elementary Principal Curtis Childers and Secondary Principal Steve Dike for the 2019-20 year.
During his report, Peterson said the district was still ok on its snow days at this point. Should the district have to take another snow day, semester tests could be moved to a Thursday and Friday instead of the current Wednesday and Thursday to add a day to the school calendar.
The superintendent reported representatives from Northeast Community College planned to tour the new agriculture and shop addition to see if there may be opportunities for the college to offer classes.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for April 8. The meetings move to 8 p.m. beginning in April and continuing through October.
* NWS provides detailed projections on weekend storm path
(Posted 1:30 p.m. March 8)
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service's North
Platte office provided a detailed update Friday on the impacts of the pending
winter storm system expected to impact north central Nebraska.
* Valentine man arrested on murder charge stemming from Monday shooting
(Posted 2:45 p.m. March 6)
Investigators with the Nebraska State Patrol arrested a Valentine man in connection with the shooting death of his wife on Monday, March 4.
The State Patrol was initially called by the Valentine Police Department after officers responded to a reported shooting at 301 Edna St. in Valentine at approximately 7 p.m. Monday.
The victim, Pamela Nickisch, 71, was found dead. Her husband, Paul Nickisch, 70, and a juvenile grandson were also present at the residence.
Investigators allege Paul Nickisch shot Pamela Nickisch as a domestic violence situation escalated. He was arrested on a murder charge and lodged in the Cherry County Jail. A final determination on charges will be made by the Cherry County Attorney’s Office.
The Nebraska State Patrol, Valentine Police Department, Valentine Fire and Rescue, and Cherry County Attorney’s Office contributed to the investigation and response.
* Wilkins earns medal at Southwest Conference Speech Meet
(Posted 8:45 a.m. March 6)
Southwest Conference Speech Meet
3rd: Sam Wilkins—Extemporaneous Speaking
Superiors: Cody Kronhofman—Poetry
Libby Wilkins—Humorous Prose
Madison Welch—Humorous Prose
Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking
Coy Carson—Entertainment Speaking
Jenna Williams—Informative Speaking
Adriana Hood—Informative Speaking
Shaley Starkey—Serious Prose
“We suffered some major disappointments at SWC this year,” Ainsworth speech coach Mary Rau said. “Alyssa missed persuasive finals on a tie breaker, and Jenna was next-in with informative finals. Southwest Conference is very competitive, and we received many great critiques there. We’ll work hard this week to polish for district competition on Monday.”
Before heading to Gering for the C1-6 District meet Monday, the speech team will perform its annual presentation night at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Learning Center.
* Commissioners, council discuss fire department levies, care center funding Tuesday
(Posted 7 a.m. March 6)
Members of the Ainsworth City Council Tuesday requested the Brown County Commissioners coordinate with the council prior to making decisions related to setting the rural fire district levy and approving future additional funding for the Sandhills Care Center in excess of the $80,000 annually each entity committed for a five-year period when the facility reopened.
Ainsworth City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said there is an interlocal agreement in place between the city and county for fire protection. While the city provided a 3-1/2 cent levy for fire protection per the agreement, the county commissioners voted to drop the rural fire district levy to 2-1/2 cents.
“The county and city should match their levies due to the interlocal agreement,” Schroedl said. “The state expects us to agree. If you don’t agree, you should meet with the city to discuss.”
Schroedl said she contacted the state treasurer’s office and was told the county is the taxing authority the state references regarding MFO funding, which is state assistance the fire departments receive on top of the property tax levies. The fire departments received about $29,000 in MFO money for the current fiscal year.
Ainsworth Fire Chief and City Councilman Brad Fiala said the fire departments typically put the MFO money into a sinking fund for the purchase of major equipment.
“The rural board and the city have to be at the same levy for it to work,” Fiala said. “We used MFO funds when we replaced our rescue truck.”
Rural Fire Chief Doug Rau told the commissioners they dictated the money allocated to the rural fire board last year without any notification to the rural board.
“Today is the first day you have had any communication with us, and I think you should apologize,” Rau said. “We took a 28 percent cut from 4 cents to 2-1/2 cents, and we didn’t even get a say about it.”
Commissioner Buddy Small said, last year, two commissioners voted to cut the levy. He said he voted against that proposal.
“I apologize for not contacting you,” Small said. “It wasn’t intentional.”
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said, from his standpoint, he had information that the rural fire board had between $900,000 and $1 million in its coffers.
“If I am looking at a volunteer fire department having that much in reserve, it means you don’t need that much for the current year,” Wiebelhaus said. “That was my thinking at the time. It is hard to know how to budget if we don’t have the numbers.”
Rau said the rural fire board submits its budget to the commissioners each year.
“If you want to cut the levy again to 2-1/2 cents, fine,” Rau said. “We are not willing to give up any more than that. We don’t spend money right and left. You find money for pay increases and medical benefits. Maybe you should cut your budget by 28 percent and give the rural taxpayers a real break.”
Small said he couldn’t speak for the other commissioners, but he said if the rural fire board was willing to accept a 2-1/2 cent levy for the upcoming fiscal year, then that was probably what would happen.
Fiala said the city has set its fire department levy at 3-1/2 cents. He asked Schroedl if she knew how much it would cut the fire department’s budget if the city went down to a 2-1/2-cent levy.
“The city’s pumper truck is a 1994 pumper,” Fiala said. “We have about $113,000 in a sinking fund, but a pumper costs about $400,000.”
Schroedl said, if the county was not happy with the interlocal agreement as it currently stands, the two entities would likely need to discuss an amendment to the agreement soon.
Small said he believed the commissioners and the city council should stay in contact. No action was taken.
Also Tuesday, the council and commissioners discussed funding for the Sandhills Care Center, which the two entities own and operate jointly.
City Councilman Greg Soles said both entities agreed to provide $80,000 in funding to the care center annually for five years.
“If the center needs additional funding above and beyond the initial commitment, we would like the two entities to visit together prior to any decisions being made,” Soles said. “We need that from a budgeting standpoint. It needs to be mutually discussed prior to a commitment from either party.”
With the care center not receiving anticipated Medicaid reimbursement funding from the previous year, the facility ran short for the current fiscal year and needed additional assistance from the city and county.
The county approved providing an additional $80,000 from its fifth-year commitment early, and the city then followed suit.
Sandhills Care Center Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said the facility needs to get to 25 residents to reach a break-even point.
The care center currently has 23 residents.
“The long-term goal is to manage the facility without additional funding,” Fuchs said. “We feel this is an asset to the community. We are always looking for places to save. We are ending our contract with RHD. They were instrumental in helping us get started, and we wouldn’t be where we are without their help. But, we felt their assistance was no longer needed.”
Fuchs said the facility would likely save between $5,000 and $6,000 per month after ending the agreement. The board is working on an administrative contract with current administrator Stephanie Rucker, who has been an RHD employee.
“RHD was willing to release Stephanie so she can stay with us,” Fuchs said. “We are hoping to get to 25 or more residents so we can sustain ourselves.”
Care Center Business Manager Sarah Schipporeit said the facility has reached out to facilities at Broken Bow and Norfolk that are closing.
Care Center Board member Leanne Maxwell said care centers are not there to make a profit anymore.
“They are there to serve residents and their families so they can keep their loved ones home,” Maxwell said.
Wiebelhaus said both the council and the commissioners knew when they entered the agreement that the facility was likely not going to be profitable. While he said there were likely limits to how far both entities could go financially to support the facility, if in year six, after the original agreement, it would cost the city and county each around $25,000 or so, then that is likely something both would be willing to do to keep the facility in the community.
There was no action taken on that item.
Following the City Council adjourning its portion of the meeting, the commissioners heard from representatives of the Brown County Agricultural Society, who requested the county consider providing the group with funding assistance to replace the restroom facilities on the west side of the Brown County Fairgrounds.
Ag Society member Dave Sherman said the bathrooms have become completely outdated. He said the ag society can maintain the fairgrounds with its current budget, but that does not leave any room for projects like this.
Sherman said a $2,000 donation kick-started the project, and the ag society had proposals in to Aksarben and to the Brown County Foundation, but at the most the society might be able to raise about $10,000 of the estimated $77,000 needed to replace the restrooms.
Wiebelhaus said, instead of trying to get the project done in one year, maybe it could be budgeted over a two- or three-year period.
Commissioner Denny Bauer said the board could consider extending the payback period to the inheritance tax fund the ag society was making following the replacement of the chutes at the arena.
“We could let you use that money to speed up the project,” Bauer said.
Wiebelhaus agreed, saying the commissioners could then provide some additional funding in future budgets to pay back the inheritance tax fund over time just like it did with the chute project.
Sherman said the chute project has been a major improvement at the fairgrounds, and the ag society only asked the county for $60,000 of that $120,000 project.
No action was taken, and the item will be addressed during preparations for the 2019-20 budget.
* February coldest in more than 2 decades
(Posted 7 a.m. March 5)
Ainsworth Weather Observer Gerry Osborn reported February's
average temperature was more than 13 degrees below normal. While not the coldest
on record, February the coldest month temperature-wise in the past two decades.
* Friday fire destroys trailer house in Bassett, damages 2 neighboring homes
(Posted 9:45 a.m. March 4)
A Friday afternoon fire destroyed a trailer home in Bassett and damaged two neighboring houses.
According to Bassett Fire Chief Jim Stout, the fire was reported at 12:45 p.m. Friday on South Park Street in Bassett. Stout said the trailer house was completely engulfed in flames upon the arrival of firefighters.
While there were no occupants in the trailer house when the fire broke out, two dogs succumbed to the flames.
Stout said firefighters worked to save homes on either side of the trailer house. While the fire chief said those structures were saved, both received heat damage to their siding.
The trailer house, owned by Johnny Dunn of Bassett, was a total loss. Stout said investigators from the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was started by an electrical heating unit.
Bassett volunteer firefighters returned to the fire hall at 4:30 p.m. Friday.
* Drivers escape injury Thursday in head-on collision on Highway 20
(Posted 9:45 a.m. March 4)
A Thursday night two-vehicle accident on Highway 20
prompted the response of the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department, Brown County
Sheriff’s Department and Brown County Ambulance Association, but neither driver
suffered injuries in the head-on collision.
* Area students participate in model bridge building contest Saturday
(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 4)
The Ainsworth and Rock County high schools’ distance learning physics class competed in the 40th annual Nebraska Model Bridge Contest at Aurora Saturday.
The winning bridges were determined by their efficiency, which is calculated by dividing the weight the bridge held by the weight of the bridge itself.
Trial and error allowed students to learn from experience. The class built and tested a total of 15 bridges during the unit. The maximum weight of the bridges was 25-grams (0.88 ounces). The range of weights held by the bridges in the contest ranged from 1.4 pounds up to 156.2 pounds. This year’s winning bridge was from Hastings, weighing 12.4 grams and holding 88.8 pounds.
Ben Arens of Ainsworth placed fifth with a bridge that held 156.2 pounds, which was reduced to 110 pounds due to contest rules for calculations. Arens’ bridge received second place in the Most Unique Design contest.
Sam Wilkins of Ainsworth placed eighth with a bridge that held 92.7 pounds. Jon Barrow of Ainsworth finished 10th with a bridge that held 41.4 pounds. Riccardo Valletta of Rock County was 12th. His bridge held 25.1 pounds. Tate Fernau of Ainsworth finished 16th with a bridge that held 13.6 pounds.
Ainsworth placed third as a school, and Rock County finished sixth.
* Council approves contract with NCDC to manage LB 840 program by 2-1 vote
(Posted 8 p.m. Feb. 27)
By a 2-1 vote Wednesday with one abstention, the Ainsworth City Council approved a contract prepared by the LB 840 Citizen Advisory Review Committee to have the North Central Development Center manage LB 840 program applications beginning March 18.
Review committee member Chris Raymond said the committee proposed a one-year contract that the council would then have to vote to renew each year.
“This is the third draft of the contract,” Raymond said. “All the recommendations from the City Council and from the NCDC Board have been approved by Rick Ediger and are included. All the funds will come from the city office. The NCDC will simply manage the program and all the applications.”
Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan read three letters at the outset of the hearing. A letter from Jerry Ehlers provided the council with a history of the accomplishments of the North Central Development Center in the community and his recommendation to accept the contract proposed by the Citizen Advisory Review Committee for the management of the program. Letters of opposition to the contract submitted by Betsy Saner and Janelle Carpenter were also read.
Sullivan opened up the floor for public comment on the proposed contract.
Audience member John Gross said, speaking on behalf of the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees, the LB 840 program has worked well in the past and has helped the hospital stay competitive in recruiting professionals to practice in the community.
“I would encourage you to vote for it,” Gross said.
Gross said the hospital has a strategic plan in place, and holding up the potential utilization of LB 840 program funds is not beneficial.
Gross said, on a personal note, there are 20 businesses owned in Ainsworth on the Highway 20 and Main Street corridors by people who live outside the city limits. Those businesses represent $2.8 million in property valuation and $45,000 in annual property taxes. He said the council needed to consider those business owners even though they could not cast votes in city council elections.
“NCDC has been good for the community,” Gross said. “The city can set expectations for the NCDC and let them go to work. I think this contract will help move us forward.”
Audience member Ann Fiala said, as a nearly lifelong citizen of the community, and as a long-time volunteer, she was vested in the community and wanted to see the city and the NCDC work together.
“We need the NCDC to help promote growth like it has done,” Fiala said. “It is sad that this has gotten to this point. It can all be cleared up.”
She said everyone needed to set aside their personal grievances and work together.
“This is about coming together and making this community as vibrant as possible,” Fiala said.
Following public comments, Councilman Schuyler Schenk motioned to table the contract, but that motion died for lack of a second. Schenk said he believed a vote to approve a contract with the NCDC would be criminal. He read a definition of the word “complicity” and said if the council voted to approve a contract it would amount to criminal complicity.
“We have proof that the NCDC took taxpayer money from one fund and used it to repair the roof of the theater,” Schenk said.
Schenk said the city should not give any additional funding to the NCDC and should bid out for managing the LB 840 program.
He said the city should at the very least table the contract until the completion of an investigation by law enforcement.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said she called the Brown County Sheriff’s Department Wednesday, and was told the matter had been referred to the Nebraska State Patrol. She said she was waiting to hear from the State Patrol.
City Attorney Rod Palmer said, if there is an investigation, it would be premature for the city to enter into any agreements.
Schenk said, “I am flabbergasted by the amount of blowback we are getting. I made 16 notes in the contract on ways the NCDC can screw the city over.”
Councilwoman Deb Hurless, who abstained from the vote on the contract Wednesday and during past meetings due to her employment with the North Central Development Center, said Schenk also had a conflict of interest with the NCDC and should abstain from any voting relating to the LB 840 program.
Audience member Mike Schrad told Schenk it appeared he had a thorn in his side against the NCDC, and asked him to explain why Hurless might believe he would have a conflict.
Schenk offered that he worked with the NCDC when he moved back to Ainsworth on an application for funding to potentially open a sandwich shop in the community. He said the NCDC was helpful, but his application was denied due to a lack of collateral.
Schenk said NCDC has done some good things with the LB 840 program, and he was not disputing that. However, he said LB 840 tax money had gone to things that it should not have and he was very much against signing a contract with the NCDC.
Kristin Olson, who has served as the North Central Development Center executive director the past 13 years, said there has been misunderstanding in the community regarding the theater roof project at the heart of Schenk and other city officials’ concerns.
Olson said one section of the theater building’s roof had already been replaced. A portion of the other section, which contractors believed was stable, blew off during a strong wind storm last spring, and that is the section that had to be replaced.
Schenk asserted that the NCDC used other funds to pay back the $35,000 borrowed by the theater from an LB 840 program account, and the NCDC still owed the city $35,000.
Councilman Greg Soles asked Schenk how he came up with that assertion, and told Schenk he should do more research.
“The money has been repaid,” Soles said.
Councilman Brad Fiala said the letter from Jerry Ehlers showed the NCDC track record was pretty darn good with what they have done for the community. He said, in the proposed contract, the city would handle all the funding. The NCDC would handle the application procedures and advise the council, and the council will determine whether to move forward with each project.
Fiala said the city does not have the capability to manage the LB 840 program, and he believed the management and the administration of the program should be done under different roofs.
Soles said Ediger had recommended changes the city needed to make to update the program and move forward.
“Rick Ediger made some good points, and that is what is being addressed,” Soles said. “We need to move forward together. This has been frustrating.”
NCDC Board Chairman Kim Buckley said the NCDC welcomed the city to serve as the administrator for the funds.
“It doesn’t bother us at all that we won’t have to administer all these funds anymore,” Buckley said.
Soles asked if the city would be given top priority by the NCDC since the city would be the largest contributor to its operations.
Buckley said the city has always been the NCDC’s largest contributor and its top priority, even though the development center does receive additional funding from other entities.
Olson said the NCDC office has evolved in major ways since she moved to the community 13 years ago.
“When I moved here, we had a $20,000 budget and I was hired to work three to four days per week,” Olson said.
She said she ended up working seven days a week much of the time, because that was what it required.
“We have a lot of projects we should be chasing that we can’t right now,” Olson said. “This is a good opportunity for the city and the NCDC. We need to be thinking 10 to 20 years down the road. The city can handle all the accounts. We can then utilize our time to help the businesses in the community.”
Schroedl said she believed the city could hire personnel and run the LB 840 program on a smaller pay scale than what was included in the contract proposal.
After Schenk’s motion to table the contract failed for lack of a second, Fiala made a motion to approve the contract between the city and the North Central Development Center for management of the LB 840 program at an annual rate of $36,000 plus 5 percent of any loan or grant application approved by the council with a total amount paid for management of the program not to exceed $60,000 annually.
Soles seconded the motion. Soles and Fiala voted to approve the contract effective March 18, with Schenk voting against and Hurless abstaining.
Prior to the public hearing Wednesday on the LB 840 contract, the council unanimously approved amendments to the LB 840 plan as recommended by the Citizen Advisory Review Committee.
Raymond said the recommended amendments included adjusting the types of business that would qualify for LB 840 program funds. Another amendment struck caps on project awards from the plan as that was no longer part of the law. The changes also included verbiage relating to the LB 840 program administrator since Schroedl was now serving in that capacity.
“There shouldn’t be any big controversy on these,” Raymond said.
Soles thanked the members of the review committee, Schroedl and Olson for all their recent work on the program amendments and with the contract.
In a final action item Wednesday, the council rejected two bids it received to replace the filter system at the Ainsworth Swimming Pool.
Larry Steele with engineering firm Miller and Associates said the two bids came in much higher than the $80,100 Miller and Associates had estimated.
Steele said Phil Karkowski of Loup City submitted a bid of $131,745 to replace the swimming pool filter system, but also specified in the bid that he would not be able to complete the work within the city’s timeline.
The second bid, from Christensen Construction of Pender, was for $132,500.
Steele recommended the council reject the bids and re-bid the project with a new completion date.
“Some of the contractors couldn’t bid on the short time frame,” Steele said. “I think we would get better bids going for construction next year.”
The council unanimously voted to reject both bids for the project.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. March 13.
* Beel chosen to participate in Aspiring Young Cattlemen Program
(Posted 3 p.m. Feb. 27)
The final open shows and sales during the 2019 Nebraska
Cattlemen’s Classic were held recently, and Katrina Beel of Johnstown was one of
several youth given the opportunity to participate in the Aspiring Young
* Ainsworth Quiz Bowl teams both finish in top 3 at Gothenburg
(Posted 6:30 a.m. Feb. 27)
Two Ainsworth High School Quiz Bowl teams competed at
Gothenburg Tuesday, finishing second and third respectively among the 12 teams
competing. Ainsworth's Team 2 went 4-0 on the day and placed second. Team 1 was
3-1 and placed third.
* McCleary discusses Thursday state basketball opener for North Central
(Posted 2:45 p.m. Feb. 26)
North Central girls basketball coach Alex McCleary
discussed his team's opening round game against Dundy County-Stratton as the
Knights begin their trek to try and defend their 2017-18 Class D-1 state title.
* November taxable sales show mixed results for area counties
(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 25)
Nebraska Department of Revenue
* Recent cases from Brown County Court
(Posted 10 a.m. Feb. 21)
In addition to fines, each case carries $50 in court costs
Shay A. Cunningham, age 27, of Sedalia, Mo., charged with first offense driving under the influence, fined $500, sentenced to seven days in jail with credit for four days served, driver’s license revoked for six months, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
Mattea T. Gallegos, 26, of Ainsworth, first offense driving under the influence, $500, sentenced to seven days in jail, driver’s license revoked for six months, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
Michael A. Gillett Jr., 32, of Omaha, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Katelyn A. Utter, 27, of Long Pine, first offense driving under the influence, $500, sentenced to seven days in day with credit for one day served, driver’s license revoked for six months, ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
Trista R. Cress, 36, of Gibbon, no operator’s license, $100; improper or defective vehicle light, $25.
Benjamin S. Cable, 28, of Sioux Falls, S.D., failure to yield the right of way, $25.
Ty J. Shelbourn, 27, of Ainsworth, third offense driving under the influence, $1,000, sentenced to 30 days in jail with credit for one day served, sentenced to two years of probation, driver’s license revoked for two years, ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
Brandon P. Baker, 28, of Ainsworth, first offense driving under the influence of drugs, $500, sentenced to six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days, ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
Luis F. Perez III, 29, of Bassett, first offense driving under the influence, $500, sentenced to seven days in jail with credit for one day served, driver’s license revoked for six months, ordered to install an ignition interlock device; also charged with speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Hector M. Ortiz, 26, of Ainsworth, first offense reckless driving, $500.
Jaye H. Tumpkin, 56, of Sioux City, Iowa, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Adam T. Stahl, 24, of Mina, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce but less than 1 pound, $1,000; attempt of a Class IV felony, $100; possession or use of drug paraphernalia, $300.
Jessica M. Miles, 37, of Houston, Texas, speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.
Lyle D. Cate, 19, of Valentine, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.
Jayce S. Nilson, 22, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Demetrice N. Gholar, 33, of Gulfport, Miss., possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300.
Eswin D. Giron, 27, of Willmar, Minn., no operator’s license, $75.
Donald R. Schuyler, 72, of Carterville, Ill., overweight on capacity plates, $25.
Nychelle M. Halse, 30, of Sioux Falls, S.D., three counts of attempting a Class IV felony, fined $1,000 on each count; also sentenced to pay $2,501 in restitution.
* Turpin presents 1- and 6-year highway improvement plan Tuesday
(Posted 1:30 p.m. Feb. 20)
During a public hearing Tuesday, Brown County Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin presented the Board of Commissioners with the one- and six-year plan for county road improvements.
Required to be submitted annually to receive funding from the Department of Transportation, the annual roads plan includes a hearing to allow the public to weigh in on the projects slated for improvements on the county’s road system.
Turpin reported seven projects were completed from the 2018 one-year plan, with the remaining projects moved into the current plan.
Projects completed from the previous one-year plan include armor coating work on 6.5 miles of Moon Lake Avenue, and 1.4 miles of armor coating on the Norden Road and Road 880 near Johnstown.
A bridge on Meadville Avenue across the Ainsworth Irrigation District canal was replaced in April 2018 just north of the Ainsworth city limits at a cost of $96,000. The roads department also replaced old culverts on Road 881 with new, larger culverts. That project was completed in June.
Two grading and resurfacing projects on Beel Lane totaling 3.5 miles were completed in September, and the department also completed one-half mile of grading and clay surfacing work on Southwest Road in September.
Most of the 25 projects on the 2019 one-year plan are grading and gravel work on various roads in the county. Turpin placed two major bridge projects on the one-year plan, each with an estimated price tag of $100,000.
Those projects include replacing a bridge with culverts on 430th Avenue, and rehabilitating a bridge on 423rd Avenue. The county also plans to replace a second bridge on 430th Avenue with culverts at a cost of $25,000.
Turpin has approximately $94,000 of armor coating work on the one-year plan, with 7.5 miles of Meadville Avenue scheduled to receive armor coating in 2019, and 1 mile of 433rd Avenue. Turpin has 2.5 miles of Meadville Avenue slated for an asphalt overlay at a cost of $91,000.
The remaining projects on the one-year plan all relate to grading and gravel resurfacing work.
The projects on the one-year plan carry a total price tag of an estimated $750,000 if they were all to be completed.
Major projects on the six-year plan include bridge replacements on 426th Avenue, 427th Avenue, 432nd Avenue, and the Bar 25 Road. The six-year plan also includes 20 miles of armor coating work on the Elsmere Road.
Following the public hearing Tuesday, the commissioners approved the one- and six-year highway improvement plan as presented.
All 46 projects on the one- and six-year plan carry a total estimated price tag of $3.75 million.
* Lions Club agrees to serve a meal during summer BRAN ride
(Posted 1 p.m. Feb. 20)
During its monthly meeting, Ainsworth Lions Club President Connie Lentz presented information she received at a recent community meeting about the community of Ainsworth hosting the 2019 BRAN bike riders June 4. The club plans to offer a lunch to the BRAN riders at East City Park. Lentz will attend the next BRAN organizational meeting and provide any additional information to the club in March.
Sarah Williams shared information from when she organized the local contest for the Lions Club District 38-I Talent Contest. She encouraged the club to consider hosting the contest in the future. Jerry Allen said the club did host such a contest years ago. However, no action was taken, since information had not yet been received regarding the event from District 38-I for this year.
Evan Evans reported the Lion Club vision screening equipment is now located in the Ainsworth Vision Clinic and he will communicate with the school nurse to see about using the equipment for students who were referred for possible vision issues. The screening equipment will also be made available to area Lions Clubs in north central Nebraska as needed.
The Lions Club is making plans to assist with the Fourth Grade Foresters Project, which provides a seedling to each fourth-grade student on Arbor Day.
David Spann confirmed the date and time for the Ainsworth High School All Sports Tailgate Party, which will be held Tuesday, April 23. Any members who will not be available that evening are asked to contact Spann, so he can make adjustments to the work schedule.
* Smell of smoke in Ainsworth home Tuesday prompts firefighter response
(Posted 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19)
A resident smelling something burning prompted the
response of the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department to a home in Ainsworth
According to Devon Painter with the fire department, at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, a resident reported smelling smoke in their home on South Maple Street. Firefighters arrived and found a bearing was malfunctioning in the home’s heating unit.
The heating unit was shut down, and Black Hills Energy personnel responded to make repairs to the system. No damage was reported.
* Davis named Firefighter of the Year, Starkey BCAS Member of the Year Saturday
(Posted 2:15 p.m. Feb. 19)
Eric Davis was named the Ainsworth Volunteer Firefighter of the Year Saturday during the department’s annual awards night.
BJ Nilson received the Rookie of the Year Award for the fire department, and Seidel and Son Trailer Sales was named the Business of the Year for its support of the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department.
Eldon Sylvester was recognized for 45 years of service on the fire department, Ann Fiala received a plaque for 20 years on the fire department. Austin Cook, Troy Brodbeck and Brandon Evans were recognized for serving on the department for 10 years, and Kyle Mizner has been on the department for five years.
The Brown County Ambulance Association also presented its annual awards Saturday, with Kurt Starkey named the Ambulance Association Member of the Year.
Jeremiah Sullivan was recognized as the association’s Rookie of the Year. Scott Goodloe received a plaque for 15 years of services on the association, and Julie Mizner was recognized for being a member of the ambulance association for five years.
In addition, several members of the Brown County Ambulance Association, Brown County Hospital and Brown County Sheriff’s Department received a Code Save certificate and pin from the Department of Health and Human Services for recognition of performing CPR and defibrillation that resulted in saving the life of an individual who later resumed a normal lifestyle following a cardiac arrest.
Emergency responders given the Code Save recognition were Ann Fiala, Brooke Peacock, Brad Fiala, Brian Delimont, Julie Mizner and Nadine Starkey from the Brown County Ambulance Association; Kristi Crawford, Eileen Jensen, Jayce Linse, Brandy Bussinger, Sheila Risseeuw, Martha Fletcher, Dr. Alicia Erickson and Dr. Mel Campbell from the Brown County Hospital; and Tina Handsaker from the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.
Each responder received a Code Save certificate and pin during Saturday’s awards presentation.
* Speech team wins home invitational Saturday
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 18)
Ainsworth Speech Invitational
1st: Sam Wilkins—Extemporaneous Speaking
Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking
3rd: Libby Wilkins—Humorous Prose
Jenna Williams—Informative Speaking
Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking
Jenna Williams, Henry Beel, Coy Carson, Adriana Hood, Cody Kronhofman—OID
4th: Maren Arens & Ben Flynn—Duet Acting
5th: Adriana Hood—Informative Speaking
Coy Carson—Entertainment Speaking
6th: Cody Kronhofman—Poetry
Brandt Murphy—Extemporaneous Speaking
Elizabeth Smith—Persuasive Speaking
Henry Beel—Informative Speaking
Brandt Murphy & Cody Scott—Duet Acting
7th: Madison Welch & Libby Wilkins—Duet Acting
8th: Alyssa Erthum—Poetry
Molly Salzman—Persuasive Speaking
Josie Ganser, Molly Salzman, Libby Smith, Shaley Starkey, Ellie Welke—OID
9th: Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking
10th: Allison Arens—Informative Speaking
Henry Beel—Entertainment Speaking
Superior: Brandt Murphy—Serious Prose
Shaley Starkey—Serious Prose
Josie Ganser—Entertainment Speaking
Team: 1st of 7
“It’s been a few years since we’ve been able to win a tournament, especially our home invitational,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “It was a special day for us. Having the support of family, classmates, and community members really gives the speakers a boost. Thank you to everyone who took time to come and watch us perform. And special thanks to the many judges who came in to share their expertise and also to the Does for providing a delicious breakfast. This meet is definitely a community event.”
The final competition of the regular season will take place on Saturday at Gordon, with rounds beginning at 9 a.m. MST.
* Text to 911 implemented in Region 24 Emergency Management counties
(Posted 2:30 p.m. Feb. 15)
Text to 911 has been implemented in Brown, Boyd, Cherry, Keya Paha and Rock counties. All testing has been completed and the system is activated. The text to 911 system is designed primarily for deaf, hard of hearing and speech impaired citizens. However, if making a voice call would directly endanger the person calling 911, then texting would be an option.
Calling 911 remains the fastest and most efficient way to request emergency assistance.
Text to 911 calls will be handled similar to wireless 911 calls and TTY911 calls. The calls will be received through the 911 system. Because of the lack of accurate or reliable address/location information, the priority will be to determine the caller’s exact location. Without the location information, emergency response cannot be sent.
If it is determined, the caller is not within the jurisdiction they wanted to call, the call cannot be transferred to the correct jurisdiction. The individual will then be instructed to call 911 so they can be transferred to the correct 911 center.
When the dispatcher disconnects the call, an automatic message will be sent advising the caller they have been disconnected and to call 911 by voice or originate a new text message if they need additional assistance.
Since this service is not currently supported by all cell phone carriers or other 911 centers in the region, if you attempt a text and it is not supported, you will receive a message advising to make a voice call to 911.
* Ainsworth Elks Lodge awards several scholarships to high school seniors
(Posted 12:30 p.m. Feb. 15)
Ainsworth Elks Lodge #1790 Scholarship Chairman Bret Younkin announced the awarding of $1,450 in local scholarships.
In the Elks National Foundation Most Valuable Student Scholarship contest, Jenna Williams of Ainsworth Community Schools, Kenzie Barnes of Cody-Kilgore High School, Bailey Witt of Valentine High School, Zachary Michka of Stuart High School, Jared Tolliver of Cody-Kilgore High School and Jaydon Owen of Valentine High School will each receive $100 locally and advance to the State competition.
In the Nebraska Elks Past Exalted Rulers Association Scholarship contest, Jenna Williams of Ainsworth Community Schools and Ethan James Sattler of Stuart High School will each receive $100 locally and advance to the State competition.
In the Elks National Foundation Vocational Scholarship contest, Shelby Jones of Ainsworth Community Schools and Ethan James Sattler of Stuart High School will receive $50 locally and advance to the State competition.
In the Nebraska Elks Association J.B. Ferguson Golf Scholarship contest, Austin Wenner of West Holt High School will receive $50 and advance to the State competition.
The Gary Kelly Memorial Scholarship was awarded to Abby Thornburg of Stuart High School and Trey Schlueter of Ainsworth Community Schools. Each receive $250.
* Transfer of LB 840 funds from business development account to theater flagged
(Posted 9:15 a.m. Feb. 14)
Ainsworth City Attorney Rod Palmer flagged one transaction as a misappropriation of LB 840 funding by the North Central Development Center during Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
One of seven items where additional information was requested by the city auditor, Palmer said $35,000 from the NCDC’s business development fund was transferred to the Grand Theater fund to pay an invoice to Ahrends Construction.
“I think this was one of the more serious issues,” Palmer said. “We have been repaid, but you don’t want the city to be complicit in any misappropriation of funds.”
He rhetorically asked if the council members would be complicit in a cover-up if the transaction was not reported to authorities.
North Central Development Center Board Chairman Kim Buckley told the council the funds were borrowed from the business development fund after the roof on the Grand Theater blew off last spring.
“The roof blew off the theater and it was raining almost every day,” Buckley said. “A lot of work had already been done inside the building. In order to get the roof replaced and not ruin all of the work that had been done inside, the decision was made to borrow the money from another fund and pay it back when the theater had raised the funds.”
Buckley said the contractor required half of the cost of replacing the roof to be paid up front, which amounted to $35,000. He said the theater account did not have the funding to pay the up-front cost, so the decision was made to borrow the funding from another account to replace the roof and save the interior work that had been completed in the building.
“Should we have let all the work done inside get ruined?” Buckley asked. “There was damage happening inside after the roof blew off. The money was always going to be repaid.”
Palmer said the money was spent in May of 2018, and was not repaid until January.
“If the county treasurer had done this, it would have been serious,” Palmer said of the NCDC using tax dollars allocated for one purpose going to a different purpose for any amount of time.
Buckley said there had not been many donations coming in for the theater until recently, when the theater received a large private donation and a grant award from the Brown County Foundation. Those donations allowed the money to be repaid from the theater account back to the business development fund.
The NCDC was requested to take over the theater reconstruction from the Sandhills Area Entertainment Corporation following the October 2014 fire in the Royal Theater.
Buckley said, “This was all done for the benefit of the city and the theater. It was a loan made to protect the theater. The decision was made by volunteers who do not get paid to help with these community projects.”
Councilwoman Deb Hurless said she believed the city was trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill.
“Nothing was done out of maliciousness,” Hurless said. “Everything was done with the best intentions.”
Councilman Brad Fiala said he didn’t want to try and hide anything, but he had a problem going after a group of volunteers doing the best they could for the community.
Upon a recommendation from the city attorney, the council, by a 3-0 vote with Hurless abstaining, approved referring the incident relating to the transfer of the funds from the business development account to the theater account to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.
The transfer of the $35,000 to the theater account was one of seven items flagged by the city auditor that prompted the council to request additional documentation from the North Central Development Center.
The council individually looked at each of the seven items, voting that the documentation the NCDC provided on four of the seven items was sufficient. The council tabled one item regarding payments made to one professional from the NCDC professional recruitment fund pending the location of a contract between the NCDC and the professional who received the recruitment funds.
The council approved having Soles follow up on behalf of the city for the final item flagged by the auditor relating to security documents for a business loan made by the city from the LB 840 fund.
One of the four items that was cleared related to the funding returned by the NCDC from its housing program. The NCDC initially received a $150,000 loan from the LB 840 fund for its housing program. Later, the NCDC was awarded an additional $200,000 grant by the council for the housing program.
When returning all of its remaining LB 840 funding from applications awarded by the council, the housing funds were a total of $26,000 shy of the full $350,000 awarded.
Palmer questioned whether the $26,000 that was lost on the projects was from the loan funds or the grant funds.
Soles, who served on the housing committee, said the committee’s final housing project was the one that did not break even, so it would have come from the grant award.
Fiala said, with a grant, the council was never guaranteed to get any money back.
Buckley said the city, by making a total $26,000 investment in the housing program, was now receiving $19,000 back every year in additional property tax dollars due to the increased value of the properties in the city that were constructed thanks to the housing program.
The council cleared items flagged by the auditor relating to the housing program funds, the business revitalization funds, and a $7,250 deposit made to the housing committee from property sold on Zero Street for the Trails Crossing complex.
Another item flagged related to the property owned by the NCDC at the corner of Third and Oak streets. The housing committee demolished a dilapidated house at that site and obtained ownership of the lot. Housing committee member Doug Weiss said the NCDC Board voted Wednesday to turn the deed to the property over to the city if that was the council’s wish.
“I have the deed here,” Weiss said. “Kim can sign it and I can notarize it.”
Buckley said there were no problems with turning over ownership of the lot to the city.
“It certainly doesn’t do us any good to keep that property,” Buckley said.
The council requested the property be returned and title insurance provided.
Following the item by item discussion on the documentation provided by the NCDC, the council reviewed a draft of a contract between the city and the NCDC for management of the LB 840 program prepared by the Citizens Advisory Review Committee at the council’s request.
Councilman Schuyler Schenk said he was against the city entering into a contract with the NCDC.
“I would like to see the audit completed and the city move forward without the NCDC,” Schenk said.
Citizens Advisory Review Committee member Chris Raymond said the committee met four or five times and prepared several drafts of the contract. He said attorney Rick Ediger had reviewed the proposed contract and made some changes.
Buckley said the NCDC Board reviewed the draft Wednesday and requested only a few minor changes.
The council reviewed the contract and made additional recommendations for changes to the language. Another draft will be prepared and sent to Ediger for review. A final draft of the contract will be presented during the council’s next meeting, with the council then deciding whether to agree to the contract to have the NCDC manage the LB 840 account moving forward.
The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 13.
* Council approves streets plan; amends snow removal ordinance for Main Street
(Posted 9:45 p.m. Feb. 13)
The Ainsworth City Council Wednesday tackled several topics during a nearly three-hour meeting, including going through additional documentation relating to the LB 840 program that had been provided by the North Central Development Center.
Following a public hearing Wednesday, the council approved the 1- and 6-year streets plan as submitted by Streets Superintendent Lloyd Smith with Niobrara Valley Consultants of Valentine.
Smith reported most of the items on the 1- and 6-year plan were carry-over items, as all projects during the past year on the city’s streets were maintenance projects.
He said the funds were not available to tackle any of the large projects on the plan during the previous year.
“If there was some grant funding available, you might look at curb and gutter projects, but I am not aware of any funds that are currently available,” Smith told the council.
The one-year plan includes placing asphalt millings on North Elm Street from Highway 20 north to Sixth Street. That street is currently graveled. The one-year plan also includes placing asphalt millings on South Merten Street between Second and Third streets, which is also currently a graveled street.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the city would have enough asphalt millings available for both projects in the one-year plan.
The six-year plan includes concrete paving for several streets. Those streets include Oak Street from First to Second streets, Maple Street from First to Fourth streets, Elm Street from First to Fourth streets, East First Street from Main to Pine streets, and Woodward Street from First to Third streets.
The six-year plan also includes asphalt overlays on East Second Street and East Third Street between Main Street and Walnut Streets, and on West Second Street and West Third Street between Main Street and Woodward Street.
Also included in the six-year plan is rebuilding the Highway 20 intersection with Meadville Avenue to widen the intersection, and an asphalt overlay of Meadville Avenue from Highway 20 north to the city boundary.
Following the hearing, the council approved the one- and six-year streets plan as presented.
In other business Wednesday, the council approved an ordinance amending city code relating to snow removal from the Main Street business district.
Instead of having to remove snow by 10 a.m. following a snowstorm, property owners on Main Street in the business district will be required to have snow removed to curbside by 6 a.m.
Councilman Greg Soles said the code was being amended to simplify things for the city streets crew as it removes snow from Main Street.
“The idea is to have the city clean Main Street once early before vehicles come onto Main Street,” Soles said. “If the snow isn’t cleared by 6 a.m., the city has to come back down Main Street two or three times.”
Main Street business owner Laurel Appleman said the city needed to go out for bids and have one contractor clean all the sidewalks on Main Street.
“Some of us haven’t contracted with anyone, and we are being sent a bill,” Appleman said.
Business owner Betsy Saner said she too was sent a bill for snow removal when she hadn’t signed a contract or even requested that the snow on her sidewalks be removed.
“Right now, I have until 10 a.m. to scoop, and I would scoop before 10 a.m. but it is already cleared by then, and I am sent a bill,” Saner said. “I did not ask anyone to scoop.”
Schroedl said the city in the past had talked about contracting snow removal on Main Street sidewalks with one person. She said former Mayor Larry Rice went door to door to the business owners, and there was not a consensus.
Soles said those business owners can clean their own sidewalks, but it would need to be done by 6 a.m. if the amended ordinance was approved.
“The ordinance would only say that snow has to be removed by 6 a.m.,” Soles said. “How you do that is up to you.”
Soles said it will be up to the business owner to make arrangements to have the snow removed by 6 a.m.
“If it is not done, then there could be fines involved,” Soles said. “We are trying to make it so the city crews can clear Main Street once.”
Residential property owners currently have 24 hours to clear their sidewalks of snow under the ordinance, and that would not change with the amendment.
Schroedl said snow removal would be handled similarly to the city’s nuisance abatement program. The city would coordinate with the sheriff’s department and those who do not remove snow according to the ordinance would be contacted.
“The sheriff’s department is ordering door hangers to place on residences that don’t clear the sidewalks,” Schroedl said.
The council approved the ordinance requiring Main Street business owners to have snow removed by 6 a.m. instead of the previous 10 a.m.
The council discussed changes to the city’s fee schedules, including swimming pool rates, but opted to table the item to allow individual council members time to review the proposed changes to the fee schedule and make recommendations.
The council approved providing an additional $80,000 in funding to the Sandhills Care Center to cover operating costs for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Schroedl said she wanted to discuss with the council the areas in the budget where the funds would likely be taken so everyone was on the same page.
She suggested the remaining $10,000 in the Community Development Block Grant re-use loan fund be utilized to Lyons HR similar to the first time the city provided the care center’s payroll company with funding to be used to help cover the facility’s payroll.
Schroedl suggested $50,000 be taken from the conference center building fund that had been allocated for the replacement of the conference center heating and air conditioning system, but that project had not gone forward yet so it could be pushed back into the next budget year.
She said the remaining $20,000 would have to come from other line items in the budget, and would likely be taken from the streets department.
The council approved providing the $80,000 to the Sandhills Care Center.
In a related item, the council approved cancelling a promissory note with Lyons HR for the initial $265,000 the company received to put toward a credit for the care center’s payroll costs. Schroedl said the funding was issued as a forgivable loan as part of the city’s initial contribution to the Sandhills Care Center to match funding provided by Brown County. She said Lyons HR had met the terms of the agreement, so the city could forgive the loan.
The council approved an ordinance Wednesday to sell Lot 8, Block 6 of Morrison’s Addition after accepting a bid from K Hay LLC for the parcel.
The council approved a bid from Topkote for armor coating city streets. Streets Foreman Monte Goshorn said Topkote had handled the city’s armor coating work for more than 20 years.
“They know our streets, and they do good work,” Goshorn said.
He said the cost per square yard would likely go up another 30 cents if the council waited to take action, as the price of oil is increasing. The council approved the quote of $1.18 per square yard for the armor coating work, which is 10 cents per yard higher than the previous year’s quote.
In a final item, the council reappointed Brian Delimont to a three-year term on the City Park Board.
The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 13.
* Traffic Accidents
(Posted 2:30 p.m. Feb. 13)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
pair of recent motor vehicle accidents.
At 7:15 a.m. on Feb 5, a 2001 Dodge Ram, driven by Levi Gum, 24, of Long Pine, was being towed down the alley east of Pine Street near Fifth Street in Long Pine when the pickup struck a phone box. No injuries were reported. Damage to the Dodge was estimated at $100. The telephone box, owned by Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company, sustained approximately $500 damage.
At 8:35 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, on Elm Street in Ainsworth south of the Highway 20 intersection, a collision occurred between a 2014 Dodge Caravan, being backed out of the Ampride parking lot by Roni Daniels, 37, of Ainsworth, and a 1998 Ford pickup, driven on Elm Street by Roger Hansen, 84, of Johnstown. No injuries were reported. Damage to the Dodge was estimated at $100. The Ford sustained approximately $300 damage.
* School Board hears information from students on trout-raising efforts
(Posted 2:30 p.m. Feb. 12)
Students from Nichole Flynn and Geri Carr’s classes presented information to the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Monday on a project they are working on to raise and study trout from their earliest life cycle.
Flynn said Ainsworth was one of 10 schools to receive a $500 scholarship to help get the project started. The trout-raising is a venture between the Nebraska Environmental Trust, Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Nebraska schools.
Carr said Ainsworth is now one of 94 schools participating. Those schools receive fertilized trout eggs from a hatchery in Montana. Students study the early life stages from the time the eggs hatch until they are released as fingerlings in May at the Valentine Fish Hatchery.
Student Ben Arens said the water temperature is kept at a chilled 52 degrees for the trout fry. Arens said Mr. Pollock’s students built a stand for the aquarium.
Student Miah Ortner said the cold water has more dissolved oxygen, and trout were a species that preferred colder water. She said their class learned about factors that can pollute a trout’s environment, including sediment runoff and animal waste.
Katie Arens told the board a female trout lays an average of 2,000 eggs, and the trout are left to fend for themselves from the time of berth. She said they are studying the six stages in a trout’s life cycle.
Emma Kennedy talked to the board about a trout’s features, including its eight distinct fins, as well as its teeth and its smooth scales.
Jolyn Pozehl said her class was able to dissect an adult trout, and could determine whether the fish was male or female.
Carr said the eggs arrived Jan. 17, and most had hatched by Jan. 27. She said about 20 of the fry have not survived and some of the eggs did not hatch, leaving the students with around 100 live trout to observe.
Flynn said the sixth and seventh grade classes and Carr’s senior students would travel to the Valentine Fish Hatchery May 2 to release the trout and listen to a program from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staff.
In other items Monday, the board approved the resignation of fifth-grade teacher Ann Hoch, who announced her retirement after 18 years with Ainsworth Community Schools and 36 years in education.
The board approved a contract with Emily Whipple for the agricultural education position for 2019-20 created by the announced retirement of Roger Lechtenberg from that position. Superintendent Darrell Peterson said Whipple is a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate and has been serving as a long-term substitute this semester at Wilcox-Hildreth after graduating in December.
The board approved the negotiated agreement between the district and the Ainsworth Education Association for the 2019-20 contract year.
The agreement includes a $600 increase in the base salary schedule, as well as the district covering the 5 percent increase in the health insurance premium rate for the 2019-20 year, though there will be a higher deductible for staff to meet. The overall contract is up 3 percent from the previous year’s agreement.
The board approved renewing membership with the Nebraska Association of School Boards at a cost of $4,687. That cost reflected a 2 percent discount for renewing early.
In a final action item Monday, the board authorized the Ainsworth Educational Facilities Leasing Corporation to pay an invoice related to the agriculture and industrial technology building addition.
During his report, Peterson recognized Elementary Principal Curtis Childers for his quick action in the cafeteria to assist a student who started to choke. Peterson said the student began to choke and turn color when Childers performed the Heimlich maneuver to remove the obstruction from the student’s airway. Peterson said the student quickly recovered. He thanked Childers for his quick action.
Peterson reported there was some asbestos found in the corner of the old wood shop that cost an additional $3,000 to remove.
The board also viewed the preliminary 2019-20 school calendar, which shows the first day of class Aug. 15 and first semester test days of Dec. 19-20. The holiday break begins Dec. 23 and lasts until Jan. 6, 2020. Graduation was moved back to the third Sunday in May, which is May 17, 2020, with the final day of class slated for May 20, 2020.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 11. The board will move to its 8 p.m. meeting time beginning in April.
* Care Center Board votes to end contract with management company RHD
(Posted 5 p.m. Feb. 11)
In an effort to bring down the ongoing cost of operation, the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors voted Monday to terminate the facility’s contract with management company Rural Health Development.
Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said the expense to have RHD manage the facility is higher than what it would cost the Sandhills Care Center to hire an administrator in-house. The care center is currently paying Rural Health Development a monthly management fee of $12,979.
“This is something we have discussed off and on for a while,” Fuchs said. “RHD helped us immensely in getting this project off the ground. We couldn’t have done this without them.”
Fuchs said he spoke with RHD owner Ron Ross about releasing Administrator Stephanie Rucker from the non-compete clause in her contract to allow her to continue to serve as the facility’s administrator under the care center board’s direction. As part of its management contract, RHD employs Rucker as the facility’s administrator.
“Ron agreed to release her from her non-compete so she could continue to work for the facility,” Fuchs said.
The board voted to end its contract with RHD effective March 31. Fuchs said the board would need to work out a contract with Rucker to continue to serve as the Sandhills Care Center administrator after the agreement with RHD ends.
Rucker reported one resident was admitted to the facility in January with no discharges, which brings the current residency to 20. She said 11 were private-pay residents, with eight receiving Medicaid assistance and one receiving Medicare assistance.
She reported one of the most recent admissions to the facility came from 180 miles away, so the word is spreading about the facility.
“The North Platte hospital is now calling us about potentially admitting residents,” Rucker said. “We have a good connection with them, and with the hospitals in Kearney and Grand Island.”
Rucker reported the facility had another potential admission on Wednesday, which would bring the total to 21 residents.
During January, the Sandhills Care Center generated $124,798 in revenue, with expenses of $165,046 for a net loss of $40,248 during the month.
Fuchs said the facility didn’t end up having to use $32,000 that was approved to pay claims during the previous month, as accounts receivable covered those costs. The board approved paying claims and transferring the necessary funding.
Rucker said the facility is now down to utilizing two agency CNAs and one agency LPN, but the expenses for agency nursing in January were still elevated at $48,606. She said the care center has hired another CNA, which will bring the need for agency staffing down to one CNA. The international nurse hired by the care center is scheduled to arrive between the middle and end of March which will eliminate the need for the agency LPN.
“We are almost done with agency expenses,” Rucker told the board.
Fuchs said ending the need to use agency nursing to fill staffing requirements would be an immense help to the care center’s bottom line.
Rucker reported there was an $11,055 expense for the auditor that fell in January, and the facility had to replace its industrial water heater in January after the previous water heater failed at a cost of $6,330.
Board member Buddy Small asked what the care center received in service from the Lyons payroll company. That company charges the facility a monthly fee of $1,881 to administer the facility’s payroll.
Care Center Business Manager Sarah Schipporeit said the care center could likely handle the payroll in-house, but Lyons provided group health insurance the care center’s employees could utilize since the facility has not been able to provide an in-house option for health insurance.
Fuchs said it was probably time for the facility to take another look and see if there are any companies that could offer a group policy.
“That is why we have kept Lyons in the past,” Fuchs said. “We need to see if there is a company out there that can offer similar benefits for about the same cost as Lyons.”
Schipporeit said the care center is a small group, and getting its group insurance through Lyons allows the facility’s employees to be a part of that larger group to help keep premium costs down.
Potential options for health insurance will be researched and discussed during the board’s next meeting.
Rucker thanked the community for supporting the care center during its recent soup and pie supper. She said the event raised $2,900, which will allow the nursing department to purchase a new wheel chair scale.
“Thank you to everyone who donated and to those who attended,” Rucker said. “That scale will be a huge addition for our nursing department.”
She reported Matt Moody had been hired for a shared maintenance position between the care center and the Brown County Hospital. Rucker said Moody handled snow removal right away on Sunday.
The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board is scheduled for 4 p.m. March 11.
* Stuart Raceway adds 3 micro sprint divisions for 2019 race season
(Posted 10:45 a.m. Feb. 11)
Stuart Raceway is adding three new micro sprint classes
for the 2019 racing season. The restricted A class, winged A class and stock
non-winged class micro sprints will add to the hobby stock, stock car, northern
sportmod and race-saver sprint divisions previously featured at Stuart Raceway.
The rules for the new micro sprint classes can be found online at www.now600series.com/rules/
Stuart Raceway is offering the new classes for many reasons: the same car can be run in all three classes in one night with very little change to the car necessary; the overall cost of running one of the three new classes is less than most other race classes; and motocross racers, past and present, have a way to cross over to a different style of racing.
* Arens named Gatorade Cross Country Athlete of the Year
(Posted 10 a.m. Feb. 11)
Ainsworth senior Ben Arens has been named the Gatorade Nebraska Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year. Arens was the first Class D boys runner to earn the All-Class Gold Medal during the Nebraska State Cross Country Championships.
Arens set the Class D meet record with a time of 16:02 and won the Class D race by more than 1 minute. Arens finished his senior year undefeated in cross country and set five course records during the season.
The Gatorade Runner of the Year recognizes not only outstanding athletic excellence, but academic achievement and exemplary character. Arens is the president of the Ainsworth Student Council and the Ainsworth High School senior class. He also has a 4.0 grade-point average.
Arens will now be in the running for the National Gatorade Athlete of the Year. He also has the opportunity to award a $1,000 grant to a local or national youth sports organization of his choosing, and is also eligible to submit an essay to win one of 12 spotlight grants in the amount of $10,000 for the organization of his choice.
* Speech team brings home medals from North Platte Invitational
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 11)
Blue & Gold Invitational (North Platte)
7th: Jenna Williams, Henry Beel, Coy Carson, Adriana Hood, Cody Kronhofman—OID
8th: Adriana Hood—Informative Speaking
12: Henry Beel—Entertainment Speaking
Superiors: Coy Carson—Entertainment Speaking
Henry Beel—Informative Speaking
Jenna Williams—Informative Speaking
Team: 12th of 21
2nd: Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking
3rd: Josie Ganser—Entertainment Speaking
5th: Allison Arens—Informative Speaking
6th: Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking
Superiors: Molly Salzman—Persuasive Speaking
Ellie Welke—Entertainment Speaking
Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking
Josie Ganser, Molly Salzman, Libby Smith, Shaley Starkey, Ellie Welke—OID
“North Platte was as challenging as usual, but the team stepped up and performed very well,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “All varsity speakers either medaled or brought home superior awards. I think that’s a first. The novices had another great day, including a new OID that we just put together this week. We learned that Gothenburg and Ogallala will be tough teams when it comes to Southwest Conference, but we’ll continue to polish and improve. We’ll be ready for the competition.”
The next competition for the speech team is the annual Ainsworth Speech Invitational Saturday with rounds beginning at 9 a.m. The tournament is free and open to the public.
* Area students named to UNMC Dean's List for fall semester
(Posted 2 p.m. Feb. 8)
The University of Nebraska Medical Center has announced its fall 2018 dean’s list for students enrolled in nursing, dentistry, pharmacy and the allied health professions of medical resonance imaging, medical laboratory science and radiography.
To qualify for the dean’s list, nursing students must be enrolled for 12 or more hours during the semester and have a grade point average of 3.75 or above.
Area UNMC Dean’s List students include:
College of Nursing Lincoln Division
Ainsworth -- Shea Sinsel
Dunning -- Cassidy Hafer
College of Nursing Northern Nebraska Division
Bassett -- Kenady Stanton
* Cowboy Trail receives $65,000 grant for improvements
(Posted 10:45 a.m. Feb. 8)
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy announced a $65,000 grant to
be shared between two non-profit organizations - Cowboy Trail West and Northwest
Nebraska Trails Association - working to move the Cowboy Recreation and Nature
Trail closer to completion.
The trail, totaling 321 miles when complete, is one of the longest rail-trail conversions in the nation, spanning much of the state. RTC’s grant provides the matching funds necessary for the two organizations to secure $700,000 in Recreational Trails Program funds offered by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to advance the trail’s development.
“It’s an exciting time for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, as we unveil our long-held vision for the Great American Rail-Trail and take bold action toward its development,” said Liz Thorstensen, vice president of trail development at RTC. “The success of the Great American Rail-Trail hinges on the success of the many trails it comprises—including the Cowboy Trail. That’s what makes this $65,000 grant so important—paired with local funds raised, it has the potential to unlock hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding that will help complete one of the oldest and longest rail-trails in the country.
“This grant and the promise it holds for completing the Cowboy Trail are examples of the momentum the Great American Rail-Trail will deliver to trail development along its route as this vision becomes reality.”
The donation comes just days following RTC’s announcement of its commitment to complete the Great American Rail-Trail—a nearly 4,000-mile multiuse trail spanning 12 states nationwide from Washington, D.C., to Washington State. The Cowboy Trail is one of 12 gateway trails announced by RTC—those trails that make the vision of the Great American Rail-Trail possible in each state. RTC plans to reveal the complete route of the Great American Rail-Trail in the spring.
In September 2018, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission offered Cowboy Trail West and NNTA $350,000 each to further develop western portions of the Trail, contingent upon raising $175,000 in matching funds by March 1, 2019. RTC’s grant provided the remaining funds necessary to satisfy this requirement.
* Ainsworth Shopko Hometown scheduled for closure by end of May
(Posted 8:15 a.m. Feb. 7)
Ainsworth’s Shopko Hometown location was not spared in
the latest round of store closings announced by the struggling retailer.
The Ainsworth location was one of 11 in Nebraska that Shopko announced Wednesday will close. The other closings announced in this round include Albion, Ogallala, Gothenburg, Norfolk, Superior, Beatrice, Auburn, Alliance, West Point and Falls City.
Numerous Nebraska locations were scheduled for closure during preceding announcements by the company, as it is going through bankruptcy proceedings.
The Ainsworth location and others listed in this round of store closings will plan to shut their doors by the end of May.
From the more than 360 Shopko locations when the company was in full operation, just more than 100 will remain following the latest announcement. Numerous stores in several states were listed in this round of closures in addition to the 11 locations in Nebraska.
* Area students named to fall Deans' List at UN-L
(Posted 3:45 p.m. Feb. 6)
More than 5,300 University of Nebraska–Lincoln students have been named to the Deans' List of Distinguished Students for the fall semester of the 2018-19 academic year.
Qualification for the Deans' List/List of Distinguished Students varies among the eight undergraduate colleges. All qualifying grade-point averages are based on a four-point scale and a minimum of 12 graded semester hours.
Area students named to the Deans’ List at UN-L for the fall semester include:
Jack Arens, sophomore, College of Engineering, computer engineering.
Austin Harthoorn, junior, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agricultural economics.
Ethan Johnson, senior, College of Engineering, mechanical engineering.
Dylan Stott, graduate student, College of Business, intercollegiate athletics administration.
Peyton Alder, freshman, College of Arts and Sciences, biological sciences.
Ariel Larsen, freshman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agricultural education.
Alex Fritz, senior, College of Engineering, electrical engineering.
Brandon Jelinek, freshman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agronomy.
Jake Judge, sophomore, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, mechanized systems management.
Kristen Mohr, senior, College of Business, management.
Macey Mathis, junior, College of Education and Human Sciences, communication sciences and disorders.
Chance Tankersley, freshman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, agricultural economics.
* January finishes drier than average with just 0.13 of an inch of moisture
(Posted 7:30 a.m. Feb. 5)
After experiencing the fourth wettest December in the
city's 113-year history, January 2019 was the 15th driest, with just 0.13 of an
inch of moisture during the month.
To hear Ainsworth Weather Observer Gerry Osborn's complete January summary, click on the audio link below.
* Three tie for top spot in KBRB Big Game Contest
(Posted 12:30 p.m. Feb. 4)
None of our area prognosticators saw the defensive struggle in the NFL Championship game coming, as New England won its sixth championship with a 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
The 13-3 was the lowest NFL Championship game final score in the 53 years since the NFL and AFL began matching up to complete the playoffs.
Three callers picked the Patriots to win with a final score that was within 10 total points of each team’s output.
Jude Lutz of Bassett picked the Patriots to win, 16-10, to miss New England’s score by three and the Rams’ total by seven.
Sierra Jones of Ainsworth picked a Patriots victory, 20-6, to miss New England’s score by seven and the Rams’ score by three.
Torrance Hodge of Johnstown picked the Patriots, 14-12, missing New England’s score by one and the Rams’ total by nine.
Lutz, Jones and Hodge will share the top spot in the KBRB Big Game Contest and will each receive $125 in gift certificates to our contest sponsors.
Jimmy Ferguson of Johnstown missed the total by 12 points to finish fourth in the contest, picking the Patriots 18-10. He picked up $75 in certificates.
Brad Miller of Ainsworth also picked up $75 in Big Game Contest prizes for finishing fifth with a 17-14 pick to miss the total by 15 points.
Brandy Messersmith of Rose had the Patriots picked to win by an 18-14 margin to miss the final by 16 points. Her sixth-place finish earned her $50 in certificates.
Rounding out the top 10 and receiving $25 in prizes were Roxanne Troxel of Ainsworth (25-10), Donna Lee Marlatt of Long Pine (21-14), Robert Hodge of Johnstown (20-17) and Laura Privett of Ainsworth (21-17). Privett missed the final by 22 points to earn the final spot in the top 10.
Winners may pick up their gift certificates from the KBRB Studios between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Thanks to everyone who called in a score to this year’s Big Game Contest, and thanks to the Big Game sponsors who made the call-in contest possible.
Those sponsors include the Red & Market, First Class Auto, the Elks Club, Ainsworth Flowers & Gifts, Buckles Automotive, Needles and Pins, Canyon Creek Bar & Grill, Silver Lining, J’s Keggers, Print Express, Husker Meats, Ainsworth Motors, The Silver Circle, Century Lumber and Plains Equipment of Ainsworth; the Sandhills Lounge and Simple Solutions of Long Pine; The Bassett Lodge and Range Café, The Whistle Stop, Circle B Livestock, Turp’s Automotive, and Scott’s Place all of Bassett; Nelsen Furniture, Huskerland Communications and Berry Creek Gun & Pawn of Valentine; and Something Special by Marilyn of Atkinson.
* Varsity finishes sixth, novice team wins West Holt Speech Invitational
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 4)
West Holt Speech Invitational
3rd: Jenna Williams, Henry Beel, Coy Carson, Adriana Hood, Cody Kronhofman—OID
4th: Jenna Williams—Informative Speaking
6th: Henry Beel—Informative Speaking
Brandt Murphy—Serious Prose
8th: Brandt Murphy—Extemporaneous Speaking
Adriana Hood—Informative Speaking
Superior: Cody Kronhofman--Poetry
Team: 6th of 17
1st: Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking
Alyssa Erthum—Persuasive Speaking
3rd: Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking
Allison Arens—Informative Speaking
4th: Josie Ganser—Entertainment Speaking
Haley Schroedl—Informative Speaking
Haley Schroedl & Allison Taylor—Duet Acting
6th—Ellie Welke—Entertainment Speaking
Superior: Shaley Starkey—Serious Prose
Team: 1st of 17
“We had a good day at West Holt’s meet,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “Obviously, the novices were very successful. The coaches are all proud of the progress they’ve made and the hard work they’ve put in at practice. It showed on Saturday when they brought home the championship plaque.
“The varsity also had good results. Our OID and Adriana Hood in Informative have medaled at every meet so far, and seniors Jenna Williams and Henry Beel are hitting their competitive strides as well as growing in their leadership roles for the rest of the team.”
The next speech competition takes the team to North Platte High School on Saturday, with rounds beginning at 8:30 a.m.
* Good captures Ainsworth Spelling Bee title Friday
(Posted 4 p.m. Feb. 1)
Correctly spelling the words “deliberately” and “manuscript,” eighth-grade student Jocelyn Good won the annual fifth- through eighth-grade spelling bee Friday in the Learning Center.
Good outlasted Zach Parker after both spellers had chances to win the bee. Katherine Kerrigan won a spell-off for third place in the top division of the local bee.
Good now has the opportunity to compete in the Midwest Bee March 2 at Omaha.
Kiley Orton correctly spelled “jewel” and “melody” to win the fourth grade contest, with Jaylee Good finishing second and Erick Hitchcock third.
In the third-grade contest, Landon Stephen spelled “integer” and “determine” correctly to win. Teigan Marbry finished second and Mickal Crisman third.
Kristopher Hitchcock spelled “curve” and “clerk” to win the second-grade spelling bee, with Conner McFarland finishing second and Addilyn Doke placing third.
In the first-grade competition, Isabelle Arens spelled “idea” and “storm” to take the top spot. Paul Denny was second and Callen Pierce placed third.
* Ricketts discusses school funding, Medicaid expansion and medical marijuana bills
(Posted 10 a.m. Jan. 31)
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts visited with KBRB's Graig
Kinzie Thursday following the convening of the Nebraska Legislature for the
budget session. Ricketts discussed a proposal to alter the school funding
formula, paying for Medicaid expansion and his thoughts on medical marijuana.
To hear the full discussion, click on the audio links below.
* October taxable sales increase for most area counties
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 29)
Nebraska Department of Revenue
Comparison of October 2018 and October 2017 Net Taxable Sales
for Nebraska Counties and Selected Cities
Nebraska Department of Revenue
Comparison of October 2018 and October 2017
Motor Vehicle Sales Tax Collections by County
* Atkinson Public Library receives grant for intern
(Posted 9:45 a.m. Jan. 28)
Nebraskans will once again reap the benefits of the energy and creativity of Nebraska young people as they serve as interns in their local public libraries. The Nebraska Library Commission recently awarded Nebraska Library Internship Grants totaling $44,800 to 46 Nebraska public libraries, including the Atkinson Public Library. These internship grants will support public library interns, who will contribute to the scope and value of the diverse programs and activities in Nebraska’s public libraries.
“The internships are a great opportunity for students to get involved in library work. Beyond earning money and gaining valuable work experience, the student is exposed to the broad range of library services and programming. Internships provide an opportunity for the student to view the library as a viable and satisfying career choice. In addition, interns bring a fresh perspective and their own unique talents to the library,” said Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner.
Student interns will learn about library work as they shadow staff, assist with day-to-day library operations, and implement special projects. Some of the activities that students will participate in include:
plan and implement programs such as summer reading programs for all ages, storytime sessions, book discussions, and teen/tween activities;
facilitate partnerships with the Neihardt State Historic Site, Mid-Plains Community College, and YMCA;
organize Makerspaces and Maker Clubs, as well as other STEAM learning activities;
create book displays, bulletin boards, and craft activities;
assist with outreach events outside the library;
update the library’s website and social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, etc.);
assist with circulation activities, book selection, and collection management;
teach technology classes and assist library customers with electronic devices, research, and Coding Clubs;
create flyers, newsletters, newspaper articles, and other promotional materials; and
assist with verbal and written Spanish⁄English communication.
* Ainsworth competes in Ord Speech Invitational Saturday
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 28)
Ord Speech Invitational
6th: Jenna Williams, Henry Beel, Coy Carson, Adriana Hood, Cody Kronhofman—OID
8th: Adriana Hood—Informative Speaking
Superiors: Brandt Murphy—Extemporaneous Speaking
Henry Beel—Entertainment Speaking
Coy Carson—Entertainment Speaking
Jenna Williams—Informative Speaking
Team: 17th of 28
2nd: Libby Wilkins—Humorous Prose
6th: Maren Arens—Entertainment Speaking
Superiors: Ben Flynn—Informative Speaking
Madison Welch & Libby Wilkins—Duet Acting
Haley Schroedl & Allison Taylor—Duet Acting
Team: 9th of 28
“Ord was large and tough as usual,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “It was obvious to me that missing last week’s competition in Broken Bow really hurt us. And we were missing a few team members because of the many activities taking place on Saturday. We need repetition and memorization more than anything. It’s still relatively early in the season, but now’s the time to buckle down and really start polishing.”
The speech team travels to Atkinson Saturday to compete at the West Holt Invitational with rounds beginning at 8 a.m.
* Hoch named to President's List at Bryan for fall semester
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 24)
The Bryan College of Health Sciences at Lincoln
announced its fall semester President’s List and Dean’s List students.
President’s List students received a perfect 4.0 grade-point average on at least
12 credit hours. Dean’s List students achieved a grade-point average of 3.5 or
Haley Hoch of Ainsworth was among the students named to the President’s List for a 4.0 GPA in the fall semester.
* Council continues LB 840 documentation discussions with NCDC Board
(Posted 5 p.m. Jan. 23)
During a special meeting Wednesday, the Ainsworth City Council again discussed the LB 840 program with representatives from the North Central Development Center Board.
At issue remains additional documentation requested by city auditing firm Dana F. Cole after its review of recent documentation and funding provided to the city by the NCDC.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl told the council the North Central Development Center did provide the city with the LB 840 funds it had previously been awarded as well as documentation that NCDC representatives had indicated they would provide during the council’s regular January meeting.
Schroedl said that documentation was reviewed, and Dana F. Cole provided the city with a list of items it still needed ahead of conducting the city’s 2018 audit.
Councilman Greg Soles said the remaining deficiencies since the last batch of documentation was received from the NCDC should not be much of an issue.
Soles presented NCDC Board Chairman Kim Buckley a list of the items from the auditor. Buckley agreed he didn’t see any issues with getting the remaining items to the city to satisfy the request from the auditor.
“All of the remaining LB 840 funds have now come back to the city,” Buckley said. “I don’t see any issues with getting this information to you.”
Schroedl recommended the council engage Simmons Olsen Law Firm to insure the remaining items are provided.
“It seems to me it would be more efficient to put it in the hands of a third party, such as Rick (Ediger), and let them communicate between the council and the NCDC,” Schroedl said.
Councilman Schyler Schenk questioned the funding returned from the NCDC housing fund. He said there was $26,000 less returned than what was originally provided.
“I am all for the money being spent as long as we have records of how it was spent,” Schenk said.
NCDC Vice Chairman Doug Weiss, also a member of the housing committee, said the housing committee has done five major projects since 2010.
“The goal has been to demolish old houses, build new housing and increase the tax base,” Weiss said. “We never went in to try and make money. The goal was always to break even. It doesn’t always happen when you are dealing with things like asbestos removal.”
Weiss said, though the funding returned was $26,000 less than the original amount awarded, the four houses and the one commercial project that have been constructed through the work of the housing committee have increased the city’s property tax collections by $19,074 per year.
“Looking long term, the housing program was working and doing what it was supposed to do,” Weiss said.
Weiss said the reason the funds returned from the housing committee were lower than the original amount awarded was the committee ended up having to sell the final house it built for less than it cost to acquire and clear the property and then construct the house.
Buckley said the housing committee likely could have built its projects at a lower cost by utilizing contractors from outside the area, but the group always operated with the understanding that the funds would be spent locally whenever possible, and labor would be performed by local contractors.
Soles, who also served on the housing committee during the time of the projects, said, “We could have saved over $20,000 on the first project if we had gone outside the area. That was never the goal.”
The issue over the NCDC returning LB 840 funding it had received from past city councils for various community development projects came after Ediger provided the city with information that, as a private non-profit entity, the NCDC was not actually eligible to be an applicant for LB 840 funding. The funds, in the instance of housing, must be awarded to a business that generates a majority of its income from housing construction, and a non-profit entity was not eligible as an applicant.
Audience member Tate Schipporeit said he would like to see everything with the LB 840 program be transparent to the public.
“There is a lot circulating in the public right now about the LB 840 program,” Schipporeit said.
Buckley said, when he first became involved on the North Central Development Center Board, the office had one part-time employee and a total budget of $30,000.
“We were way behind other communities and were looking at different ideas,” Buckley said. “We had a community meeting when we originally started looking at an LB 840 program. LB 840 eventually passed, and one of the main reasons it passed was to support the NCDC.”
Buckley said the NCDC office has done excellent things for the betterment of the community, and the NCDC Board wanted nothing more than to get back into compliance with all the LB 840 bylaws.
“One of the reasons we are where we are now is the LB 840 program had not been audited as part of the city audit until the last year like it was supposed to have been,” Buckley said.
Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan said he wanted to see any remaining issues cleared up between the two entities.
“I want there to be a winning outcome for everyone involved,” Sullivan said.
City Attorney Rod Palmer said there had to be a point where the city can no longer just request the documentation, it would have to go about obtaining it through legal channels.
Soles moved to provide the letter from the auditor to the NCDC and allow the board five business days to provide the additional information requested by Dana F. Cole.
“I am optimistic we can get this remaining information quickly and continue to move forward,” Soles said. “Most of the remaining things should be attainable.”
With Soles and Councilman Brad Fiala voting in favor, Schenk voting against and Councilwoman Deb Hurless abstaining, the council approved allowing the NCDC Board five business days, until Jan. 30, to provide the remaining documentation requested by Dana F. Cole after its review of the Jan. 11 documentation provided by the NCDC when it returned the remaining LB 840 funds it possessed to the city.
In other business Wednesday, the council approved a proposal from Ameritas Financial and representative Brad Slaughter to provide short-term financing for the upcoming $2.1 million wastewater improvement project.
The city needs interim financing for the work, which includes cure-in-place sewer pipe and the replacement of all water meters in the city, until the work is completed and the city receives loan and grant funding from the USDA.
Slaughter said Ameritas does a lot of short-term financing on USDA projects.
“We have experience in accessing capital markets, and we think we can access that capital in the most cost-effective manner,” Slaughter said.
He said Ameritas can provide the short-term funding at a rate of around 2 percent until the USDA loan and grant funds are received following the completion of the work. He recommended the city run separate bond issues to delay some of the interest expense, since it would not need all $2 million up front.
The council also heard a proposal from Tobin Buchanon from First National Capital Markets of Kearney, but opted to go with Ameritas citing its past work for the city and its lower fee rate of 0.75 percent of the total project cost compared to 1 percent of the total project cost quoted by First National Capital Markets.
Following a public hearing Wednesday, the council recommended a Class D liquor license application submitted by Western Oil doing business as Speedee Mart be approved by the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission.
The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 13.
* Brewster to work with Nebraska Community Foundation area chapters
(Posted 3 p.m. Jan. 23)
The Nebraska Community Foundation announced Steven
Brewster, an attorney associated with Krotter Law Group PC, LLO of O’Neill, has
joined the Community Foundation staff as affiliated fund development coordinator
for north-central Nebraska.
Brewster will provide training and technical assistance to affiliated funds for Nebraska Community Foundation services throughout the region. Brewster will work with volunteer leaders to build community awareness, conduct fundraising efforts and increase community impact through grant-making and citizen engagement.
Brewster is a former chair of the Stuart Community Foundation Fund as well as a former Nebraska Community Foundation board member.
* Area students named to Wayne State College dean's list
(Posted 12:45 p.m. Jan. 22)
Wayne State College included more than 1,030 students on the dean's list for exemplary academic achievement during the past semester. Students listed on the dean's list are full-time undergraduate students who have achieved a GPA of 3.5 or above on a 4.0 scale for the semester.
Area students named to the dean’s list include:
Ainsworth - Benjamin Allen, Lauren Allen, Payton Allen and Macey VonHeeder.
Bassett - Tristen Sell.
Stuart - Courtni Kunz, Conner Paxton and Jaden Schafer
Atkinson - Devon Dohrman, Sierra Hansen and Ashley Randolph
Butte - Kelsey Reiman and Rhiannan Smalley
* Line icing causing power outages in southern Brown County
(Posted 8 a.m. Jan. 22)
Some KBR Rural Public Power customers in southern Brown
County are without power Tuesday morning after ice built up on power lines.
KBR Rural Public Power District Manager Bob Beatty said there are problems due to icing on the Nebraska Public Power District main line south. He said KBR employees have been patrolling in the area, and NPPD is also sending a crew to help restore power to the area.
Beatty said KBR Rural Public Power District customers in the Calamus and Elsmere areas are experiencing outages with ice building on the power lines in the area.
* Area students named to NCTA Dean's List and Honor Roll
(Posted 8 a.m. Jan. 22)
The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture at Curtis announced academic honors for the fall semester of 2018 with 21 students named to the Dean’s List and 66 students on the Honor Roll.
Dean’s List students earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average, while honor roll students earned a grade point average of 3.50 to 3.99.
“I congratulate these hard-working students, and appreciate the commitment they make to their classes and college experience here at NCTA,’ said Ron Rosati, NCTA dean.
Students must be fulltime enrollees, with at least 12 credit hours for the semester to be eligible for the designation by NCTA which is the sole two-year degree program of the University of Nebraska system.
Lindse Painter of Valentine was named to the Dean’s List for a perfect 4.0.
Honor Roll students include Luke Peters and Cole Sundquist of Ainsworth, and Ashley Connell of Newport.
DISTRICT RUNNERS-UP -
(From left) Jaylee Good (girls 8-9 division) and Preselyn
Goochey (girls 10-11 division) both received runner-up trophies Sunday
during the Elks District Hoop Shoot at Ogallala.
* Area students named to fall semester President's, Dean's Lists at Northeast
(Posted 10:30 a.m. Jan. 18)
Northeast Community College at Norfolk announced the President's Honor List and Deans' Honor List for both full-time and part-time students for the fall semester.
To be named to the President’s Honor List, students must earn a perfect grade point average of 4.0 and be enrolled for at least 12 credit hours. Students named to the Deans’ Honor List must have earned a grade point average of 3.75 or above and be enrolled for at least 12 credit hours.
Students on the President’s Part-Time list attained a 4.0 grade point average while taking at least six credit hours, and students named to the Deans’ Part-Time list earned a grade point average of 3.75 or above while taking at least six credit hours.
PRESIDENT’S HONOR LIST - Full-Time
Ainsworth - Breanna Schwindt.
Stuart – Cassie Miksch.
Atkinson - Jeffrey Mathis.
DEANS’ HONOR LIST-Full-time
Ainsworth - Jacce Beck.
Long Pine - Sabrina Hempel.
Bassett - Alicia DeBolt.
Newport - Whitten Giles.
Stuart - Rachel Kaup and Kennison Kunz.
Atkinson - Preston Dickau, Jennifer Fischer, Grant Pacha and Jason Seger.
Naper - Jesse Cline.
PRESIDENT’S HONOR LIST—Part-time
Ainsworth - Sonya Shurter.
Long Pine - Byron Pfister.
Stuart - Taylor Kubik.
Atkinson - Anna Albrecht, Ashley Larby, Leighton Mlady and Peyton Randolph.
Butte - Sydney Atkinson, Jacey Hilkemann and Melissa Sextro.
DEAN’S HONOR LIST Part-Time
Ainsworth - Amy Cook.
Butte - Conner Hermsen.
* Traffic Accidents
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 16)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a pair of recent motor vehicle accidents in Ainsworth.
At 3:55 p.m. Jan. 6 on South Street in Ainsworth, a 2004 Dodge Ram, driven by Shane Cole, 19, of Ainsworth, was turning east onto South Street from Osborne Street when the vehicle left the roadway and struck a cable box.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Ford was estimated at $150. The cable box, owned by Three River Telco, sustained approximately $400 damage.
At 3:53 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14, at the intersection of Highway 20 and Ash streets in Ainsworth, a collision occurred at the intersection between a southbound 2004 Ford Taurus, driven by Shona Voss, 44, of Ainsworth, and an eastbound 1999 Chevy S-10 pickup, driven by Becky O’Hare, 61, of Ainsworth.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Ford was estimated at $150. The Chevy sustained approximately $1,000 damage.
* School Board approves contract with Hafer for superintendent position
(Posted 9:30 a.m. Jan. 15)
The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education approved a contract with Dale Hafer to become the district’s superintendent effective July 1, and accepted the resignation of three retiring teachers during Monday’s meeting.
Hafer, the current superintendent at Sandhills Public Schools, was one of four candidates to interview for the superintendent position created by the retirement of current superintendent Darrell Peterson effective at the end of his 2018-19 contract year.
Board President Jim Arens said the district had four very good candidates during the interview process.
“Dale rose to the top,” Arens said. “We made him an offer, and he has accepted. I am pleased we were able to get this done in a timely manner.”
Board member Scott Erthum thanked Peterson for announcing his retirement early to allow the school board to interview candidates early and have a smooth transition.
Board member Brad Wilkins agreed, saying, “The number of superintendent searches NASB is now doing has grown. The timing was good for us.”
In addition to approving a contract with Hafer, the board accepted the resignation of three long-time educators who announced their intentions to retire at the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Agricultural education teacher Roger Lechtenberg plans to retire at the end of the school year. He has been with Ainsworth Community Schools since 2006, and has taught agricultural education in north central Nebraska for numerous years.
Title 1 teacher Linda Hapner announced her retirement. Hapner started with the district in the Long Pine building in 1980 and came to the Ainsworth district in 1993.
Elementary special education teacher Kay Hookstra also plans to retire at the end of the current school year. Hookstra has been with the Ainsworth district since 1989.
Peterson wished all three well in their retirement, and said he would begin advertising for replacements for the three positions. He said there were two additional educators he knew of who also planned to retire at the end of the school year.
In other business Monday, the board established regular meeting dates for 2019 on the second Monday of each month, at 7 p.m. from November through March, and at 8 p.m. from April through October.
The board authorized the Ainsworth Educational Facilities Leasing Corporation to pay an invoice related to the agricultural and industrial technology building addition project. Wilkins said the $518,000 payment brings the district to having paid for approximately 82 percent of the total project cost.
Peterson reported some things have been moved in to the new classrooms in the addition. He said the district planned to move equipment into the shop area by next week.
“We met with the contractors and will try to get everything out of the old shop building, as it will be gutted,” the superintendent said.
He said students would help build some of the items for the addition, such as welding booths, tables and storage areas.
The board approved authorizations to the superintendent and treasurer, the publication of legal notices and recognized the 2017-18 school audit report as part of annual board approval items.
The board also approved member appointments to various boards and committees.
Arens, Erthum and Mark Johnson will serve on the Curriculum committee. Arens, Johnson and Jessica Pozehl will serve on the transportation, building and grounds committee. Wilkins, Pozehl and Frank Beel will serve on the activities and athletics committee. The budget and finance committee will be comprised of Wilkins, Johnson and Beel, with Wilkins, Arens and Erthum serving on the negotiations and personnel committee. Erthum, Pozehl and Arens will serve on the district’s policy committee.
Johnson will represent the district on the North Central Development Center Board of Directors, and Wilkins will continue to serve as the district’s government relations representative.
Peterson provided the board with a report on the district’s performance from the 2017-18 Accountability for a Quality Education System Today and Tomorrow testing.
Comparing the AQUESTT results to the last time the system was used three years ago, the district improved in both its elementary and high school ratings, as well as the district’s overall evaluation.
Peterson said the elementary and high school moved from the “good” classification up two levels to the top level of “excellent.” The middle school remained at the “good” level, the same level as the last test period.
“I am extremely pleased both the elementary and high school moved up to the highest level,” Peterson said. “It says a lot about the work the staff has put in. Overall, we have made great strides. It is quite an accomplishment.”
Peterson said language arts scores at the middle school level were lower than the district’s peer group and the state level, and would give the district something to work on. He said the district would also need to work hard to maintain the elementary and high school excellent ratings.
Overall, the district was rated in the second highest category of “great,” a rise up from the district’s rating of “good” three years ago but below the highest level of “excellent.”
KBRB previously reported the full results for the district from the AQUESTT testing.
Peterson reported school breakfast and lunch participation remains steady, with the district realizing a total profit of $6,622 through the first five months of the school year. The district’s goal is to break even with its breakfast and lunch program, but the federal government does have meal price guidelines it requires the district to adhere to.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 11.
* Care Center Board amends bylaws to allow Osborn to continue to serve
(Posted 5 p.m. Jan. 14)
The Sandhills Care Center Board Monday approved an amendment to the facility’s bylaws to allow board member Chuck Osborn to remain on the board.
Osborn, who had been the city of Ainsworth’s elected representative to the Care Center Board, had his council term expire in December. The previous bylaws required the city to have a sitting council member as one of its representatives, and also required the Brown County Commissioners to have one commissioner on the Care Center Board.
The amendment changed the language to read that board members could be either a council member or an appointed representative, with the same language included for the commissioners’ representative.
Both the City Council and the Board of Commissioners approved amending the bylaws during recent meetings.
With Osborn abstaining, the board approved the amendment to the bylaws, and then recognized Osborn as the city’s representative to the board.
Administrator Stephanie Rucker told the board she has been able to cut down on the number of agency nurses being employed by the facility after hiring additional Certified Nurses Assistants, though she reported the December pool nursing services remained high before those new CNAs began employment.
“We hired two new CNAs from the recent class who were our former employees,” Rucker told the board. “We also had two high school students who took the class and are picking up shifts, and one college student who is picking up weekend hours.”
Rucker told the board the international nurse’s visa application has been held up due to the federal government shutdown, but the company hoped the international nurse from South Korea would be in the U.S. and available to begin employment with the facility by March 1. Rucker said the agency LPN the care center is currently utilizing has a contract that runs through March 1. That agency nursing position would be replaced by the international nurse.
Rucker said the facility has 19 residents, with 11 paying privately and eight receiving Medicaid assistance. She reported there was one admission in December, while two residents were discharged back home, one returned to an assisted living facility, and one moved to a facility to be closer to family.
The Sandhills Care Center generated $137,311 in revenue during December, with expenses of $152,658 for a net loss of $15,347 during the month. Rucker reported agency nursing expenses accounted for $51,157 of the monthly expense total. She said that figure would start declining in January with the newly hired CNAs.
Board Chairman Phil Fuchs reported the Brown County Commissioners approved an additional $80,000 in funding to assist the center in completing its fiscal year.
“The city tabled action on an additional $80,000,” Fuchs said. “They weren’t against it, they just needed to figure out where they would take the funding from their budget.”
Fuchs reported the December expenses for the facility included $4,900 to purchase window heating and air-conditioning units. He said all those units have now been replaced.
Rucker reported the facility had signed an agreement with the Brown County Hospital to share a maintenance position. The hospital started advertising for the new position, and Rucker said she would be included in the interview process.
The care center would receive the services of the maintenance person for 20 hours per week through the contract with the hospital.
Rucker reported a nursing facility at Sidney is closing, and she had reached out to let them know the Sandhills Care Center has open beds for any residents who needed to find a home. She said there were 31 residents in the Sidney facility, though some of those were in an assisted living wing.
Osborn reported the Wausa nursing home was also closing, and had 15 residents who would have to be relocated.
The board discussed a recent meeting at Lincoln Rucker attended hosted by Rural Health Development that focused attention on the financial plight being experienced by nursing homes in Nebraska due to declining Medicaid reimbursement.
Rucker reported the care center was hosting Bingo night for the community this Wednesday, along with a tea party at 3 p.m. Jan. 25 to celebrate National Tea Month and a soup and pie fund-raiser and silent auction Jan. 31, with proceeds from that event being used to purchase a new scale for the nursing department.
The board held an executive session to discuss personnel prior to adjourning. The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors is scheduled for 4 p.m. Feb. 11.
* Hafer hired as Ainsworth Community Schools superintendent
(Posted 11 a.m. Jan. 11)
Four candidates were interviewed this week by the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education, staff, students and members of the public for the superintendent opening created by the pending retirement of Darrell Peterson.
Following the interviews, the board offered a contract to current Sandhils Public Schools Superintendent Dale Hafer. Hafer has accepted the district’s offer and will become the next superintendent of the Ainsworth Community Schools system effective for the 2019-20 year.
Peterson has served in the superintendent post for 18 years, and announced his retirement in the fall effective at the end of the school year to give the Board of Education ample time to find his replacement.
Board President Jim Arens said, after interviewing four candidates and looking at their experience, the board felt Hafer would be a great fit for the school and for the community.
“Having been in a rural setting, he understands the culture here,” Arens said. “The board felt Dale was very professional and communicative. He will build partnerships in the community. He is easy to be around, but yet very well educated. We are very pleased to have him on board.”
Hafer has served
as the superintendent and principal at Sandhills Public Schools since 2010. He
served as the K-12 principal from 2007-10, and prior to that was a science
teacher with stops at Topeka, Kan., Burke, S.D., Monroe, Centennial and Broken
Bow in Nebraska prior to joining the Sandhils Public Schools system in 2004.
Hafer's first day as superintendent of Ainsworth Community Schools is July 1.
* Council planning to amend ordinance to require earlier snow removal on Main Street
(Posted 7:15 a.m. Jan. 10)
Businesses on Main Street will likely be required to have snow removed from their sidewalk by 6 a.m. on the day after a storm following the Ainsworth City Council’s decision Wednesday to direct City Attorney Rod Palmer to amend the city ordinance and present it for council approval in February.
Council President Greg Soles said he met recently with Streets Foreman Monte Goshorn and the people who handle commercial snow removal to discuss the best way to get snow removed from Main Street.
Soles said the current ordinance states that snow in the business district must be moved to curbside by 10 a.m. of the first business day following a snowstorm. He said he would like to see that time frame moved to 6 a.m.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said amending the ordinance would make it more consistent with what the city is trying to practice.
“The goal is to get the snow to the curb so the city can move it once,” Schroedl said.
She said the city crew tried to clean Main Street by around 6 a.m. so they did not have to work around vehicles.
Soles also said some residences are not getting snow removed from sidewalks within 24 hours following a snowstorm as required by city ordinance. He said he viewed four properties within one block of Ainsworth Community Schools that had not removed snow following the latest storm. He said many of those are absentee property owners.
Soles said the city would likely work with the sheriff’s department to enforce the ordinance, with residents receiving a verbal warning to get snow removed. If snow was not removed, the sheriff’s department has the ability to issue citations.
Councilwoman Deb Hurless asked if the city could possibly check to see if the homeowners are elderly and don’t have the ability to scoop. She said maybe there could be volunteers in those instances who would be willing to help scoop snow.
Councilman Brad Fiala said most residents get out quickly and get their snow moved, but others were certainly capable and still don’t scoop.
The council directed Palmer to draft an amendment to the ordinance to require business district property owners to have snow moved to curbside by 6 a.m. following a storm instead of the current 10 a.m.
In other business Wednesday, the council approved an amendment to the Ainsworth/Brown County Care Center interlocal agreement to remove the requirement that one care center board member be a sitting member of the City Council and one be a sitting member of the Brown County Commissioners.
Sandhills Care Center Board Chair Phil Fuchs said the amendment basically changes one sentence in the agreement, and adds that the council and commissioners can appoint either a member or a registered agent to represent them on the care center board.
“It removes the requirement that there has to be one council member and one commissioner,” Fuchs said.
The amendment comes as the board hoped to keep Chuck Osborn, an initial member of the care center board, on the board after his term on the City Council expired.
The amendment was unanimously approved Wednesday, and was previously approved by the Brown County Commissioners Jan. 2.
Fuchs also requested an additional $80,000 in funding from the city to help the facility complete its 2018-19 fiscal year.
Fuchs said, when the initial care center budget was drafted, the care center was appealing the denial of a $70,000 Medicaid payment from the state. He said that appeal was unsuccessful, so the facility started the fiscal year in a hole.
Fuchs said the commissioners had already approved an additional $80,000 contribution to the facility. Coupled with an additional $80,000 from the city, who is an equal partner with the county, the care center would have the funding needed to complete the 2018-19 fiscal year.
He said the facility needs to average 24 residents to reach the break-even mark. He said occupancy reached 24 residents for one month, but was then back down to the current 19 residents a month later.
Soles asked if the care center could get by for a month or two on the county’s additional contribution to allow the city time to find a place in its budget where it can pull funds to provide to the care center.
Fuchs indicated that would be fine. He said the facility continues to be improved, with all the window heating and air conditioning units now being replaced in addition to the shingle replacement on the building.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback from family members who have residents there,” Fuchs said. “We think the investment is worth it for the community.”
Schroedl said the group talked previously about potentially doing a bond issue so the funding for the facility does not have to come from the city and county general funds.
Fuchs said a bond issue is a long process.
“If we continue to build our census, we shouldn’t need a bond,” Fuchs said. “We hope to be self-sustaining, but we are not there yet.”
The council tabled action on the funding request.
In a continuing agenda item regarding the LB 840 program, Schroedl said the city had not yet received the return of LB 840 funds from the North Central Development Center.
NCDC Board member Graig Kinzie said the board voted during its meeting Wednesday to return all LB 840 funding it held in various accounts to the city after receiving a letter from the city with the request.
He said the checks will be written to the city from each individual account where the council had approved an LB 840 grant or loan request by the NCDC.
Kinzie said the board also unanimously voted to provide the city with any additional documentation requested by the auditor that had not already been provided, with the exception of any documents that included information regarding individual applicants’ data where the NCDC had signed a confidentiality agreement with the applicant.
In those instances, Kinzie said the board voted to have the NCDC executive committee review the documents with Ainsworth Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan and the NCDC director to determine how the documents could be provided without violating the confidentiality agreements the NCDC had signed with individual applicants.
Kinzie said the intention of the NCDC Board is to be completely transparent and get any and all issues with the city and the LB 840 program resolved so the community could move forward together with the program.
Palmer questioned why the funds had not been returned by the time of Wednesday’s meeting. Kinzie said the NCDC Board had planned to take action during its December meeting, but had not received a letter with the city’s request at that time. He said the board Wednesday directed staff to have the accounts closed and the funds returned to the city by Friday.
The council tabled any action regarding the LB 840 program pending the receipt of the funding and accompanying documentation from the NCDC.
Citizens Advisory Review Committee member Chris Raymond said the committee had met twice regarding the council’s directive to put together a contract between the city and the NCDC for the management of the LB 840 program.
Fiala asked how quickly the committee could put that contract together for the council to review.
“We plan to have a rough draft of the contract by the middle of next week to let
the council and the NCDC Board look at it, and have Rod or Mr. Ediger check to
make sure it is legal. Then we will go from there.”
Fiala said he was glad to see the work moving forward so the city can go back to using the LB 840 program as it was designed.
Soles said, with a rough draft, the council members could then review the contract and recommend any changes that might be needed prior to its February meeting.
Raymond asked if the review committee could continue to consult with Ediger if it needed additional guidance on how to set up the contract.
Soles said,” Yes. I understand there is a cost to that, but time is important. We need to get everything completed.”
In other business Wednesday, the council received one bid for a tract of property located at Lot 8, Block 6 of Morrison’s Addition the city published for sale.
Kristi Frew submitted a bid of $2,500 for the parcel. Frew said she owned the adjacent property, and Palmer said Frew had previously leased the property from the city for haying rights.
The council accepted Frew’s bid, and Palmer said an ordinance would be drafted for council approval during its February meeting. If the council approves the ordinance, then Frew will receive the deed to the property.
The council approved a contract with the Central Nebraska Economic Development District for the administration of a Community Development Block Grant the city received for its upcoming wastewater improvement projects.
The council appointed four members to the city’s Board of Health. Those members include Sullivan as the mayor, Soles as the council president, city physician Dr. Mel Campbell, and Chief of Police Bruce Papstein.
The council tabled action on proposed amendments to the city fee schedule to allow the council time to review the changes.
During her report, Schroedl said the wellness room in the Conference Center would reopen for public access Friday following the completion of a closet to house the youth recreation equipment.
She said the Brown County Hospital had donated several nice pieces of equipment for the public’s use in the wellness room.
She said city staff member Lendi Goochey has been working with the Nebraska Public Power District for several months to complete the construction of a city web site.
Schroedl said NPPD assists with city web site construction as a free service. The only fee for the city is the registration of the web site domain name. The city web site is now available at www.cityofainsworth.com
Residents have access to information and forms, and have access to pay bills online.
Prior to adjourning, the council held an executive session to discuss personnel.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. Feb. 13.
* Council votes to have review committee work on updates to LB 840 program
(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 13)
By a 2-1 vote with one abstention, the Ainsworth City Council Wednesday voted to have the LB 840 Citizens Advisory Review Committee put together a contract between the city and the North Central Development Center for the future management of the LB 840 program.
Councilman Chuck Osborn voted against and Councilwoman Deb Hurless abstained.
Osborn said he didn’t believe the city should enter into any contract until everything else is sewn up.
Councilman Greg Soles disagreed, saying the city needed to move forward with the NCDC for the good of the community.
“Part of what the review committee can do is make the recommendations so we can move forward,” Soles said.
Jerry Ehlers presented the council with a potential action plan, utilizing the Citizens Advisory Review Committee with input from the city administrator and North Central Development Center executive director to implement the changes to the program recommended by Scottsbluff Attorney Rick Ediger during the council’s November meeting.
“There is no reason to rehash everything from the last meeting,” Ehlers said. “I am suggesting that we start the process. It would be helpful for the Citizens Advisory Review Committee to know that the council is open to an arrangement with the NCDC to be the LB 840 program manager. We have a ship now that is slightly tilted. We need to make some adjustments to get the program right.”
Ehlers said the review committee has the statutory responsibility to put together recommendations for changes for the council to consider.
Osborn said it was his opinion that the Citizens Advisory Review Committee be disbanded and reappointed.
“The culture of hostility toward the city shows you are the watchdog for only one side,” Osborn told the review committee members in attendance.
Review committee member John Halbersleben said, “I disagree with you, Chuck. We come in here every six months and try to educate the council on the LB 840 program. We have indicated we are all willing to go to work on these recommendations. I don’t know what more we can do.”
Soles said, “We can’t point fingers. These are things that can be fixed. Time is important. Rick has it outlined in his letter, as does Jerry, on what we need to do to move forward.”
Hurless said she believed the review committee has looked out for the best interests of the LB 840 fund.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the city has to clean up what the auditor found.
“That is priority number 1, then work from there,” Schroedl said. “The city needs to get control of the program and then look toward how it will be administered.”
Mayor Larry Rice said a long delay in taking action would not be helpful.
“We need to get people at the table and work through things,” Rice said. “There are opportunities that may come up in the community that we don’t want to miss out on.”
NCDC Executive Director Kristin Olson said the LB 840 program was currently at a standstill.
“We have direction from the attorney,” Olson said. “We all need to roll up our sleeves, get this done and keep moving forward. It is critical for our community.”
Soles asked if the Citizens Advisory Review Committee could work with Schroedl and Olson and have recommendations to the council in 60 days.
Review committee member Chris Raymond said the committee would get the work done.
“As a member of the committee, I agree with what Jerry said, as does the rest of the committee,” Raymond said. “We want to work with the city administrator and the NCDC director and get everything working properly.”
Soles motioned and Councilman Brian Williams seconded to have the Citizens Advisory Review Committee put together a contract between the city and NCDC for the council to review and act upon. Soles and Williams voted in favor, with Osborn against and Hurless abstaining.
By a 4-0 vote, the council then approved assigning the Citizens Advisory Review Committee to work with Schroedl and Olson to make amendments to the plan as recommended by Ediger.
In other old business Wednesday prior to Osborn and Williams’ terms expiring, the council approved an engagement letter with Dana F. Cole to conduct the city’s annual audit for the 2017-18 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
The council awarded a two-year contract to mow the two Ainsworth cemeteries with Chris Walnofer of Ainsworth.
Walnofer, who holds the current mowing contract, submitted a bid of $40,875 annually to mow and maintain the cemeteries. The city also received a bid of $36,500 annually from James Disney of Long Pine.
Osborn said, even though his bid was a little higher, Walnofer had done an impeccable job at the cemeteries.
The council approved Rice’s recommended reappointments of Lance Schipporeit to the City Planning Commission and Shari Luther to the Cemetery Board for three-year terms, and the appointment of Osborn to the Ainsworth Betterment Committee for a three-year term.
Schroedl presented Williams and Osborn, along with Rice, plaques for their service on the council and as mayor. Schroedl and Rice also made an emotional presentation recognizing Jerry Clark for 36 years of employment with the city at the wastewater treatment plant. Rice said the city would hold a reception for Clark at a time when he was able to attend.
Following those items, Osborn and Williams exited the council, and newly elected Councilmen Brad Fiala and Schyler Schenk took the oath of office, as did new Mayor Jeremiah Sullivan.
With the new members seated, the council appointed Soles as the new council president.
By a 3-1 vote, with Hurless against, the council approved the appointments of Dr. Mel Campbell as the city physician, Rod Palmer as city attorney, Andy Taylor as prosecuting attorney, Bruce Papstein as chief of police, Schroedl as city administrator, Brad Miller as water and sewer superintendent, Monte Goshorn as streets foreman, Lloyd Smith as streets superintendent, the Ainsworth Star-Journal and KBRB Radio as city publications, and the West Plains Bank, First National Bank, Union Bank & Trust and the Nebraska Public Agency Investment Trust as city depositories.
Hurless said she would like to see the city go out for bids for the city attorney position.
The council appointed city employee Cody Nilson as its representative on the North Central Development Center Board, with city employee Lendi Goochey named the alternate.
Bruce Papstein was appointed as the city’s representative to the KBR Solid Waste Committee with Fiala named the alternate.
The council authorized an amendment to the city’s bank account signatories, removing Rice and adding Sullivan and Goochey.
Sandhills Care Center Board Chair Phil Fuchs discussed the city’s appointment of a representative to the care center board.
“Chuck has been on our board as a member of the council, which is what the bylaws require,” Fuchs said. “Chuck has a vast amount of experience. He knows more about the building than anyone in the community. We would like to have him continue in that respect, and amend the bylaws to allow it.”
The council agreed to have Osborn continue to represent the city on the Sandhills Care Center Board subject to the interlocal board’s bylaws being amended by both the council and the Brown County Commissioners. Hurless was appointed as the alternate and would serve in the position until the bylaws can be amended.
Fuchs also presented the council with an update on the Sandhills Care Center.
He said the facility had recently been up to 24 residents, but then went back down to 19 residents within a short period of time.
“The numbers can
change rapidly,” Fuchs said.
He told the council the care center needed to average about 24 residents monthly to have a positive cash flow.
He said the facility had to use the county’s annual $80,000 contribution to pay for the previous year’s expenses after the state denied the facility more than $70,000 in Medicaid reimbursement funds due to the facility just missing the 40 percent Medicaid resident day threshold the state requires. The facility’s ratio of Medicaid resident days was 39.6 percent.
“The facility itself seems to be running well,” Fuchs said. “The roof has been repaired, and the window heating and air conditioning units have been replaced. We are just not quite over the hump yet on being profitable.”
He said the facility has to utilize agencies for several nursing positions, but that could soon change with several students scheduled to complete a Certified Nursing Assistant training course. Fuchs said the care center hoped to hire four or five of the new CNAs to replace agency staffing, which is much more expensive.
Fuchs said he would present the council with an updated budget for the facility during its January meeting.
During her report, Schroedl indicated the Nebraska Department of Transportation project to renovate Highway 20 in the city has been delayed a year due to the state needing additional time to acquire right of way on 54 tracts. The bid letting on the project was now scheduled for August of 2020.
She reported city crews have started to inspect the current water meters ahead of those meters being replaced. Miller said inspecting the meters is a lot of work, and would take some time, as many were located in crawl spaces in homes.
Schroedl provided an update on the city’s nuisance abatement program. She said the Brown County Sheriff’s Department continues to issue notices to property owners with violations.
She said there have been two citations for failing to abate nuisance violations taken to court. In one case, Schroedl said the property owner pleaded guilty to two complaints. In another case, the property owner failed to appear.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. Jan. 9.
* Council approves ABC funds for theater, begins implementing LB 840 changes
(Posted 9:30 a.m. Dec. 3)
After tabling action during its regular November meeting, the Ainsworth City Council during a special meeting Thursday approved a grant request for the Grand Theater in Ainsworth.
The Ainsworth Betterment Committee had previously sent a 2-2 vote to the council on its recommendation on whether to approve or deny the $50,000 request.
After the council tabled the request, Grand Theater representatives met a second time with the Ainsworth Betterment Committee to answer additional questions and provide more detail on how the funds would be spent.
Following the second meeting with the theater representatives, the ABC Committee recommended the council approve the project, which it did Thursday by a 3-0 vote with Councilman Chuck Osborn absent.
The council also addressed several items relating to the city’s LB 840 program as recommended by Scottsbluff Attorney Rick Ediger, who was hired to look at the city’s program.
By a 2-1 vote, with Councilwoman Deb Hurless voting against, the council named City Administrator Lisa Schroedl as the LB 840 program administrator. The North Central Development Center had previously served as the program administrator, but Ediger said during the council’s regular meeting the official program administrator needed to be a city official, with the city then allowed to work with a third party such as the NCDC on the implementation of the LB 840 program.
By a 2-0 vote with Hurless abstaining, the council also approved providing a letter to the NCDC for the return of any remaining documents needed by the city auditor relating to the LB 840 program, and the return of LB 840 funds previously awarded to the NCDC by the council.
Ediger told the council during its regular meeting the North Central Development Center, as a non-profit organization, was not eligible to be an applicant for LB 840 funds the way the city’s program was originally written.
The NCDC had previously been awarded LB 840 funds for its housing program, for Main Street business façade improvements, and for professional recruitment.
Jerry Ehlers, a former member of the NCDC Board and Citizens Advisory Review Committee who helped spearhead the initial push to get the LB 840 program approved back in 2008, said he felt good about what he had heard during Ediger’s presentation to the council.
“I was convinced everything was fixable,” Ehlers said. “There was nothing in those recommendations that couldn’t be ironed out to get the program back on track.”
Ehlers said the implementation of the LB 840 program can still be done by a third party, and he encouraged the council to continue its past relationship with the NCDC.
“The entire program was put together as a partnership,” Ehlers said. “It should have been set up initially to have a city employee be the official administrator, and then a third party, the NCDC, be the program manager for the day to day work.”
Ehlers said, other than titles, the jobs people are doing with the LB 840 program wouldn’t change. He also encouraged the council to work with the LB 840 Citizens Advisory Review Committee to implement Ediger’s recommended changes.
Ehlers said the funds awarded to the NCDC for the housing, professional recruitment, and Main Street projects are all sitting in accounts, and it would not be an issue to return that money to the city’s LB 840 account.
“There will be some additional work for the city to expend the funds, as the NCDC used to write the checks,” Ehlers said. “Now, the city will have to handle that. We have time to get this right before we have to begin the process of renewing the program.”
The one-half cent city sales tax approved by voters in 2008 for the LB 840 program expires in 2023, and would require another vote of city residents to renew the program for an additional 15 years and continue to collect the one-half cent sales tax.
Councilman Greg Soles said he agreed with Ehlers’ outlook that the recommendations from Ediger could be implemented.
“I think we have been successful with what we have done so far,” Soles said of the projects completed using LB 840 program funds.
Mayor Larry Rice asked, after these changes are implemented, where would someone initially go if they were interested in applying for an LB 840 loan?
Ehlers said applicants would still work with the NCDC, who would review all the program criteria with the applicant. The LB 840 Loan Review Committee would then meet to review the application and make a recommendation to the council, which would still have the final say on whether an application is approved.
“The program administrator, in this case Lisa, and the Citizens Advisory Review Committee would then have oversight and make sure everything is done right,” Ehlers said. “For the continuity of the program, I think it is best for everyone to establish the NCDC as the program manager.”
Schroedl said the processes with the LB 840 program would not change, but the recommendations from Ediger would shift control of the program over to the city.
Rice asked if the NCDC Board meets to discuss LB 840 applications.
NCDC Executive Director Kristin Olson said LB 840 applications do not go to the NCDC Board for discussion unless the NCDC was planning to be the applicant for program funds, such as for the housing progam.
“The applications always go to the loan committee, that is by statute,” Olson said. “The NCDC has been the applicant for some projects, and was making disbursements to businesses for façade improvements and for professional recruitment after being awarded funds by the council. All business loan applications go to the loan committee.”
Rice said Ediger commented that the program had done good things for the community, the program just needed to be cleaned up.
“Should we have a discussion with all parties involved before taking action?” Rice asked.
City Attorney Rod Palmer said the items on Thursday’s agenda needed to be done right away.
“The city audit was incomplete and has been turned in to the state,” Palmer said. “The city needs to show we are making progress.”
Hurless said she was under the impression during the regular council meeting that the special meeting would be to meet with the Citizens Advisory Review Committee to work on the recommendations.
Schroedl said she believed the special meeting was needed to have the council take action on naming a program administrator and requesting the funds awarded to NCDC be returned.
Soles said it is going to take all groups getting together to get everything done.
Palmer said Ediger’s recommendation was that time was of the essence and the city needed to act on the Thursday special meeting agenda items immediately.
Following the discussion, the council approved three items relating to the LB 840 program, naming Schroedl the program administrator, requesting documents still needed by auditor Dana F. Cole be provided by the NCDC, and requesting by letter to the NCDC Board the return of all LB 840 program funds previously awarded by the council to the NCDC.
In a final action item Thursday, the council approved the appointment of Dane Sears to the LB 840 Loan Review Committee to replace Soles, who Ediger recommended should resign from the LB 840 Loan Review Committee due to his position as a councilman.
Rice withdrew his nomination of Tate Schipporeit to fill a vacancy on the Ainsworth Betterment Committee to fill the remaining term of Sue Wragge due to Schipporeit not being an Ainsworth resident, as required by statute.
The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 12.
* Council approves sewer and water rate hikes Wednesday
(Posted 10:45 p.m. Nov. 14)
Ainsworth residents will see increases to their utility bills now and in the future after the Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday approved increases to both sewer and water rates.
Randy Helbush with the Nebraska Rural Water Association said the city has been running deficits in both its sewer and water departments over a three-year period.
He said the three-year average shortfall in the sewer department has been between $80,000 and $85,000, and the three-year average deficit in the water department has been about $30,000.
Helbush said both the water and sewer departments are required to be self-sustaining departments, meaning they must take in enough revenue to cover the cost of operation.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said, with several major wastewater improvement projects scheduled to the tune of more than $2 million, sewer rates would have to increase so the city can provide evidence to its lender, in this case the USDA, that the city can make payments on the loan funds for the projects.
The Nebraska Rural Water Association proposed a three-step increase for sewer rates, with rates increasing by $6 per month in the first year from the current $17.50 per month plus $1.50 per 1,000 gallons of use to $23.50 per month plus $2 per 1,000 gallons of use.
The second step, which would take effect in a year, would increase the rate to $26 per month plus $2.30 per 1,000 gallons used. The third and final proposed step, which would take effect two years from now, would increase the sewer rate to $31 per month and $2.30 for every 1,000 gallons used.
Councilman Brian Williams asked Helbush if the city was currently comparable to other communities in the rates it charges residents for sewer service.
Helbush said the city was currently on the lower end of the rates communities charge. With the proposed increases over the next three years, the city would end up more toward the upper end of rates communities charge residents.
“You have been too low, so you need to catch up and also then be able to pay for the improvements you are making,” Helbush said.
The first step is projected to increase sewer department revenue by $83,000, from $244,368 currently to $327,502. By the time the third step increase is implemented, the sewer department is projected to receive $416,647 in revenue.
Councilwoman Deb Hurless said she worried about the effect the rate increase would have on people with a fixed income. Schroedl agreed it was a concern, but said the city is receiving a $485,000 grant from the USDA and was just approved for a $385,000 Community Development Block Grant to help with the projects.
The planned projects include new water meters, cure-in-place sewer lines for several sections of the city, and lift station improvements.
Helbush said putting the projects off is not the way for the city to go, as the city received a low interest rate on the loan and substantial grant funding for the projects.
The council approved the three-step recommendation for the sewer rates.
The council also approved a small increase to its water rate, but made the increase effective June 1, 2019, to give people some time to adjust to the increased sewer rate.
Schroedl said the water rate increase was unrelated to the sewer projects, but she didn’t want the city to get into the same situation with its water rates as it was now in with the sewer rates, having to make more substantial yearly increases.
The water rate will increase June 1 from $11 monthly to $12.50, with the per 1,000-gallon rate moving up from $1.35 to $1.55. The water department would receive about $32,000 more in revenue following the rate increase, from $233,767 to $265,579.
In other business Wednesday, the council approved one Ainsworth Betterment Committee funding request and tabled a second.
The request approved was submitted by Ainsworth Community Schools, asking for $35,000 to assist with the renovation of the Learning Center. The funds would be used toward new carpet, chairs, a sound system and painting.
The ABC Committee recommended the council approve the funding, with committee member David Spann saying the committee did raise questions about why the school couldn’t find $35,000 for the project within its $7 million to $8 million budget and fund the project itself.
“It was brought up that the community uses the Learning Center a lot,” Spann said. “The committee felt it was a good investment for ABC funds.”
The council tabled action on a second request from the Grand Theater for an additional $50,000 to help complete the renovations for the new theater.
The ABC Committee was split on its recommendation, with two members present voting to recommend approval of the funds and two members voting to recommend the council deny the funding request. Three ABC Committee members were not present during the meeting when the request was heard.
Hurless asked what the reasons were for why the two committee members recommended the request be denied.
Spann said there were questions on some of the estimates provided on the project.
“Some of the estimates were very specific, some were not,” Spann said. “We would like them to be more exact so we know exactly how the funds will be spent.”
Councilman Chuck Osborn said not having specific estimates for the request was the reason that was relayed to him. He asked if those working on the theater project had sought estimates by different contractors for the project.
Hurless said, when the building was first remodeled, it was done using insurance money and donations, and the NCDC utilized contractors who had worked with the organization previously on projects.
“The people we used did have the best estimates on previous projects,” Hurless said. “One we have asked to bid before either didn’t submit a bid or missed the deadline.”
She said it was hard for contractors to bid the project when there is no way to know what they may run into with an old building.
“We had the roof blow off,” Hurless said. “We had no idea that would happen.”
Councilman Brian Williams asked if another $50,000 would complete the theater renovation. Hurless said it would likely take more than $50,000 to get the project completed.
Councilman Greg Soles said the theater committee originally requested $150,000 for the project.
“We approved $50,000, and said they could then come back and ask for more,” Soles said.
Audience member Tate Schipporeit said, at this stage, the people working on the project should know how much more it would take to finish the project and get the doors open.
The council deadlocked on tabling the request, with Osborn and Hurless voting to table the request to a future meeting. Williams and Soles voted against tabling the item. Breaking the deadlock, Mayor Larry Rice voted in favor of tabling the request until additional figures are provided. At that time, he said the request could go back to the ABC Committee.
Lori Olson with Dana F Cole of O’Neill presented the council with the city’s annual audit. She said the city was very healthy financially, overall.
She said the auditors had a few issues relating to the status of some development projects, but she said those issues did not affect any of the dollars.
John Halbersleben asked Olson why Dana F Cole had not been auditing the LB 840 program prior to this year’s audit, since LB 840 has been in existence since 2008.
Olson said loans or grants from the LB 840 fund for previous years were for specific projects.
“There have been some grants and loans made that we felt should have some specific documentation,” Olson said, citing approval by the council of $100,000 to the North Central Development Center for Main Street business development, and $120,000 to the NCDC for professional recruitment.
“There wasn’t a lot of documentation in the city office on how that money was being spent,” Olson said. “I wasn’t sure what the city needed to have for documentation, and the city determined it would find a professional for assistance.”
Olson said she was 100 percent behind economic development.
“You have done some wonderful things,” the auditor said.
Halbersleben said it appeared the city and NCDC could have avoided a number of these problems if the LB 840 program would have been audited from the start.
Olson said she was not questioning whether the funds were spent appropriately.
“We just need to have the documentation in the city office,” she said.
Business owner Rick Goochey approached the council regarding a continuing alley issue west of Main Street. The alley runs east and west, and is located north of the West Second Street and North Woodward Street intersection.
Goochey thanked the council for the work that had been done to reopen the alley, but he was concerned about all the water running from the north-south paved alley onto his property.
“I don’t have
any place to drain that water once it gets onto my property,” Goochey said. “I
have to use four-wheel drive just to get trailers in and out of there.”
He asked the council if there was a way to lower the paved alley west of Main Street to get the water to drain out into the street and storm sewers.
Osborn said the city should be able to find a solution.
“We need to get down there and do it,” Osborn said. “Having a defined alley will also make it so we know whose property is whose.”
Schroedl said she planned to have Lloyd Smith with Niobrara Valley Consultants of Valentine survey the area to determine where the actual east-west alley should be located.
In a final action item Wednesday, the council approved declaring property located in Morrison’s Addition, Block 6, Lot 8 as surplus property to be offered for sale by sealed bid.
Schroedl said the property would not be offered for sale until after the current haying contract expires on Dec. 31.
The council also appointed Ainsworth High School student Jon Ortner to a two-year term on the Ainsworth Betterment Committee as recommended by the mayor.
The council will hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Nov. 29. The next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 12.
* Council hears recommendations on LB 840 programs from Scottsbluff attorney
(Posted 9:15 p.m. Nov. 14)
Following a previous meeting between the Ainsworth City Council and the LB 840 Citizens Advisory Review Committee where several questions were raised, as well as preliminary findings from the city’s auditor, the council on Wednesday brought in Scottsbluff Attorney Rick Ediger to review the city’s LB 840 one-half cent sales tax program and make recommendations on how the program needed to be administered moving forward.
Ediger said his firm helped Scottsbluff implement its LB 840 program in 1995, and has consulted with several communities regarding LB 840 issues.
“It is my understanding that this is the first year the city’s audit has been comprehensive to include the LB 840 program,” Ediger said. “This is the first time I have seen where so much of the administration of the program has gone through a separate organization.”
Ediger said he was a big supporter of the LB 840 program.
“I have seen the benefits of properly run programs,” he said. “The communities I work with face the same issues you do. You need these programs to recruit talent to your community in a competitive environment.”
Ediger said the main issues he encountered were accounting issues which come with having much of the program administration coming from outside the city office.
“It just becomes tougher to audit the money going through the program,” Ediger said. “I don’t think it is a misappropriation issue. It is just accounting transparency. I understand this has been a long-standing relationship between the two entities.”
Ediger said there were three main components to LB 840 programs.
“The LB 840 act itself can only be changed by the Legislature,” Ediger said. “The plan is the city’s plan. It can be amended, generally by the voters. The Citizen Advisory Review Committee can also recommend changes, which the council can make following a public hearing. The manual is easy to change, and can be done by the council.”
Ediger said, under the way the city’s plan is currently constituted, the North Central Development Center would not be a qualifying business to receive LB 840 funding, but that could be amended under certain circumstances. The North Central Development Center has previously been approved for LB 840 funds relating to housing and professional recruitment.
“The NCDC can receive funding for administering the program,” he said.
Ediger said the city’s auditor raised questions regarding potential conflicts of interest relating to council members either also serving on the NCDC Board of Directors and/or LB 840 Loan Review Committee, or being employed by the NCDC.
Currently, Councilman Brian Williams is on the NCDC Board as the city’s appointed representative, Councilman Greg Soles is an at-large member of the NCDC Board and serves on the LB 840 Loan Review Committee, and Councilwoman Deb Hurless is employed by the development center.
“That is the most important thing that needs to be taken care of,” Ediger said. “I understand in small communities it is a lot of the time the same people who get a lot of the things done. They might not have anything to gain personally, but being on another board is a conflict.”
Ediger said, while the city can contract out the administration of the program, the official title of program administrator must come from within the city office.
“You can do a flat rate for administration to the NCDC, but you would need to change your policy,” Ediger said.
Audience member Jerry Ehlers said the NCDC used to account for all time spent on LB 840 program administration, but that became cumbersome and the city agreed to pay a flat rate for the program administration instead of having NCDC document all the time spent.
Ediger said the flat rate payment can continue, the city would just need to amend its plan’s policies.
He said it was his opinion that the NCDC should not have control of funds that are then utilized by other qualifying businesses. He said the NCDC would have to form a separate corporation to utilize funds devoted to housing.
“I am not a fan of having a housing fund, a professional fund, and a demolition fund,” Ediger said. “There is certainly a need for housing demolition, but it needs to be done through a qualifying business.”
Ediger said there was also nothing wrong with the concept of using LB 840 funds for professional recruitment.
“However, a lot are going to the hospital, which is county owned and is therefore not a qualifying business,” Ediger said.
Citizens Advisory Review Committee member John Halbersleben said the review committee has spent a fair amount of time reviewing loans and grants to ensure that everything is in compliance.
“That will go away if all the funds are disbursed by the city,” Halbersleben said. ‘There is no need for the committee to do that if the city auditors can.”
Ediger said the changes he was recommending should make the job of the Citizens Advisory Review Committee easier.
The changes Ediger recommended to the council included:
* Designating a city employee as the LB 840 program administrator.
* Authorizing the program administrator to then demand production from NCDC of all documents not provided to Dana F Cole. If records are not produced voluntarily, consideration should be given to filing suit to subpoena all documents. He said it was his understanding that the auditor has since received most of the records it requested.
* Once any missing records are produced, complete the audit of city funds paid to NCDC, and require repayment of any amounts for which the NCDC cannot properly account.
* Existing council members on the NCDC Board should file Commission Form C-2A with the city clerk, and should not vote on any matters concerning NCDC.
* No council member should serve on the NCDC Board in order to minimize conflicts of interest between the city and the NCDC Board.
* The council member who is an NCDC employee should also file Commission Form C-2A with the city clerk, and should not vote on any matters concerning the NCDC.
* Due to issues raised by the audit, it is difficult to recommend the relationship between the city and NCDC continue in its current form. It is recommended the program be operated by the city, starting with the return of remaining program funds held by the NCDC.
* Comply with the act to include that council members are not permitted to serve on the LB 840 Loan Committee; the annual budget and required monthly reports are completed; if the relationship with NCDC continues, LB 840 funds are to be administered by the city; housing program funds are distributed only to qualifying businesses; and the recruitment program is properly structured.
* Amend the LB 840 plan to allow for additional qualifying businesses if the city desires to do so, to include professional recruitment.
* Obtain proper confidentiality agreements from those having access to confidential business information.
Ediger said the last thing he would want is for the city to receive a state audit.
“No one is alleging there are any funds missing, they just need to be available for accounting purposes,” Ediger said. “You should amend your plan to allow for additional qualifying businesses. Have your Citizens Advisory Review Committee help you with that.”
Ediger said he would like to see things fixed instead of seeing any finger pointing between the two entities.
“Development corporations serve important functions,” Ediger said. “You just need to clean it up and do it right.”
Ehlers said it sounded like, through the recommendations, that the city needed to have a second opinion on its LB 840 program 10 years ago so some of these recommendations could have been included.
Ediger said things change over time.
“Your plan is now 10 years old,” he said. “It can use some tweaking. You can always improve on your plan once you see how it works after it is implemented. It doesn’t mean what you are doing is wrong, just make sure all your documents reflect what you are doing with the program.”
Following Ediger’s presentation and recommendations, the council unanimously voted to implement the recommendations.
The council then held an executive session to further discuss a potential contract. Following the executive session, the council voted to hold a special meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, to work with the LB 840 Citizens Advisory Review Committee to implement the recommendations made by Ediger.
* Breakdown of area county votes on regional, state and federal races
(Posted 9:45 a.m. Nov. 7)
Nebraska Statewide and Federal Races
Total votes cast plus vote breakdowns for area counties
Initiative 427 to expand Medicaid coverage
Votes For Against
Statewide 344,437 302,338
Brown 447 846
Keya Paha 101 250
Rock 210 407
Deb Fischer (R) Jane Raybould (D)
Statewide 393,536 259,626
Brown 1,149 188
Keya Paha 336 42
Rock 563 79
District 3 U.S. House of Representatives
Adrian Smith (R) Paul Theobald (D)
Statewide 162,757 49,363
Brown 1,194 159
Keya Paha 355 32
Rock 583 64
Pete Ricketts (R) Bob Krist (D)
Statewide 402,078 275,186
Brown 1,146 213
Keya Paha 347 43
Rock 566 93
Secretary of State
Bob Evnen (R) Spencer Danner (D)
Statewide 397,035 253,593
Brown 1,111 159
Keya Paha 321 34
Rock 532 68
Charlie Janssen (R) Jane Skinner (D)
Statewide 371,549 269,787
Brown 1,074 180
Keya Paha 305 35
Rock 504 77
John Murante (R)
Keya Paha 325
Nebraska Attorney General
Doug Peterson (R)
Keya Paha 321
Nebraska Legislature District 40
Tim Gragert Keith Kube
District-wide 7,181 6,738
Rock 314 261
Nebraska Public Power District Subdivision 5
Charlie Kennedy Thomas Hoff
District-wide 8,687 5,251
Brown 657 303
Lower Niobrara Natural Resources District
Linda Hoffman Paul Allen
District-wide 1,287 884
Keya Paha 109 81
Kevin Randa Bradley Mahon
District-wide 1,176 897
Keya Paha 74 88
Jeffery Uhlir Shaun Higgins
District-wide 1,082 999
Keya Paha 101 120
* Nebraskans vote to expand Medicaid coverage; Republicans sweep races
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 7)
By a 42,000-vote margin, Nebraskans voted Tuesday to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Nebraskans who now earn up to 138 percent of the median poverty level income will qualify for coverage under Medicaid. The federal government pays for 90 percent of the cost of the expanded Medicaid coverage, with the state responsible for 10 percent.
A total of 344,437 Nebraskans voted in favor of the expansion, which represented just over 53 percent of the vote. There were 302,338 votes against expansion, just under 47 percent.
Republicans dominated the state and federal races on the ballot Tuesday, as U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer was easily re-elected. Fischer received 58 percent of the votes cast, 393,536, while Democratic challenger Jane Raybould picked up 259,626 votes, 38.3 percent. Libertarian Jim Schultz received 24,456 votes, just over 3 percent.
Gov. Pete Ricketts earned re-election to another four-year term by an almost 20-point margin. Ricketts received 402,078 votes (59.37) percent, while Democratic challenger Bob Krist received 40.63 percent of the vote with 275,186 ballots cast in his favor.
Republicans swept the three Congressional seats in the state, with the closest race in the Second District. Incumbent Don Bacon edged Democratic challenger Kara Eastman by a 51.5 percent to 48.5 percent margin.
Adrian Smith cruised to re-election in the Third District, receiving almost 77 percent of the vote compared to just 23 percent for Democrat Paul Theobald.
Jeff Fortenberry was re-elected in District 1 by a 60-40 margin over Democratic challenger Jessica McClure.
Republican Bob Evnen will replace retiring Secretary of State John Gale. Evnen received 61 percent of the vote to 39 percent for Democrat Spencer Danner.
Charlie Janssen was re-elected as the State Auditor, receiving 58 percent of the vote to 42 percent for Democrat Jane Skinner.
Republican Doug Peterson ran unopposed for re-election as the Nebraska Attorney General, and Republican John Murante ran unopposed to replace Don Stenberg as State Treasurer.
Voter turnout in Nebraska was 56 percent in the General Election, with 685,320 Nebraskans casting ballots from the 1,219,644 who were registered to vote in the state.
* Gragert defeats Kube for 40th District Nebraska Legislature seat Tuesday
(Posted 6:30 a.m. Nov. 7)
Looking at some of the regional races during Tuesday’s General Election, Tim Gragert edged Keith Kube for the 40th District seat on the Nebraska Legislature. Gragert received 51.5 percent of the vote with 7,181 ballots cast his direction. Kube picked up 48.5 percent of the vote with 6,738 ballots cast.
Just over 400 votes separated the two candidates from the nearly 14,000 votes cast in the 40th District, which includes Rock, Holt and Boyd counties among others in north central and northeast Nebraska.
Gragert will replace Tyson Larson, who served two terms and could not run again due to term limits.
Charlie Kennedy ousted incumbent Thomas Hoff for the Subdivision 5 seat on the Nebraska Public Power District Board of Directors. Kennedy received more than 62 percent of the vote compared to 37.5 percent that went to Hoff. Subdivision 5 represents north central and northwest Nebraska.
Running unopposed, Cherryl Lovejoy in Subdistrict 4, Martin Graff in Subdistrict 6 and Dean Jochem in an at-large race won re-election to the Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District Board of Directors. Though not on the ballot, Justin Hammond received write-in votes to win election to the Subdistrict 2 seat on the Middle Niobrara NRD Board.
There were contested races for seats on the Lower Niobrara Natural Resources District Board of Directors.
Linda Hoffman defeated Paul Allen by a margin of 1,287 to 884 for the Subdistrict 3 seat on the Lower Niobrara NRD Board. Kevin Rand picked up 1,176 votes to win the Subdistrict 4 seat, with Bradley Mahon receiving 897 votes.
Jeffrey Uhlir edged Shaun Higgins for an at-large seat on the board, earning 52 percent of the vote, 1,082, compared to Shaun Higgins with 48 percent, 999 votes.
Thomas Higgins in Subdistrict 1, Marvin Leiwer in Subdistrict 2, Kent Pavlik in Subdistrict 5, Curt Morrow in Subdistrict 6, Dwain Marcellus in Subdistrict 7 and Larry Baumeister in Subdistrict 8 all ran unopposed and were elected to the Lower Niobrara NRD Board.
also ran unopposed for seats on the Educational Service Unit 17 Board of
Directors. Sue Weston in District 1, Lisa Chohon in District 3, Jean Pinney in
District 5 and Duane Gudgel in District 7 were all elected to the ESU 17 Board
Outgoing Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale was nearly spot-on on his prediction for voter turnout, as 685,320 Nebraskans cast ballots during the General Election. That represents 56.19 percent of the 1,219,644 voters registered in the state.
* Van Houten elected assessor, Taylor county attorney in close Brown County races
(Posted 9:45 p.m. Nov. 6)
There were several tight local races in Brown County Tuesday during the General Election, two at the county level and one in the race for Ainsworth mayor.
Three candidates, two of them write-in candidates, vied to replace the retiring Charleen Fox as Brown County Assessor.
Terri Van Houten, the lone candidate appearing on the ballot, received 538 votes. That was enough to defeat two write-in candidates for the position. There were a total of 810 write-in votes cast Tuesday. Amber Happold received 409 write-in votes, and Bill Carr picked up 398 write-in votes.
Van Houten will be seated as the next Brown County Assessor.
There was one successful write-in campaign Tuesday, as Andy Taylor defeated David Streich in the race for Brown County Attorney.
Taylor received 719 write-in votes. Streich, the long-time county attorney, received 505 votes Tuesday as the lone candidate appearing on the ballot. Taylor will be sworn in as the next Brown County Attorney.
In the race to replace outgoing Ainsworth Mayor Larry Rice, Jeremiah Sullivan edged Cody Goochey by 79 votes. Sullivan finished with 360 votes, 54 percent of the votes cast, while Goochey picked up 281 votes, 43 percent.
Brad Fiala and Schyler Schenk will be seated on the Ainsworth City Council as the only two candidates to run for the expiring seats held by Brian Williams and Chuck Osborn.
In a four-way race for two seats on the Long Pine City Council, Linda Alberts led the field with 78 votes. She will be seated on the council and will be joined by Katherine Papstein, who secured 63 votes. David Cheatum received 45 votes, and Cheri Painter garnered 32 votes in the council race.
Long Pine Mayor Ed Brown was unopposed, and received re-election for another four-year term.
Brown County Clerk Travee Hobbs, Sheriff Bruce Papstein and Treasurer Deb Vonheeder ran unopposed and were re-elected to additional four-year terms.
After surviving an eight-way Republican Primary in May, Dennis Bauer and Reagan Wiebelhaus were elected to the Brown County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.
Doug Pankowski and Robert Maxwell were elected to seats on the Brown County Airport Authority without challenge.
Frank Beel, Jessica Pozehl and Jim Arens were each elected to four-year terms on the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education. They were the only three candidates appearing on the ballot for the three seats on the School Board.
Pat Schumacher ran unopposed for another term as the Brown County representative on the KBR Rural Public Power Board of Directors.
JoAnn Johnson Parker, Brenda Goeken and P. Lynn Clay were each elected to three seats on the Johnstown Village Board. They were the only three candidates appearing on the ballot.
Brown County had voter turnout of 65.5 percent, with 1,401 votes cast from among the 2,136 registered voters in the county.
* Rock County voters approve levy and restricted fund increase for hospital, ambulance
(Posted 9:15 p.m. Nov. 6)
Rock County voters overwhelmingly approved allowing the Rock County Hospital and Rock County Ambulance Association to continue to levy property tax for operations and equipment purchases, and increase the county’s restricted funds budget to allow for the collection of the tax.
The measure passed by a margin of 455 in favor to 179 against.
In contested local Rock County races, TJ Ellermeier won the write-in election for county assessor over Monica Turpin. With neither name appearing on the ballot, Ellermeier received 355 write-in votes. Turpin picked up 71 write-in votes.
Lana Arrowsmith and Mike LeZotte won a four-way race for two Bassett City Council seats. Arrowsmith received 186 votes to lead the way, with LeZotte a close second with 180 votes from Bassett residents. Bonnie Emerson finished third in the race with 65 votes, followed by Kathy Maloun with 43 votes.
It was a close race for the Rock County seat on the KBR Rural Public Power District Board of Directors. Mike Kreitman received 200 votes to edge Dale Caskey, who finished with 187 votes.
The other local races in Rock County were uncontested, as Daunitta Buoy was elected as county clerk, Mona Davis as county treasurer, James Anderson was re-elected as county sheriff, and Avery Gurnsey was re-elected as county attorney.
Jim Stout and Glen May were the only two candidates for two seats on the Board of Commissioners and were elected.
Larry Ebert II, Tonya Larson and Kristy Beard were elected to the Rock County Board of Education, and James Nelson was re-elected to a six-year term on the Rock County Airport Authority.
Melissa Denny, Waylon Reynolds and Dan Judge were all elected to seats on the Newport Village Board.
Voter turnout in Rock County was 66 percent, with 671 votes cast from among the 1,012 registered to vote in the county.
* Prewitt, Cook and Hespe win seats on the Springview Village Board Tuesday
(Posted 10 p.m. Nov. 6)
The lone contested race locally in Keya Paha County was for the Springview Village Board, as six candidates ran for three spots on the Village Board.
Jesse Prewitt was the leading vote-getter with 115, followed by Troy Cook with 92 votes. The third candidate who will be seated on the Village Board is Larry Hespe. Hespe picked up 75 votes for the final seat.
Nathan Arends received 36 votes to finish fourth, followed by Robbie Painter with 30 votes and Joe Caulfield with 18 votes.
Mark Frick received 239 votes for Keya Paha County Public Schools Board of Education. He was the only candidate appearing on the ballot Tuesday. Two write-in candidates will be seated on the School Board, with Darcy Wiebelhaus picking up 88 write-in votes and Todd Painter receiving 86 write-in votes.
County Clerk/Assessor Suzy Wentworth, Treasurer Kaye Thiede and Sheriff Jeff Kirsch all ran unopposed and were elected to four-year terms.
Corey Nilson in the Center District and Bruce Ritterbush in the East District were each re-elected to the Keya Paha County Board of Commissioners after running unopposed Tuesday.
Randy Rowan ran unopposed and was elected to the KBR Rural Public Power District Board of Directors representing Keya Paha County.
Voter turnout in Keya Paha County was 64 percent.
Mon-Sat - 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.
Sunday - 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.