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* Funeral Service notes: (see more on the obituaries page)
* Audrey D. Olson, 95, of Newport 10:30 a.m. Jan. 21
* Curt Larson, 56, of Springview 11:30 a.m. Jan. 20
* Carl Frauen, 41, of Valentine 2 p.m. Jan. 19
* Meeting reports located below for:
Jan. 17 Brown County Commissioners
Jan. 17 Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education
Jan. 12 Ainsworth City Council
Jan. 11 Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board
Jan. 3 Brown County Commissioners
Dec. 28 Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees
* Local Lions Club receives International Membership Award
(Posted 2:15 p.m. Jan. 19)
During its meeting Tuesday, the Ainsworth Lions Club learned it had received the Lions Club International Club Membership Award for 2015-16.
An effort will be made to secure a banner to display all awards presented to the club.
A “thank you” letter was received from the Nebraska Community Foundation for the $500 contribution to the Brown County Community Foundation Fund-Local Beef for School Account. The club was informed the Lions Club District 38-I Individual Assistance Fund has increased its matching grant to $500, with an additional $1,000 available from the Nebraska Lions Club Foundation.
The annual Lions Club Family Christmas party was held on Dec. 15 in the United Methodist Church fellowship hall, with 13 members and six guests attending.
Information was shared regarding the Lions Club Foundation Backpack Disaster Relief Fund Drive to aid children in Nebraska, ages 4-10, who had been in a disaster, such as fire, flood, or tornado. The backpacks, filled with supplies, will be warehoused at Broken Bow, a central location for easy distribution across the state. The club approved a $200 contribution to the project.
A request for financial assistance was received from an optometry student, originally from Lincoln, who is a participant in the Student Volunteers in Optometric Service to Humanity program. The program annually provides free eye exams and eye glasses to the needy in Third World countries.
The club, which has been contributing $100 annually for the past several years, will contribute $100 to assist Taylor Ficek as a participant in the program, with a request that Ficek provide a report back to the club regarding his experiences in the program.
Jerry Ehlers, as Lions Club Zone D1 chair, advised the club he is currently scheduling visitations to Zone D1 clubs at Valentine, Ainsworth, Atkinson, O’Neill and Bristow-Gross in lieu of scheduling a zone meeting, which in previous years have been poorly attended.
An attempt will be made to organize a “video” teleconference involving the officers of all the clubs in Zone D1, which would eliminate the need to travel.
Kelly Oberlechner has been accepted as the newest member of the Ainsworth Lions Club. She was previously a member of the Red Cloud Lions Club. The club will continue to provide four newspapers from the Norfolk Daily News to the Brown County Hospital.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Lions Club is scheduled for Feb. 20.
* Middle Niobrara NRD receives $100,000 grant for wood chip trailer and spreader
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 19)
of Environmental Quality Director Jim Macy announced the awarding of $2.5
million in 57 grants for litter cleanup, recycling, and public education
programs and activities. Funds for the Litter Reduction and Recycling Grant
Program are generated from a fee charged to certain manufacturers, wholesalers,
and retailers of products that commonly contribute to litter. The program has
been providing grants annually since 1979.
* North central Nebraska counties see largest 2016 valuation increases
(Posted 2:30 p.m. Jan. 18)
Statewide, Nebraska property taxes will increase for the 2016 tax year by $123 million, from $3.78 billion to $3.90 billion. The Nebraska Department of Revenue recently certified the tax levy reports submitted by the state’s 93 county assessors.
The $123 million increase represents a 3.26 percent climb from the 2015 tax year. Of the increase, $17 million is attributed to voter-approved bonds, $44 million comes from new construction, and $62 million comes from tax increases to existing property.
Four of the seven counties with the highest percentage of increased tax levies are in the north central part of the state.
Boyd County will experience the second-highest property tax increase in the state, up 12 percent from $6 million to $6.75 million.
Blaine County property owners will see the fourth highest percentage increase, up 10.73 percent from $2.76 million in 2015 to $3.05 million in 2016.
Thomas County is fifth, with a 9.7 percent jump from $3.15 million to $3.43 million.
Brown County had the seventh largest percentage increase in the state, with property taxes up 8.79 percent from $10.2 million collected in 2015 to $11.12 million collected in 2016.
Arthur County in the Sandhills had the highest percentage increase in the state at 16.47 percent.
Eighteen counties in Nebraska will collect fewer property tax dollars than were collected in 2015.
Rock and Holt are among the 18 counties taking in fewer property tax dollars for 2016. Rock County had the 10th best drop in property tax, from $6.5 million collected in 2015 to $6.4 million that will be collected in 2016. That represents a 1.7 percent decline in property tax collections.
Holt County was the 13th best, with a drop of 1.36 percent from $36.3 million to $35.8 million.
Cherry County had a modest increase of 1.76 percent, from $21.8 million to $22.2 million, and Keya Paha County’s property tax asking increased by just 1.25 percent, from $3.47 million to $3.51 million.
The total property tax asking includes all the taxing entities within a county, such as school districts, county government, city government, natural resources districts, community colleges and rural fire districts.
The overall value of property statewide increased by 4.68 percent, from $227 billion to $238 billion.
North central Nebraska saw the largest overall property valuation gains in the state.
Blaine, Brown, Cherry, Loup and Boyd counties had the five largest property valuation increases in the state.
The value of property in Blaine County was up almost 29 percent, from $249 million to $321 million. That percentage was the highest in the state.
Brown County’s overall property value was up 23.4 percent for 2016, from an overall value of $668 million in 2015 to $824 million in 2016. That was the second largest increase in property value.
Cherry County’s valuation increased by 18.4 percent, from $1.63 billion to $1.93 billion, the third largest increase.
Loup County had the fourth highest increase in property value, up 17.35 percent from $288 million to $338 million.
Boyd County saw the fifth largest overall valuation increase in the state, up 16.4 percent from $498 million to $579 million.
Rock County was also among the top 10 counties in the state with the highest overall valuation increases. Total property in all classes – agricultural, residential and commercial – was up 14.5 percent for 2016 in Rock County, from $579 million to $664 million.
The value of all property in Keya Paha County was up by 10.1 percent, from $418 million to $461 million.
Holt County’s overall property value increased by 5 percent, from $3.11 billion to $3.27 billion.
The increases include both new construction and a jump in value for existing property.
Valuation, coupled with the levy rates set by all property taxing entities, account for the overall property tax dollars requested in each county.
While the actual property tax dollars requested by taxing entities in Brown County had the seventh highest increase in the state, the overall levy rate in Brown County actually dropped by 11.8 percent. The drop in the levy rate moved Brown County down the list a bit among the counties asking for the largest tax dollar increase year over year.
Some taxing entities in Brown County, such as the county government and school district, decreased their levy rates somewhat with the higher valuation. Others, such as the community college, kept the levy rate virtually the same as the previous year, which led to a substantial increase in tax dollars collected thanks to the 23.4 percent increase in the county’s valuation.
For the first time in several years, six counties actually saw the overall value of their real property decrease from the previous year.
The value of all classes of property for 2016 in Hitchcock, Franklin, Webster, Thurston, Stanton and Kimball counties was down from its 2015 valuation, with declining value in the sale of property in each county the factor for the decline.
County assessors use property sales data over a period of years to determine the valuation of agricultural, residential and commercial property in each county.
Even with six counties seeing their overall value decline for 2016, there were still 21 counties in the state that experienced double digit percentage increases in their overall property valuation.
Only 20 counties in the state saw overall levy rates that were above 2015 levels. In those counties, for properties that had the same value as the previous year, actual property tax collections will be higher.
For the other 73 counties, if a property’s value did not change, the owner’s tax bill will be lower.
The state of Nebraska offsets a portion of the actual property taxes levied by the county tax entities by providing $204 million in direct relief from the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund.
The state provides an additional $14 million in personal property tax relief spread out among those who have personal property that is taxed, and an additional $75 million in property tax is offset by the state through its homestead exemption program for those who qualify.
Property tax statements have been sent to all property owners by the treasurers in each county. The first half of 2016 property taxes become delinquent on May 1, and the second half of the property tax due becomes delinquent Sept. 1. If not timely paid, interest is charged on the outstanding property tax balance.
* Commissioners deny wage claim submitted by firm representing former BCH employee
(Posted 1:45 p.m. Jan. 17)
The Brown County Commissioners voted Tuesday to deny a wage/contract claim submitted by a former Brown County Hospital employee.
The county received a letter from the law firm representing Elizabeth Nelson, a former Brown County Hospital provider, which included a wage/contract claim.
Brown County Attorney David Streich said he contacted the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, which handles the county’s liability insurance, after receiving the letter and claim from Koley Jessen, the firm representing Nelson.
“NIRMA sent recommendations to us on how to proceed, which I won’t discuss in a public meeting,” Streich said.
He said the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in Brothers vs. the Kimball County Hospital, from the past three years, that county hospitals were separate governmental subdivisions from the county governing bodies.
“Since Nelson was not an employee of the county, and the county did not have a contract with Nelson, my recommendation is the county deny the claim,” Streich said.
The commissioners unanimously voted to deny the claim.
In other business Tuesday, the board accepted the annual report from Weed Superintendent Doug Mulligan.
Mulligan, who is retiring in February, said the number of acres with noxious weeds in the county has decreased during the past 10 years.
According to the report, leafy spurge remains the most prevalent noxious weed in Brown County, with 18,800 acres showing some level of infestation. That represents about 2.5 percent of the 776,864 acres in the county.
There are 2,530 acres with a severe infestation level of leafy spurge, 6,120 acres with a moderate level of infestation, 1,560 acres with a light infestation, and 8,590 acres with a trace amount of leafy spurge.
Four other noxious weeds had a small presence in Brown County in 2016, including 1,150 acres of Canada thistle infestation, 221 acres with purple loosestrife, 142 acres observed with musk thistle, and 100 acres with the presence of knapweed.
The weed department budget was $51,270 for the past fiscal year.
The board thanked Mulligan for his years of service as the county’s weed superintendent and complimented his work ethic and job performance in reducing the number of acres with noxious weed infestations.
The commissioners voted to provide a 30-cents-per-hour cost of living wage increase to roads department workers and the courthouse custodian. That represents a roughly 2 percent cost of living increase for the county’s custodian and hourly employees in the roads department.
The board voted to transfer $90,000 from the Inheritance Tax Fund to the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board, completing the county’s $340,000 obligation to the joint effort to reopen a nursing home in the community.
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said, “We have now fulfilled our obligation. If we are asked again, I am more than likely going to vote no. At some point, the nursing home has to become self-sufficient.”
The board discussed the facility’s efforts to gain Medicaid and Medicare certification, and the likelihood that the Sandhills Care Center would need to operate in its current facility to show that it could cash flow before it pursued an effort to build a new facility.
In roads items Tuesday, the board appointed Kenny Turpin as the county’s highway superintendent for 2017, and held an executive session to discuss the performance evaluations of the county roads department employees.
Turpin discussed having asphalt millings the county received from the overlay of the runway at the Ainsworth Airport grinded, as the millings currently have large chunks that won’t work well to utilize for overlay work.
Turpin said it would likely cost between $7.50 and $8 per ton for the grinding work, and the county had approximately 2,000 tons of material it received free of charge from the airport runway overlay. The county was simply responsible for hauling the material from the site.
“If we can get the chunks taken out, we will likely use it for overlays,” Turpin said. “It really isn’t any good to us unless it is ground up.”
Turpin received permission to get a quote for the grinding work. He also received the go-ahead to advertise for bids for armor coating work for 2017. He said he planned to armor coat 12 to 15 miles of the county’s asphalt roads.
Turpin said, with fuel prices increasing, he would like to contract for fuel for 2017, and would get price quotes from Madison’s Great Western and the Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative.
The commissioners held a conference call with Kirk Bowers from the company Wellness Partners, who discussed a voluntary wellness program his company offers to county employees. He said there is no cost for the annual blood draw and comprehensive lab tests, as the company bills the employee’s insurance for the work. He said, for employees who do not have insurance but who want the tests conducted, the cost is $140.
He said the company currently serves between 20 and 25 counties in the state, and works with Blue Cross/Blue Shield Insurance on the wellness program designed to detect potential health issues early.
The board took no action on establishing the wellness program.
Opening bids for used trucks, the commissioners rejected four bids submitted by RDO Truck Center of Lincoln and one bid from Correct Truck and Trailer of Davenport, Iowa. The county received two bids from Cornhusker International of Norfolk, and will have Turpin view a 2011 International. After viewing the semi, Turpin will make a recommendation on whether to approve Cornhusker International's bid.
The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Feb. 7.
* KBRB school edition of Open Line
(Posted 10:30 a.m. Jan. 17)
Ainsworth Community Schools Superintendent Darrell Peterson
was today's guest on the school day edition of Open Line.
* Dailey re-elected School Board President Monday
(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 17)
Dan Dailey was re-elected president of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education for 2017 Monday, with Mark Johnson re-elected vice president of the board and Jim Arens secretary-treasurer.
Johnson, Brad Wilkins and Scott Erthum took the oath of office after being elected to the board in November.
The board Monday spent time discussing survey questions sent by the Nebraska Association of School Boards for its Vision 20/20 project. The questions discussed included the expectations the board had for successful graduates, the barriers to reaching their goals for the district, how to better engage community partners, finding traditional and non-traditional partners at the state level, and ways the state association can help the district.
Board members said students needed to be properly trained by the time they graduate to pursue whatever career path they choose, and be able to make good decisions and live independently.
As far as barriers, the board discussed being able to replace quality teachers as they near retirement and the challenges to getting teachers interested in coming to a rural area to teach.
Brad Wilkins, who serves as the district’s representative on the Nebraska Association of School Boards, said the NASB is looking for solutions with a $900 million budget shortfall looming.
“There is a $900 million shortfall, and the governor wants to reduce property taxes,” Wilkins said. “The schools are the biggest beneficiary of property taxes, so we need to either find ways to replace revenue or reduce services.”
Wilkins said he believed investing in education was the best way to reduce the rising state allocations to Medicaid and the Department of Corrections.
“A good education can reduce poverty and reduce the need for corrections,” Wilkins said.
Wilkins recorded the answers provided by the board and will submit the survey to the NASB.
As part of its annual reorganization, the board approved the First National Bank, West Plains Bank and Union Bank and Trust as local depositories for district funds, as well as the Nebraska Liquid Asset Fund.
The board will continue to hold meetings on the second Monday of each month, at 7 p.m. between November and March and 8 p.m. from April through October.
The board approved the Ainsworth Star-Journal as its official newspaper for legal notices and KBRB radio for the airing of meeting notices.
Board members were assigned to several committees. Johnson, Erthum and Jim Arens will serve on the curriculum committee. Dailey, Arens and Johnson will sit on the transportation, building and grounds committee.
Erin Rathe, Wilkins and Dailey were placed on the activities committee. Wilkins, Johnson and Dailey will serve on the budget and finance committee.
Wilkins, Arens and Erthum volunteered for the personnel and negotiations committee. Erthum, Rathe and Arens were named to the policy committee.
Rathe will represent the district on the North Central Development Center Board of Directors, and Wilkins will continue to represent the district on the Nebraska Association of School Boards.
In other business Monday, the board accepted the resignation of longtime Title 1 and reading teacher Judy Hensley. Hensley’s letter to the board indicated she planned to retire following the current school year.
Peterson said he would begin to advertise for positions available for the 2017-18 year, which currently included the elementary principal position, Hensley’s position and a Spanish position. He said Susan Imm has also resigned effective at the end of the school year. Imm, a middle school special education teacher, was employed by the Educational Service Unit 17, but Peterson said the district would fill that position instead of the ESU.
Peterson and Secondary Principal Bill Lentz updated the board on the damage to the band and choir room following four coils freezing and flooding the room.
Lentz said he was impressed with how many teachers and students jumped in to move instruments and vacuum up the water.
“The band and choir room is back in order,” Lentz said. “We are still adding up everything that needs to be replaced. Much of the expensive equipment – the uniforms and the instruments – were spared. The guitar cases and the six keyboards were the most expensive items lost.”
Peterson said the insurance company was notified of the damage and a claim will be submitted.
The superintendent also reported that Jim Pinney and Al Steuter had made beef donations to the school lunch program. He thanked the two for the donations, and said the district is close to having enough local beef to finish out the year.
During her report, Elementary Principal Sarah Williams said the kindergarten through sixth grade students had made improvements in the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessments, but there was still more work to be done before the final benchmark was taken.
She reported at the beginning of the year, 34 percent of students were likely to need intensive support to meet the next benchmark. During the mid-year test, that dropped to 29 percent.
At the beginning of the year, Williams reported 43 percent of students were meeting the DIBELS benchmark goals. At mid-year, that percentage had increased to 45 percent.
Activities directors Scott Steinhauser and Jared Hansmeyer’s report congratulated several students for being named to the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Chadron State College Honor Bands and Choirs.
Jace Kremer, Emma Good and Brittani Beegle were named to the UNK Band. Luke Peters, Korey Rathe, Brittani Beegle and Jace Kremer were selected to the UNK Choir.
Jace Kremer and Emma Good qualified for the Chadron State Honor Band, and Brittani Beegle was named to the Chadron State Honor Choir.
In addition, 16 students qualified for the Wayne State College Honor Choir, and 30 middle school students were named to the Stanton Junior High Honor Band and Choir.
In a final action item Monday, the board approved the 2015-16 audit report as submitted by Dana F. Cole & Co.
Peterson said the audit showed no deficient findings, but did flag the usual lack of segregation of duties over financial processes. He said all smaller schools receive that finding.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 13.
* Ainsworth wins Valentine Icebreaker Speech Invitational
(Posted 9:30 p.m. Jan. 15)
Valentine Speech Invitational
1st: Jack Arens—Informative Speaking
Jack Arens—Entertainment Speaking
Jack Arens—Extemporaneous Speaking
Bradi Scott & Bo Painter—Duet Acting
4th: Jace Kremer—Informative Speaking
Sam Wilkins—Extemporaneous Speaking
5th: Henry Beel—Informative Speaking
Vemund Berg/Henrik Elgsaether/Jace Kremer/Korey Rathe/Miranda Raymond—OID
6th: Jace Kremer—Persuasive Speaking
Vemund Berg & Miranda Raymond—Duet Acting
Superior: Marley Murphy—Serious Prose
1st: Coy Carson—Humorous Prose
Henrik Elgsaether—Extemporaneous Speaking
2nd: Coy Carson—Persuasive Speaking
Coy Carson & Jodi Maxwell—Duet Acting
Team: 1st of 7
“What a great way to start our season,” Ainsworth speech coach Mary Rau said. “Jack Arens led the way with three gold medals, and the rest of the seniors - Jace Kremer, Korey Rathe, Vemund Berg, Miranda Raymond, and Henrik Elgsaether - also medaled in all of their events. They’re showing great leadership at practice and in competition.
“The underclassmen were very successful, too, and so we were able to bring home the championship trophy this year. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to come out ahead of West Holt’s team, so this was a sweet victory for us.”
The speech team’s next competition will be Saturday, Jan. 21, at Broken Bow, with rounds beginning at 8 a.m.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 8:30 p.m. Jan. 15)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
vehicle-deer accident that occurred Wednesday, Jan. 11, on Highway 183 northeast
* Larson provides update from the Nebraska Legislature
(Posted 3:30 p.m. Jan. 13)
Nebraska 40th District State Sen. Tyson Larson provided his
first update of the legislative session Friday.
* Stuart FFA chapter wins District 10 Leadership Skills Event Sweepstakes
(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 13)
District 10 FFA chapters competed in the Leadership Skills Event Wednesday at Valentine, with numerous area FFA members qualifying for the State Leadership Skills Event in April during the State FFA Convention.
The top two finishers in each category qualify for state, with the third-place finisher the alternate.
Stuart’s FFA chapter won the sweepstakes, with Rock County the runner-up, West Holt third, and Elgin fourth.
Stuart won the Parliamentary Procedure contest to qualify for state, as did the Ainsworth Parliamentary Procedure team by finishing second. O’Neill was third and West Holt fourth.
Jack Arens of Ainsworth was the champion extemporaneous speaker, with Chase Hoffschneider of Burwell second, Nikki Gotschall of O’Neill third, and Kennison Kunz of Stuart fourth.
Makenna Welke of O’Neill won the creed speaking contest, with Max Roberts of West Holt also qualifying for state in second. Adam Turpin of Rock County placed third, followed by Madison Stracke of Stuart in fourth.
Elizabeth Selting of Elgin won the cooperative speaking event, with Jace Stagemeyer of O’Neill second, Emma Hoffschneider of Burwell third and Britley Schlueter of Ainsworth fourth.
Kate Osbon of Rock County won the employment skills event, followed by Jake Judge of West Holt in second, Tejlor Strope of O’Neill in third and Emily Burke of West Holt fourth.
Sam Wilkins of Ainsworth was the top junior public speaker to qualify for state. Kira Widger of Elgin took second to qualify, followed by Allyson Wemhoff of Elgin in third and Elle Schmaderer of Stuart in fourth.
Kelly Mashino of Boyd County won the senior public speaking event, with Emma Good of Ainsworth taking second to qualify for state in April. Marie Meis of Elgin finished third and Kenny Bush of Elgin fourth.
Peyton Alder of Stuart won the natural resources speaking contest, with Nikki Payne of Elgin second, Allison Stracke of Stuart third and Lindee Wentworth of West Holt fourth.
West Boyd swept the top two spots in the agricultural demonstration event, with Elgin third and Rock County fourth.
Stuart had the top team in the conduct of chapter meetings event, with West Holt teams finishing second and fourth and Rock County third.
West Boyd won the junior high Quiz Bowl competition, with O’Neill second, Rock County third and Wheeler Central fourth.
Hannah Keller of Rock County was the top student in the discovery speaking contest, with Elizabeth Wilkins of Ainsworth also qualifying for state in second. Ben Klemesrud of Rock County was third and Rachel Dierks of Wheeler Central fourth.
Jenny Goesch of West Boyd won the ag literacy speaking event, with Jaya Nelson of Rock County second, Morgan Ramsey of Wheeler Central third and Fletcher Larson of Valentine fourth.
* Council approves separate auditing firm for LB 840 fund
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 12)
Based on a recommendation from City Attorney Rod Palmer, the Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday approved having a second auditing firm conduct the audit of the city’s LB 840 fund.
In past years, the city had one firm handle the city’s audit. Palmer said state statute is clear that there should be a disconnect between the city and the LB 840 audit.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the general consensus among the accounting firms she spoke with is one auditor typically handles everything, with LB 840 being one piece of the overall audit.
“Other communities we talked to used one firm for both audits,” Schroedl said.
The city has always had the LB 840 audit conducted separately from the general fund audit, but it has been conducted by the same firm as the general audit and has been completed at the same time.
Councilman Chuck Osborn asked, other than some wording in the statute, has there ever been a problem with having one firm do both audits?
Palmer said, “Not necessarily, but sometimes it is good to have a different auditor come in and take a look. Each auditor looks at things differently.”
Councilman Brian Williams asked if it would be better to have Dana F. Cole take care of both audits for this year, and then revisit the issue next year and potentially bid the two audits separately.
Osborn said, since a question had been raised about following statute, he moved that the city solicit a second firm to handle the LB 840 audit. The council approved having Schroedl look for a second auditing firm for the LB 840 audit. The council, in its December meeting, had approved firm Dana F. Cole to again handle the annual audit of the city’s finances.
In other business during a light agenda Wednesday, the council approved signing a certificate of compliance for the Nebraska Department of Roads confirming the city had fulfilled its maintenance agreement to cover snow removal and street sweeping on Main Street from Highway 20 to the Cowboy Trail.
Osborn said the agreement has been the same for several years. The Department of Roads handles snow removal on Highway 20 inside the city limits, while the city removes snow from Main Street/Highway 7 for the first four blocks south of Highway 20.
Rod Worrell asked why the state doesn’t clear snow on Main Street since it drives down Main Street before dropping the blades south of the Cowboy Trail and continuing south on Highway 7.
Osborn said the city pays the state to remove the snow from Highway 20 inside the city limits. He said city officials could talk to DOR District Engineer Mark Kovar if the city wanted to amend the agreement. He said the state would only clear the driving lanes of Main Street and not the parking spaces if it did handle the snow removal for the first four blocks.
In the only other action item Wednesday, the council approved a $20,000 loan from its housing rehab fund for a home improvement project in the city.
Those who meet the income guidelines of the program can receive a zero percent loan from the fund to make improvements to their home. The applicants names are confidential, and the loaned funds are repaid over a period of years and the money is then recirculated to additional applicants. There are currently 19 homeowners in the city utilizing the loan funds.
During her report, Schroedl said a new warning siren was installed in December to cover the west side of the city. The city received grant funding from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency for the project. Schroedl said NEMA would inspect the project and close out the grant in February.
Schroedl said she was notified that Ainsworth had been selected as one of 40 cities in Nebraska to host a traveling children’s museum as part of the state’s 150th anniversary celebration. She said she would coordinate with the Ainsworth Area Chamber of Commerce and other volunteers to make preparations to host the museum when she was informed of the dates the museum would be in the community.
Mayor Larry Rice reported 2017 marks the 75th anniversary of the construction of the Ainsworth Air Field. The runway was built by the U.S. Armed Forces in 1942.
Airport Manager Lance Schipporeit said he was planning to put together a celebration in July.
The consent agenda Wednesday included the appointments of Donita Painter and Harlin Welch to the city’s Board of Adjustment, Terri Gamble to the Ainsworth Park Board, and Alane Lentz to the Ainsworth Housing Authority to fill the term of the late Hazel Engle.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 8.
* Market study shows need for 29-bed nursing home, shy of the planned 46-bed facility
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Jan. 11)
The Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board reviewed a market study during Tuesday’s meeting that was completed to determine if a need existed for the construction of a new nursing home facility in the community.
A requirement of the USDA to utilize its direct loan program, the market study showed a need existed for a skilled nursing home in Ainsworth, but the number of beds needed did not reach the 46 bed-facility the group had planned to construct.
Board Chair Kent Taylor said the market study indicated the need for 29 licensed beds, not 46.
The board questioned some of the assumptions made in the market study, including adding the Pine View Good Samaritan Center’s beds at Valentine in the market area while the report states the area includes a 35-mile radius of the city of Ainsworth.
Taylor said, after speaking with the USDA personnel in charge of the direct loan program, the USDA indicated it would not be willing to provide a loan for a 46-bed facility, but would loan funds for a 29-bed nursing home that could be designed for future expansion.
After discussion, the board scheduled a special meeting for 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, in the Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative office to discuss the results of the market study with the USDA representatives.
Taylor indicated, after sending information to five firms, two had replied with proposals for a financial study for a new facility, which, along with an environmental study, would also be a requirement for the USDA direct loan program.
Taylor said it would be wise to hold off on the financial study until the group determines whether there is any flexibility from the USDA on the size of the facility it would be willing to support.
“We will find out from the USDA what our options might be, and move forward from there,” Taylor said.
Sandhills Care Center Administrator Stephanie Rucker told the board there are currently 10 residents in the facility, and another would be moving in on Thursday.
Of those 11 residents, eight are private pay residents and three are Medicaid residents. She said the facility is currently generating $54,000 in monthly revenue.
“We are now down to minimal expenses on fixing the facility,” Rucker said. “We have three more Medicaid residents on our waiting list, and four people in assisted living who are not quite ready to make the move.”
Rucker said there were four Medicare residents on the waiting list.
She said the facility has all the paperwork in for its Medicare certification, but it has to receive Medicaid certification before it can move forward with becoming Medicare certified.
She said the facility’s plan of correction has been accepted by the Department of Health and Human Services after its inspection of the facility found a deficiency in a cup of hot coffee in a resident’s room without a lid.
She said all the issues identified by a second fire marshal inspection have been corrected, and the facility is simply waiting on the fire marshal to return and sign off on the improvements.
Mike Harris with Rural Health Development said everything on the health side was ready to go for the facility’s Medicaid certification.
“If we can get the fire marshal here and get his approval, there should be nothing holding us back,” Harris said. “We have to have the Medicaid certification before we can get Medicare certification.”
Rucker reported staffing was adequate currently for the nursing home, but the facility was trying to find additional skilled nursing. She said, if they cannot find additional RNs and LPNs, they would likely have to utilize agency staffing.
Rucker told the board she was approached by representatives from a nursing home at Broken Bow that had recently closed, offering beds for $250 each.
“The beds are less than five years old, and they are in good shape,” Rucker said.
She said there were 12 beds in the nursing home that either needed repaired or replaced. She said repairing the beds would run about $300 each. New beds cost $1,500.
The board expressed concern about the funds available for the facility, but did approve the purchase of 12 beds at a total cost of $3,000.
Board member Buddy Small said the Brown County Commissioners agenda for its Jan. 17 meeting included an action item to transfer the remaining $90,000 pledged by the county to the care center.
Currently, the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center has received $250,000 in county funding and $150,000 in funding from the city of Ainsworth. Each entity pledged $340,000 in funds to acquire and operate the facility.
Ainsworth City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the city was still in the process of working through the use of its Community Development Block Grant re-use funds for the nursing home.
She said she hoped an agreement would be finalized within a week or two and an application submitted for those funds.
Taylor said about $54,000 was spent to renovate the current facility, which was well below the projections. He said RHD projected the community would need to have about $420,000 in cash to get the facility operational and to the point where it could build its census enough to cash flow.
“We are about to the midway point in those projections,” Taylor said.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board is set for 1 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23, in the Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative office, with the only agenda item being a discussion with the USDA on the market study data for its direct loan program. The board will then hold a regular meeting in February.
* Rock, Holt students invited to participate in trap league
(Posted 1:30 p.m. Jan. 9)
Students in Rock, Holt, Boyd, Knox, Antelope and Wheeler
counties are invited to participate in an informational meeting regarding the
possible formation of a junior high and high school trap team.
* Six shooters advance to District Hoop Shoot by winning local contest Sunday
(Posted 8:45 a.m. Jan. 9)
The Ainsworth Elks Lodge held its annual hoop shoot
Sunday in McAndrew Gymnasium, with six shooters between the ages of 8 and 13
advancing to the District Shoot Jan. 22 at Ogallala.
* Traffic Accidents
(Posted 7 a.m. Jan. 9)
The Brown County Sheriff's Department investigated a
pair of one-vehicle accidents that occurred late last week.
* Fischer nominates Ainsworth's Arens, Bassett's Gale to military academies
(Posted 1:45 p.m. Jan. 6)
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, announced Friday her nominations of Nebraska students to
military service academies for the class of 2021.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 8:45 a.m. Jan. 5)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
two-vehicle accident that occurred Wednesday, Jan. 4, in Ainsworth.
* Osborn provides December and 2016 Ainsworth weather summaries
(Posted 1:45 p.m. Jan. 4)
Ainsworth Weather Observer Gerry Osborn provided the
summaries for December and the entirety of 2016's weather for the city.
Ainsworth finished with just over 25-1/2 inches of moisture during 2016, which
is 2-1/2 inches above normal.
* Board in favor of interlocal agreement with Keya Paha County for vets' services
(Posted noon Jan. 3)
The Brown County Commissioners Tuesday green-lighted a proposal from Veterans Services Officer Judy Walters to enter into an interlocal agreement with Keya Paha County and have Walters also serve as that county’s service officer.
“I have already been serving some of their veterans,” Walters said of the request from the Keya Paha County Commissioners. “I think this would be a win-win. My biggest priority is to serve the veterans.”
Walters said Keya Paha County would pay 25 percent of her annual budget, saving Brown County.
“It would save Keya Paha County the cost of having to get someone accredited,” Walters said.
She said her office would remain in the Brown County Courthouse.
Commissioner Buddy Small asked if Walters would be able to handle the workload of taking on the duties of veterans services officer for Keya Paha County.
Walters said she could handle the work, as she was already serving many of Keya Paha County’s veterans. She said there were approximately 25 veterans in Keya Paha County receiving benefits from the VA, compared to 92 in Brown County.
Small said he was in favor of the request if Walters felt comfortable with the work, as it would save Brown County money in its budget.
Commissioners Reagan Wiebelhaus and Les Waits agreed. Walters said Keya Paha County Attorney Eric Scott would work with Brown County Attorney David Streich on the language in the interlocal agreement.
Wiebelhaus said to include in the agreement that mileage for any home visits Walters makes to Keya Paha County be billed directly to that county. Walters said she would keep mileage from serving Keya Paha County veterans separate from the mileage she submits to Brown County.
In other business Tuesday, the commissioners opened bids for a dump trailer for the roads department.
The board accepted a bid of $55,650 for a 2017 Load King bottom dump trailer from Jim Hawks Truck Trailers Inc. of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The board rejected a bid of $55,900 for the same model of trailer from Titan Machinery of Omaha, and rejected two bids submitted by RDO Truck Center of Lincoln – one for $47,015 and the other for $51,015 for R-Way tri-axle trailers.
In roads items, Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said he would like to replace a box culvert on Norden Avenue near the Magary property with a metal culvert during 2017.
“That area doesn’t drain much water, but to be safe we should probably have a hydrology study completed for that project,” Turpin said. “I am not sure it needs one, but if it would ever wash out and someone wreck, the first question asked would be why we didn’t do a hydrology study. I just don’t want to expose the county to any liability.”
Turpin also talked about potentially removing the bridge on North Wilson Street just north of the Ainsworth city limits and replacing that bridge with metal culverts.
“Someone recently hit the guard rail on that bridge and bent it up pretty bad,” Turpin said. “I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to put in metal culverts and get away from the guard rail completely.”
Wiebelhaus asked if Lance Harter had completed his load study on the bridge and had made any recommendations.
Turpin said Harter was still working on a couple things before submitting a report.
Wiebelhaus said, “I hate to put any money into that bridge when it is still in good condition. Let’s wait until we hear back from Lance, then we can have some comparisons to look at.”
The commissioners held their annual reorganization, with Small reappointed as the board chairman and Wiebelhaus reappointed as the vice chair.
Small will continue to serve as the county’s representative on the Niobrara Council, the North Central Development Center Board, the Region 24 Emergency Management Agency Board, the KBR Solid Waste and Lexington Area Solid Waste committees, and the Region IV Behavioral Health Board.
Wiebelhaus will attend Brown County Hospital Board meetings on behalf of the commissioners, with Waits serving as the alternate. Waits will also serve as Wiebelhaus’ alternate on the North Central District Health Department Board.
Wiebelhaus will also serve as the board’s representative on the Revitalization Committee and the Countywide Law Enforcement Committee.
Waits will continue to serve on the Central Nebraska Community Services Board, the North Star Region IV Board and the Area Agency on Aging.
The commissioners will continue to meet on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, beginning at 8 a.m. as the Board of Equalization and continuing as the Board of Commissioners at 8:15 a.m.
The board approved 12 holidays for county employees, the same as the previous year. The commissioners also approved First National Bank, West Plains Bank, Union Bank & Trust and NPAIT as depositories for county funds, and the Ainsworth Star-Journal and KBRB Radio for official county publications and meeting notices.
The commissioners acknowledged the IRS mileage rate for 2017 as 53.5 cents per mile for county employees using their private vehicles for county business. That rate is down slightly from the 2016 mileage rate.
The board also approved renewing a Highway 20 law enforcement agreement with neighboring counties, and a resolution officially appointing John Gross and Jim Walz to six-year terms on the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees after voting on the appointments Dec. 20.
The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for Jan. 17.
* Open line with Ainsworth Community Schools
(Posted 10:15 a.m. Jan. 3)
Elementary Principal Sarah Williams appeared on KBRB's Open Line program Tuesday morning. For those unable to catch the conversation live, KBRB will attempt to post school Open Line interviews to the news page in the future. To listen to the report, click on the audio link below.
* Sheriff's department arrests 2 on DUI charges during 'You Drink & Drive, You Lose'
(Posted 11:45 a.m. Jan. 2)
Through funding provided by the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department arrested two motorists on driving under the influence charges during the national “You Drink and Drive, You Lose” campaign.
Encompassing the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays, the sheriff’s department joined law enforcement officers nationwide in an effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries from impaired driving during the holiday season.
Four deputies worked a total of 59 hours of overtime during the enforcement period Dec. 15 through Jan. 1.
In addition to the two arrested on driving under the influence charges, the sheriff’s department issued seven speeding citations, one on a charge of driving left of center, and two citations on charges of driving during revocation.
Two motorists were arrested on charges of possession of marijuana more than 1 pound and possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
The sheriff’s department issued a total of 14 citations and 55 warnings during the enforcement period. Deputies used regular enforcement, saturation patrols and an enforcement zone during the campaign.
Brown County Sheriff Bruce Papstein thanks everyone for doing their part to make roadways safer by always designating a sober driver.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 11:30 a.m. Jan. 2)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
vehicle-deer accident that occurred Friday, Dec. 30, just west of Ainsworth.
* Suspect remains at large following Thursday night traffic stop, marijuana discovery
(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 30)
A suspect wanted on a drug charge remains at large following a foot pursuit late Thursday night on the south side of Ainsworth.
According to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, at 11 p.m. Thursday, a deputy stopped a vehicle on South Main Street near Daniels Manufacturing. Several individuals fled the vehicle.
Two people were apprehended and arrested on charges of possession of marijuana more than 1 pound with the intent to deliver.
A third suspect, described by the sheriff’s department as a Hispanic man, approximately 5-feet-8 and weighing between 180 and 200 pounds, remains at large after eluding deputies following a foot pursuit.
The man was wearing blue jeans, tennis shoes, a white shirt with gray markings and a gray sweatshirt. The suspect was reportedly bleeding from several barbed wire cuts incurred during the foot pursuit.
The suspect was last seen just southwest of Ainsworth. A canine unit has been brought in to assist.
Anyone who sees someone matching the suspect’s description is asked to call 911 immediately. Do not approach the suspect.
* Hospital Board unanimously renews administrator's contract for 2017
(Posted 9:15 a.m. Dec. 28)
Following an executive session during its recent meeting, the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees unanimously approved renewing the contract of Administrator Shannon Sorensen for 2017.
The trustees also approved moving forward with a remodeling project for the hospital’s pharmacy, and approved the purchase of hot water heaters from MMC Contractors. The improvements at the hospital will be funded through the facility’s operations budget, and will not require outside revenue sources.
The board approved the annual home health license renewal application as presented, and Sorensen and Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wood presented information on their work with the Nebraska Department of Licensure to include the specialty clinic address with the hospital’s license.
Sorensen discussed a resolution to promote and enhance area residents’ access to mental health services, with a goal to keep the cost of mental health service reasonable.
She said, historically, the hospital has charged Heartland Counseling and Bright Horizons a minimal monthly fee to rent space from the hospital.
The board approved removing that charge, and also to refrain from billing any technical fees for hospital services relating to mental health.
Wood shared hospital bank account balances with the trustees. The board requested Wood look into options for investing excess hospital funds and all banking options available to the hospital for placing its accounts. Wood will provide options to the board during its January meeting.
After reviewing applications, the board approved temporary medical staff credentials for APRN Ayla Gregg, Dr. Gregory Thomas, and Dr. Matthew Mendlick.
During the public input portion of the meeting, Mike Depko shared a letter written and signed by numerous hospital employees expressing support for the Board of Trustees.
Andrew Paddock asked the board about the time commitment required to be a member of the Board of Trustees. Sorensen outlined the board’s required duties, and board members discussed the amount of time they dedicate to the volunteer position.
The next meeting of the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees is scheduled for Jan. 16.
* Traffic Accidents
(Posted 8 a.m. Dec. 27)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
pair of single-vehicle accidents on Christmas day.
* Chamber of Commerce awards final Christmas Bucks to local shoppers
(Posted 9:15 a.m. Dec. 26)
Area Chamber of Commerce awarded its final Christmas Bucks Monday to those who
shopped locally during the holiday season. The chamber awarded a total of $1,000
to shoppers who frequented chamber businesses during the four weeks leading up
to Christmas. Each winner receives $50 in chamber bucks, which may be redeemed
from any Chamber of Commerce member business.
They join Week 3 winners Lindsey Fernau, DeAnn Nilson, Dane Dailey, Sheri Gann, and the Ainsworth Food Pantry.
Week 2 winners were Bob Appleman, Jim Johnston, Roger Keisler, Alice Mitchell, and Bandy Daniels.
Week 1 winners
were Julie Worden, Phillip Chamberlain, Joe Dodds, Holly Anderson and Edith
* Christmas night fire destroys 2 buildings just off Ainsworth's Main Street
(Posted 5:30 a.m. Dec. 26)
A Christmas night fire destroyed two buildings on West Second Street a half-block off Ainsworth’s Main Street, and caused smoke damage to at least three other businesses.
The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department received a call at 10:15 p.m. Sunday reporting a fire in the former pet shop building in the 100 block of West Second Street, owned by Shawn Fernau Construction.
Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala said the fire started in the northwest corner of the former pet shop building. Upon the arrival of firefighters, both the former pet shop and the former dry cleaning building, also owned by Fernau, were completely engulfed.
Firefighters battled cold temperatures and brutal west winds, which spread the smoke into both the Educational Service Unit building and Ranchland Western Store on Main Street. Fiala said firefighters, working in shifts, were able to save the Goochey Plumbing building west of the two buildings owned by Fernau.
“The wind blew the smoke far enough east that it set off the fire alarms at the high school,” Fiala said. “The firefighters have been rotating to allow them to get in out of the cold and wind and warm up.”
Firefighters remained on scene Monday morning. The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department received mutual aid assistance from the Long Pine, Johnstown and Raven volunteer departments.
He said the roof caved in on the building where the fire started. He said both buildings owned by Fernau would be total losses. The Goochey Plumbing, ESU, and Ranchland Western Store buildings all sustained smoke damage.
Fiala said West Second Street and the alley west of Main Street would remain closed on Monday while firefighters continued to mop up the area. He cautioned motorists that the intersection of West Second and Main streets may be slick Monday morning from the mist off the fire hoses.
The cause of the fire is undetermined at this time. The Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s Office will investigate.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 10 a.m. Dec. 23)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
two-vehicle accident that occurred Thursday, Dec. 22, in Ainsworth.
* NPPD warns customers of scam phone calls demanding payment
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 23)
The Nebraska Public Power District is warning its
customers of recent telephone scams, with callers threatening to shut off power
to a home if money is not paid immediately.
* Recent cases from Brown County Court
(Posted 9 p.m. Dec. 22)
In addition to fines, each case carries $50 in court costs
Alec J. Savage, age 23, of Broken Arrow, Okla., charged with speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, fined $125.
Robyn L. Zeigler, 24, of Ainsworth, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.
Quinn N. Conzemus, 23, of Lincoln, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Lucy A. Klingenstein, 26, of Boulder, Colo., speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.
Elijah C. Kalambokidis, 20, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Paul W. Visk, 56, of Belleville, Ill., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.
Matthew A. Bunchman, 36, of Center, Colo., speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.
Makayla R. Schiele, 19, of Alesandria, Minn., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.
Bo D. Painter, 17, of Ainsworth, speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.
Monte L. Osborn, 51, of Ainsworth, first offense driving under the influence, $500 fine, also sentenced to six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
David J. Clark, 57, of Long Pine, second offense driving under the influence, $500 fine, also sentenced to 30 days in jail with credit for one day served, driver’s license revoked for 18 months, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.
Joshua T. Myers, 26, of Minneapolis, Minn., two counts of possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce, fined $500 for each count.
Patience Stopke-Huisentrui, 26, of Minneapolis, Minn., two counts of possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce, fined $500 for each count.
Irina Richter, 49, of Hackensack, N.J., speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.
Joshua J. Tholen, 26, of St. Cloud, Minn., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.
Clifford E. Kepler, 67, of Bassett, commercial vehicle 14-hour interstate violation, $100.
Phillip D. Herring, 73, of Ainsworth, overweight on an axle or group of axles, $75.
Jason R. Zuhl, 34, of Benton Harbor, Mich., violation of Nebraska Game and Parks regulations, $50.
Ashton L. Weber, 23, of Taylor, commercial vehicle brake violation, $50.
Alexis E. Juarez, 39, of Aurora, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.
Ashley Johnson-Thompson, 25, of Ainsworth, unlawful or fictitious display of plates, $50.
* Area counties realize taxable sales gain in September; Brown County the exception
(Posted 5 p.m. Dec. 21)
Nebraska Department of Revenue
Nebraska Department of Revenue
* Ainsworth Public Library features Bill of Rights display
(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 21)
The Ainsworth Public Library is currently hosting a
pop-up exhibition from the National Archives, titled “The Bill of Rights and
You,” commemorating the 225th anniversary of the ratification of the
* Foundation's Endowment Fund reaches 72 percent of its $500,000 goal
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 21)
The Brown County Community Foundation Endowment Fund continues to grow. With the 1-to-2 Sherwood Foundation matching grant, the campaign began Jan. 1, 2015 and will end Dec. 31, 2018.
Considering all gifts and pledges received so far, the Endowment Fund has reached 72 percent of its $500,000 goal, with $359,892.12 received. With the Sherwood Foundation’s contribution to date of $125,000, a total of $408,042.12 has already been added to the Brown County Endowment.
With the area’s help, the Foundation will reach its goal by the end of the campaign and $750,000 will have been added to the Endowment Fund.
The principal from the Endowment Fund remains in perpetuity. The interest earned from the Endowment Fund is used to support area projects.
The possibility of having $1.2 million in the Endowment Fund by Dec. 31, 2018 is within the Foundation’s reach through the support of the public.
Currently, gifts and pledges have been as follows:
Individual Gifts Individual Pledges (4 yr)
$10 - $499 → 97 $100 - $4999 → 6
$500 - $4,999 → 21 $5,000 - $9,999 → 1
$5,000.00- $9,999 → 8 $10,000 - $49,999 → 3
$10,000 - $50,000 → 9 $50,000 and up → 3
Every gift, regardless of its amount, brings the Foundation nearer to its goal. Everyone benefits from what the endowment can do for Brown County. Previous grants have been awarded to fire departments, the library, the fairgrounds, the care center, … the list goes on.
* Commissioners appoint Walz, reappoint Gross to Hospital Board of Trustees
(Posted 1:15 p.m. Dec. 20)
John Gross was reappointed Tuesday to a six-year term on the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees, and the Brown County Commissioners appointed Jim Walz to a six-year term on the Board of Trustees to replace Mike Schrad, who chose not to seek reappointment to another term.
Following a special meeting Dec. 14 in which hospital and clinic staff turnover was the main topic, the commissioners heard the management team at the Brown County Hospital encourage them to reappoint Gross to the Board of Trustees.
Gross said he was appreciative of the vote of confidence given him by the staff, and told the commissioners that was certainly not something he solicited or anticipated.
“We have the institution going in a direction that is favorable,” Gross said. “These people know their jobs. They are professionals.”
Commissioner Buddy Small thanked Gross for the work he has done on the board, and said he wishes the board the best as the two groups try to move past recent contention.
Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said he had received some calls against reappointing Gross to the trustees, but said the positive comments he received outweighed the negative.
“We all want to put this issue to rest,” Wiebelhaus said.
Small said he had spoken several times with Walz regarding an appointment to the Board of Trustees.
“I have worked with Jim on the nursing home interlocal board,” Small said. “He jumps right in and is not afraid to work.”
In other business during Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners voted to begin maintaining a one-mile stretch of Road 145 southeast of Johnstown after hearing from Jeremy O’Hare that he planned to build a home on 60 acres of ground in the area.
“The first mile out there is maintained, but then it goes to a dirt trail,” O’Hare said. “I am hoping to get that next stretch maintained.”
O’Hare said he would like to begin constructing a home at the site in the spring.
Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said the stretch of road O’Hare was referencing had been treated as a minimum maintenance route because no one lived out there.
“At one time, it was scheduled to be vacated,” Turpin said. “But, that was never completed. We can probably fix it up in the spring for $5,000 or less.”
Wiebelhaus said if the road was a dedicated county road, and if O’Hare planned to build a home at the site, the county would provide maintenance.
Turpin said the county did something similar in that area when Mark Sedlacek constructed a home at a site that had only a minimum maintenance trail.
Small said the county may wait until after all the heavy equipment moves out following construction to completely rehabilitate the stretch.
“If we fix it up too much ahead of time, the heavy equipment that will be in and out of there might just tear it all up again,” Small said. He encouraged O’Hare to coordinate with Turpin in the spring.
In another roads item, Turpin told the board he attended a recent session of the Nebraska Association of County Officials and learned NACO was talking about proposing that property owners be required to mow road ditches three times during the year instead of the current two.
“They talked about requiring that ditches be mowed once by July 10, once by Aug. 15, and again by Sept. 15,” Turpin said. “Most of the highway superintendents I talked to did not think that was necessary.”
Turpin said, instead of requiring three separate mowings, he believed it would be more effective to re-time the second mowing. Currently, property owners are required to mow once prior to July 10, and again sometime during the month of August. He said requiring two mowings, with one in September, would be a better option in his eyes.
Wiebelhaus said the biggest thing for the county was to have the ditches mowed so the grass cannot get high enough before it snows to the point where the grass catches the snow and causes drifts in the roadways.
In another agenda item Tuesday, Craig Bernbeck of Long Pine addressed the commissioners, asking them to grant him open access to the phone records of a deputy sheriff.
“I believe a crime was committed against me by a public employee,” Bernbeck said.
He said the phone records should be publically available since the deputies receive tax dollars for their cellular phones.
County Attorney David Streich said law enforcement officers have private cell phones that sometimes must be used as part of their enforcement responsibilities.
“Through funds we receive by holding a traffic diversion program, deputies receive $45 every quarter because sometimes they have to use their cell phones for the job,” Streich said. “The funds used are not tax dollars, and they certainly do not cover the full cost of the cell phone.”
Small said the commissioners have no authority over the sheriff’s department.
“Unless formal charges are brought, I am not sure what we could do,” Small said.
Streich said, for his office to open an investigation, there would have to be some basis to start the investigation.
“The commissioners have very little authority to address this,” Streich said. “If you believe there is a conflict with one law enforcement agency, you may contact the Attorney General’s office.”
Wiebelhaus said Sheriff Bruce Papstein is the most honest man with the most integrity he has ever worked with.
“I will visit with him about your concerns,” Wiebelhaus said. “It will be up to the sheriff’s department to handle it if there is an issue.”
Assessor Charleen Fox spoke with the commissioners about the heating and cooling system in her office.
She said, with the only temperature control located in the clerk’s office, the temperature fluctuations between the two offices have been major.
“We have had this problem forever,” Fox said. “We had it with the old system, and we have it with the new system.”
She said for the assessor’s office to be at a comfortable temperature, the clerk’s office was way too hot. For the clerk’s office to be at a comfortable temperature, the assessor’s office was extremely cold.
Small said he spoke with the owner of the company that installed the new system. The owner offered to drive up at no charge and work with the employees on finding a solution.
Treasurer Deb Vonheeder discussed the procedure for having the Brown County Agricultural Society repay funds borrowed from the Inheritance Tax Fund to make improvements to the rodeo arena at the fairgrounds.
The commissioners approved allowing the Ag Society to borrow funding from the Inheritance Tax Fund to complete all the improvements at the same time. The commissioners agreed to allocate $20,000 annually to the Ag Society for the improvements, with the Ag Society repaying the Inheritance Tax Fund over the following years with the money allocated by the commissioners.
Small said the Ag Society was able to purchase used chutes in excellent condition, saving about $12,000.
Vonheeder asked if she needed to set up a sinking fund
Wiebelhaus said he didn’t see a need to take the entire $40,000 from the Inheritance Tax Fund unless it was needed by the Ag Society.
“We can transfer the money from the Inheritance Tax Fund as they need it, and then withhold that amount spread out over the next two years to repay it,” Wiebelhaus said.
The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Jan. 3, 2017.
* Area students receive degrees from UN-L during Saturday commencement
(Posted 10:15 a.m. Dec. 19)
More than 1,400 degrees were awarded by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln during commencement exercises over the weekend.
Pinnacle Bank Arena hosted a ceremony for students earning graduate and professional degrees Friday and for those earning bachelor's degrees Saturday.
Sebastian Elbaum, Bessey Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at Nebraska, delivered the address at the graduate and professional degrees ceremonies. Chuck Hagel, former U.S. senator and former secretary of defense, gave the address at the undergraduate commencement. Chancellor Ronnie Green presided over the ceremonies.
Area graduates include:
Kyle James Jackman, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, bachelor of science in agronomy.
Jess Arland Hipke, College of Engineering, bachelor of science in electrical engineering.
Danial Edward Rentschler, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, bachelor of science in agronomy.
Melanie Marie Cadwallader, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, bachelor of science in horticulture.
Skylar Dawn Mathis, College of Business Administration, bachelor of science in business administration.
James Kenneth Simmons, College of Engineering, bachelor of science in electrical engineering.
* Sandhills State Bank donates $50,000 to High School Rodeo Endowment
(Posted 9:45 a.m. Dec. 19)
Sandhills State Bank announced a $50,000 donation to the
Nebraska High School Rodeo Association Endowment.
* Chamber of Commerce awards $250 in Holiday Bucks for third week
(Posted 9 a.m. Dec. 19)
The Ainsworth Area Chamber of Commerce is once again rewarding those who
shop locally by providing $250 in weekly drawings for its Christmas Bucks
* Sheriff's department participating in 'You Drink and Drive, You Lose' campaign
(Posted noon Dec. 16)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department will work overtime during the holiday season to keep impaired drivers off the roads.
Through funding provided by the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, the sheriff’s department is participating in the annual “You Drink and Drive, You Lose” campaign. The Office of Highway Safety provided a grant for overtime salaries to allow the sheriff’s department to have additional deputies on the lookout for impaired drivers through New Year’s Day.
Deputies will aggressively look for impaired drivers during the crackdown, and will enforce all traffic laws.
On average, there is one alcohol-impaired fatality on the nation’s roadways every 52 minutes. Impaired driving kills almost 10,000 people each year. The tragic loss of life can be reduced if impaired drivers are taken off the roads.
Anyone who sees a suspected drunk driver is asked to contact law enforcement immediately. Anyone who knows someone who is about to drive impaired should be a friend, take the keys, and arrange for a safe ride.
Anyone who plans on drinking during the holidays should always designate a sober driver first.
Research has shown that high-visibility enforcement, like the “You Drink and Drive, You Lose” campaign, reduces alcohol-impaired driving fatalities by as much as 20 percent.
By joining the nationwide effort, Sheriff Bruce Papstein said his department will help make Brown County’s roadways safer for everyone during the holiday season.
Those who drive impaired face jail time, the loss of their driver’s license, and steep financial consequences such as higher insurance rates, attorney fees, court costs, lost time at work, and the potential loss of a job.
Papstein said driving impaired is simply not worth the risks. Drive sober or get pulled over.
* Commissioners hold special meeting to address hospital personnel moves
(Posted noon Dec. 15)
Citing numerous concerned phone calls received, the Brown County Commissioners Wednesday conducted a special meeting in the Brown County Courtroom with the five members of the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees. More than 50 members of the public were in attendance.
Commissioner Buddy Small opened the meeting saying the special meeting was not scheduled in response to any one hospital or clinic employee’s termination.
“We have noticed a high attrition rate,” Small said. “Attrition is a normal experience in any business, but many people have left the Brown County Hospital and the Ainsworth Family Clinic in the past few years.”
Small said he was told the number of employees who have left the hospital and clinic was between 40 and 60 during the past few years.
“I have received dozens of calls since the latest termination of a hospital employee, from the public, past employees and some current employees,” Small said. “I have received a few calls supporting the hospital board.”
Small said he did not enjoy becoming embroiled in controversy, but he felt a special meeting was necessary to address the concerns.
Commissioner Reagan Weibelhaus concurred that the special meeting was not called based on one specific individual, but due to general concerns regarding employee turnover.
“There are things the commissioners can do,” Wiebelhaus said. There are things the hospital board can do. They do not co-mingle.”
Wiebelhaus said he too had been contacted by many people regarding the employee turnover. He said he talked to many others who said they did not have enough information on the subject, and others who expressed a trust in the Hospital Board of Trustees to make necessary decisions.
“I believe the Hospital Board makes the best decisions they can with the information they have,” Wiebelhaus said.
Hospital Board Chairman John Gross said the trustees, who volunteer their time to serve, meet on the third Monday of each month, and there is a time allocated during those meetings for public comment.
“The community voted to improve the bricks and mortar at the hospital,” Gross said. “Now we are working on the infrastructure.”
Gross said comments from the public do not fall on deaf ears.
“We don’t answer to the rumor mill, but we do not operate in a vacuum,” Gross said. “This board is dedicated to the hospital and to the community.”
Numerous members of the audience spoke in support of practitioner Elizabeth Nelson, whose employment with the Brown County Hospital and Ainsworth Family Clinic recently ended.
Expressing that concern over her no longer being employed with the facility, Pam Hollenbeck of Long Pine said she has lived in the area for more than 20 years.
“When we moved here, Sue Buckley was our doctor as far as I was concerned,” Hollenbeck said. “Libs was the closest thing to Sue we have had since I have been here. I believe, if you don’t reinstate her, you will lose a pile of patients from the clinic and from the hospital.”
Former Hospital Trustee Mike Kreycik also expressed disappointment in the recent personnel move.
“When I was on the board, we couldn’t wait to get her on staff two-and-a-half years ago,” Kreycik said. “I don’t know all the details now, but I never heard a negative word about her when I was on the board.”
Directly addressing Hospital Administrator Shannon Sorensen, Kreycik told Sorensen she had done many great things for the hospital, but he sharply criticized her in the area of employee management.
“We have fired two people at the bank over 30 years,” Kreycik said. “When there are problems, we sit down with people and work it out. It feels like you are letting us down. A lot of people don’t love what is going on out there.”
Brown County Attorney David Streich said the county has a policy that asks employees to fill out an exit questionnaire when their employment with the county ends. He asked if the hospital has employees fill out an exit questionnaire when they leave the facility.
Hospital staff member Lisa Fischer said exit interviews are offered voluntarily to every employee who leaves the hospital and clinic.
“Some return them, some don’t,” Fischer said. “When we receive results that are negative, we do try to address them to improve our processes.”
Gross said the employee turnover rate for hospitals in Nebraska is 19 percent. For smaller, critical access hospitals, the turnover rate is 16 percent.
“Our turnover rate is 14.4 percent,” Gross said.
Terri Daniels also expressed her support for Nelson’s work at the hospital, saying Nelson had always treated her and her family with excellent care. She asked the commissioners what their involvement was with the hospital.
Small said the commissioners appoint members to the Board of Trustees.
“We have the authority to appoint whoever we want,” Small said. “We have the authority to fire trustees. It is distasteful to even think about that. We don’t know what goes on day to day at the hospital. That is the hospital board’s business. We cannot determine why any specific individual quit or was fired.”
Small said hospital staff members regularly brief the commissioners on the financial status at the hospital.
Wiebelhaus said all spending decisions less than 50 percent of the net worth of the hospital are left up to the hospital board.
“I do not want to micromanage the hospital,” Wiebelhaus said. “We try and put the best people we can in those positions, and trust they will make the best decisions they can. It doesn’t mean we always agree.”
Hospital employee Mike Depko encouraged everyone to take a step back and avoid knee-jerk reactions.
“We don’t know both sides to the story,” Depko said. “Most people are here because Libs got let go. We are not privy to anything on why that decision was made.”
Having been employed by the hospital for more than six years, Depko said he sees the work the volunteer board puts in. He said the hospital is a large employer, and of the 46 people who have left in the past few years, the difference between those who left voluntarily and those who were fired was huge.
Hospital nurse Connie Goochey agreed, saying the number of employees actually let go by the hospital was low.
“I have been employed at the Brown County Hospital since 1981,” Goochey said. “There are processes in place. They are in place for patient safety, and they have to be adhered to.”
Goochey said she believed the hospital board members have always done what they felt was in the best concerns for patients.
Audience member Lynn Cozad said she attended the meeting simply to try and gain some information.
“I know there are a lot of emotions,” Cozad said. “My understanding is this hospital is self-sufficient and is progressing. I did not know that until tonight.”
Jeep Cozad said he believed it seemed silly for the commissioners to try and make major changes to a business that is self-sustaining and not costing taxpayers money.
“I think the people up here on the board need to be commended,” Cozad said. “They are volunteers.
Following the public comments, Wiebelhaus and Small held an executive session with Gross and Hospital Board member Crystal Dailey.
Returning from the executive session, audience member Leanne Maxwell criticized the commissioners for allowing Kreycik to direct personal attacks at the hospital administrator after saying at the beginning of the meeting personal attacks would not be tolerated.
“I am disappointed,” Maxwell said. “Mike questioned the administrator’s moral fiber in an open meeting, and that should not have been allowed to continue. She is hospital personnel, and that was extremely unfair to her.”
Hospital employee Brandy Bussinger also expressed her disappointment with the way the commissioners conducted the meeting.
“I expected you to run a professional meeting,” Bussinger said. “The board and Shannon do not make decisions alone. You started this meeting saying people should conduct themselves in a professional way. I am very disappointed.”
Hospital Board member Ann Fiala said she attempted to have the commissioners put a stop to the personal attack on the administrator, but was ignored.
“We understood personal attacks would not be allowed,” Fiala said.
Small apologized for not fulfilling the promise made at the outset.
“I did not see that coming,” Small said. “I apologize for allowing it.”
Audience member Kathy Worrell asked the commissioners what the next step would be moving forward.
Small said the commissioners had no plans to take any action during Wednesday’s meeting.
“We have on next Tuesday’s agenda to appoint two members to the trustees,” Small said. “Mike Schrad is leaving, and someone will be appointed to replace him. John Gross’s term is expiring. We can either reappoint him, or not.”
Wiebelhaus said it was not easy finding people willing to serve on the Hospital Board.
“The last time we appointed a board member, I bet I talked to 12 people I believed were qualified to serve,” Wiebelhaus said. “It is tough to find someone willing. It takes a lot of time and devotion.”
The commissioners adjourned Wednesday’s meeting, taking no official action.
Those appointed by the commissioners to the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees serve a term of six years. The terms are staggered. Two, those belonging to Gross and Schrad, expire this month.
The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Dec. 20 in the lower level of the courthouse. The clerk’s office posts the agenda the day prior to the meeting, and KBRB airs the agenda ahead of each meeting.
* Council hears LB 840 six-month review, showing active usage of the development fund
(Posted 4 p.m. Dec. 14)
North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson provided the Ainsworth City Council Wednesday with the LB 840 Citizen Advisory Review Committee’s six-month report, showing $465,000 in loans and grants from the LB 840 fund during 2016.
Two business loan projects were approved in the past six months, one in the amount of $90,000 and the other for $30,000.
The NCDC was an applicant for several grants from the fund, which will be used for various development projects from assisting with business improvements to recruiting workforce.
Olson reported the home constructed by the Housing Committee on North Osborne Street had sold, and another dilapidated house was burned on Oak Street with the empty corner lot listed for sale.
She said the Housing Committee had also worked with several property owners to remove dilapidated structures, providing some demolition assistance for the private cleaning of the lots.
Olson said the former Royal Theater building had sold to a private individual, which saved the city from having to demolish the building following the October 2014 fire. She said the former Depot building on Main Street was recently demolished, with the out-of-state property owner providing funding assistance for the cost of the demolition.
Councilman Chuck Osborn asked if the Housing Committee planned to construct another home in the city in the near future.
Councilman Greg Soles, who also serves on the Housing Committee, said the committee planned to continue focusing its efforts in the core area of the city. The major issue was having enough area to build a home by clearing a dilapidated structure located on just one lot.
Following the hearing on the six-month review, the council approved the LB 840 six-month report as submitted.
After a second public hearing, in which no objections were voiced, the council approved a Class C liquor license application for Blue Stem Brands LLC doing business as Local House 20. The location for the license is the former Golden Steer property.
Deb Hurless and Greg Soles were sworn-in to the City Council after being elected in November, and the council voted to re-elect Chuck Osborn as Council President.
The council discussed a letter of engagement for auditing services from accounting firm Dana F. Cole. City Attorney Rod Palmer said, after reviewing state statute, the council needed to have a separate audit conducted for the LB 840 account. In the past, one firm had conducted the entire audit for city funds, including the one-half cent sales tax approved by voters following the Legislature’s passage of LB 840. Palmer said statute dictates that a non-affiliated second firm be used to audit the LB 840 program funds.
The council approved having Dana F. Cole & Co. conduct the audit of city funds, removing the LB 840 portion from the scope of work. The council will vote in January to approve a firm for the LB 840 program audit.
The council discussed renewing an agreement with K Hay LLC to mow city property in the southwest portion of the city in exchange for being allowed to utilize the hay.
City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the agreement was the same as the previous year. She discussed extending it to a three year contract, but the council opted instead to keep it at a one-year agreement on the off-chance the city would have the opportunity to sell the property.
During her report, Schroedl thanked accountant Mandy McCoy with Dana F. Cole for assisting the city with software issues relating to reconciling city finances.
She said McCoy’s assistance has helped her take a big step forward in cleaning up the software issues.
She reported the new warning siren for the southwest portion of the city will be installed this week. The siren will be located near Front Street between Ulrich and South Hall streets.
Schroedl said the city’s free tree limb and yard waste pickup day, despite poor weather conditions, resulted in the city collecting 20 loads of limbs and 18 truckloads of yard waste.
She reported, for 2016, the city has issued 50 residential building permits, five commercial permits, two industrial permits and two agricultural building permits for a total value of $1.07 million.
Schroedl also reported the Conference Center had been rented 15 times in 2016 for a total income of $2,770.
The consent agenda approved Wednesday included a transfer of $30,000 in Ainsworth Betterment Committee funds to the new swimming pool fund, and included Mayor Larry Rice’s appointment recommendations of David Spann to the Ainsworth Airport Authority, Gerry Osborn to the Cemetery Board, Corvin Hinrichs and Harlin Welch to the City Planning Commission, and Rice, Chuck Osborn, Dr. Mel Campbell and Sheriff Bruce Papstein to the City Board of Health.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 11.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 10:30 a.m. Dec. 13)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
one-vehicle accident that occurred Saturday, Dec. 10, north of Ainsworth.
* School Board renews superintendent contract for 2017-18 year
(Posted 3:45 p.m. Dec. 12)
Following an executive session Monday morning, the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education renewed the contract of Superintendent Darrell Peterson for the 2017-18 school year.
The board also renewed a contract with the North Central Development Center to provide the school with grant-writing and career fair services at an annual partnership contribution of $10,000.
Board member Erin Rathe, who serves as the school’s representative on the NCDC Board of Directors, said she was pleased with what the NCDC does for the school and the community.
Peterson provided board members with a copy of the district’s 2015-16 audit report as submitted by accounting firm Dana F. Cole & Co. The board will review the report for approval during its January meeting.
The superintendent said there were no major deficiencies in the report, but the lack of segregation of duties over financial processes was again noted.
During his report to the board, Peterson said he attended a legislative session hosted by the Nebraska Community Schools Association focusing on the anticipated state budget deficit for the 2017-18 biennium. He reported there would be 17 new state senators for the 2017 session, to add to the 18 new senators who were sworn in last year.
He reported the Ainsworth Student Council would host its annual senior citizen day meal and tour of the school on Wednesday.
Peterson congratulated the Ainsworth Mock Trial team after watching the group participate during the Nebraska State Championships. He said the team represented the school very well.
Secondary Principal Bill Lentz reported he has conducted 50 informal classroom walk-throughs, and will have performed evaluations on seven teachers by the holiday break. He said the teachers seem to appreciate the feedback they receive following the walk-throughs.
Elementary Principal Sarah Williams’ report indicated the elementary would not have school on Monday, Jan. 16, to allow staff to attend a development event at York organized by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development.
The report from Activities Directors Jared Hansmeyer and Scott Steinhauser indicated Ainsworth’s NSAA 10th through 12th-grade enrollment for the 2017-18 season is 101 students, down from 106 from the 2016-17 enrollment.
The January meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education was pushed back to the third Monday of the month, and will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 16.
* Department of Roads suspends Highway 20 work east of Valentine due to weather
(Posted noon Dec. 12)
The majority of work has been completed on Highway 20 in
Cherry County, from the city limits of Valentine to the south junction of
Highway 83. However, a small amount of work will be completed in the spring of
2017 after the Nebraska Department of Roads suspended work due to weather
* Week 2 Holiday Bucks winners drawn by Ainsworth Chamber of Commerce
(Posted 8:30 a.m. Dec. 12)
The Ainsworth Area Chamber of Commerce is once again rewarding those who
shop locally by providing $250 in weekly drawings for its Christmas Bucks
* Ainsworth finishes sixth in Mock Trial State Championships
(Posted 7:45 a.m. Dec. 9)
Ainsworth finished sixth in the 2016 Nebraska Mock Trial State Championships from among the 12-team field.
The Ainsworth Blue team lost a close split decision to Columbus Scotus in opening round Tuesday. In the second round Tuesday, the Blue team won a unanimous decision against South Sioux City, and in Round 3, Ainsworth lost to eventual state champion Omaha Creighton Prep in a unanimous decision.
“I was very surprised by the outcome of that first trial,” Ainsworth coach Mary Rau said. “It just goes to show that mock trial is a very subjective competition. You never really know what’s going to appeal to the judges. The South Sioux City trial was a marathon, lasting over 2 hours, and the Creighton Prep team was very impressive. Nebraska has claimed the championship and the runner-up titles in national competition in the last two years, and I expect that dominance to continue.
“I’m very proud of this team,” Rau said. “They’ve worked hard, and we again had an uphill battle since the Region 4 competition has dropped, leaving us with little actual trial experience. State is always challenging, but fun, as we’re able to see a variety of presentation styles from really good teams.”
Ainsworth Blue team members were Jack Arens, Emma Good, Jace Kremer, Korey Rathe, Vanessa Taylor, Cassidy Gilliland, Marley Murphy and Jacob Sinsel.
Brown County Attorney David Streich helps Rau coach the team.
* Unattended cooking pan causes Ainsworth home to fill with smoke
(Posted 7:15 a.m. Dec. 9)
The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department was called Thursday, Dec. 8, to a report of smoke in an apartment at Park Homes.
According to Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala, at 6:55 p.m. Thursday, smoke was reported coming from Apartment No. 22 at Park Homes.
Fiala said a resident was cooking food in a pan, and left the pan unattended. The house filled with smoke, but the fire chief said the contents of the pan did not catch fire.
The resident of the apartment was checked by medical personal for smoke inhalation, but Fiala said medical transport was not required. He said firefighters opened windows and set up a large fan to vent the smoke.
The home sustained only light smoke damage.
* Ricketts discusses changes to the way agricultural property is assessed
(Posted noon Dec. 8)
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts discussed factors he wants to
see county assessors take into account when valuing agricultural property in the
state, including 1031 exchanges, premiums paid for purchasing adjacent land and
premiums paid for the recreational opportunities on a property.
* Traffic Accident
(Posted 10 a.m. Dec. 8)
The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a
vehicle-deer accident that occurred Tuesday, Dec. 6, west of Johnstown.
* Mulligan announces retirement as Brown County Weed Superintendent
(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 7)
Brown County Weed Superintendent Doug Mulligan announced his retirement during Tuesday’s meeting of the Brown County Commissioners.
Mulligan, the longtime weed superintendent for the county, said he appreciated the support of the commissioners during his tenure. He plans to retire effective Feb. 1, and said he would assist whoever the board hired as his replacement to learn the ropes of the position and the general layout of the noxious weed issues in the county.
Mulligan reported the Nebraska Department of Agriculture accepted the county’s request to place bull thistle on the county’s noxious weed list.
The board accepted Mulligan’s resignation, thanking him for his work. Commissioner Buddy Small said the weed superintendent position can be a difficult job, and Mulligan had served the county very well in that position.
The commissioners are accepting applications for the weed superintendent position. Applicants must be able to obtain a commercial applicator license. Applications, which are due Jan. 31, are available from the Brown County Clerk’s office.
In other business during Tuesday’s meeting, the commissioners approved the Brown County Hospital’s annual license application and its home health license renewal.
Hospital Administrator Shannon Sorensen said the Board of Trustee seats held by Mike Schrad and Chairman John Gross expire this month. Gross, who was in attendance Tuesday, said he would be willing to serve another six-year term on the Board of Trustees. Sorensen indicated Schrad had opted not to seek another six-year term on the board. She told the board Schrad had done a phenomenal job on the board during his six years.
The commissioners scheduled a special meeting for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, to meet with the Hospital Board of Trustees.
In another hospital item, the commissioners approved payment of the December 2016 hospital bonds for the 2006 addition to the facility.
The board reappointed Linda O’Hare and Steve Bejot to the Brown County Planning Commission for three-year terms.
Zoning Administrator Dean Jochem said a correction was needed on the county’s Board of Adjustment member list. Jochem said Brian Arens is listed as a board member on the five-person board, but he needs to be listed as an alternate member.
Jochem said the Board of Adjustment has not had to meet in recent years. The commissioners approved listing Arens as an alternate member.
The board acknowledged the 2016 county audit report as submitted by CPA Michael Pommer. The only deficiencies listed on the audit report were again a lack of segregation of duties for handling the counties revenues. Virtually every smaller governmental organization receives that deficiency due to limited staff.
The commissioners approved a resolution for a foreclosure tax sale on a property located on Ash Street due to the lack of payment of property taxes over a more than three-year period.
The next regular meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Dec. 20.
* Sandhills Care Center to begin process of admitting Medicaid residents
(Posted 7 a.m. Dec. 6)
The Sandhills Care Center, while still awaiting official Medicaid certification from the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, will soon begin admitting residents to the facility whose cost of care will be the responsibility of the state.
Care Center Administrator Stephanie Rucker told the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board Monday there is a list of 16 people waiting to be admitted to the facility whose cost of care would be covered by Medicaid.
“The Medicaid applicants have been waiting quite a while,” Rucker said. “We would only plan to admit about two per week.”
Rucker said there are currently five private-pay residents in the facility, and another two private-pay residents would likely be admitted this week.
Rural Health Development representative Walt Dye said only one minor deficiency was flagged during the facility’s Medicare-Medicaid certification visit from DHHS. He said a cup of coffee was placed on a nightstand in a resident’s room that the state said needed to be covered due to the risk of the resident being burned if the coffee spilled.
“That deficiency was fixed that day,” Dye said.
Rucker said she has the plan of correction for that deficiency ready to send to the state as soon as the state sent its official certification report to the care center.
Though both Rucker and Dye indicated the certification should arrive in short order, the board discussed the financial risks of admitting Medicaid residents without the certification in hand.
The risk to the care center is the facility does not receive payment from the state for providing care to Medicaid residents if the state has not certified the facility.
Board member Buddy Small said, “If it was our mother or father, or grandmother or grandfather, we would want them admitted.”
The board agreed, and gave Rucker the go-ahead to begin the process of admitting Medicaid residents to the facility.
Rucker also reported a second fire marshal recently inspected the facility, and found 14 different items that needed correction.
“This fire marshal flagged us for a lot of things the original fire marshal did not,” Rucker said. “Some of those have already been fixed. All of them should be completed by next Wednesday.”
Dye said none of the fixes, save for an item or two, would carry a significant cost.
Rucker reported the care center planned to host a Christmas party for residents on the Friday before Christmas, and she encouraged the public to stop by the facility, see the improvements and visit with the residents.
“The residents love having visitors,” Rucker said.
She requested the board change its regular meeting date from the first Monday of the month.
“As we admit more residents, it is difficult to have all the monthly financial information ready by the first Monday,” the administrator said.
Dye said the RHD business office representative would also begin attending board meetings as the number of residents increased, but that representative was not available on the first Monday of the month.
The board agreed to move the regular meetings to the second Tuesday of the month beginning in January.
In paying claims, the board approved a transfer of $18,000 into the facility’s payroll account and $3,000 into its operating account. Rucker said the current monthly payroll to operate the facility was about $25,000.
Board Chairman Kent Taylor provided an update on the market study for the USDA Direct Loan application, saying the study should be completed by the end of next week. He received a green light from the board to request proposals for the next requirement of the application, a financial study. He said he has a list of five companies who could provide the study, and would send proposals to each.
Capital campaign committee chair Roland Paddock reported $172,791 in cash has been raised toward a new facility, and a total of $242,000 has been pledged.
“Several have expressed they are waiting until the new building is finalized before donating,” Paddock said.
He said 8-1/2 percent of the funds raised thus far have come from outside Brown County, through outreach efforts made toward alumni and absentee property owners.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 10.
* Trump wins; Brewer unseats Davis in District 43 legislative race
(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 9)
Donald Trump proved the pollsters and the pundits wrong and captured the U.S. Presidency.
Trump shocked the experts, winning the states he needed to win (Florida, Ohio and North Carolina) and winning unexpectedly in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Michigan and New Hampshire were still too close to call Wednesday morning, but Trump had already secured 289 electoral votes to 218 for Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Republicans retained control of the U.S. Senate with 51 seats to 47 seats for the Democrats and two races still outstanding.
Trump looks to have won all five electoral votes in Nebraska, edging Clinton in the 2nd Congressional District by about 9,000 votes.
Republican Don Bacon appears to have won a narrow race to unseat Democrat Brad Ashford in the 2nd Congressional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, scoring 134,291 votes (49 percent) to 128,739 votes (47 percent) for Ashford.
By a 3-2 margin, Nebraskans overwhelmingly repealed the Nebraska Legislature’s decision to abolish the death penalty in the state. Almost 61 percent of voters (482,236) cast ballots to repeal the Legislature’s decision, compared to 39 percent (310,139) who voted to retain the Legislature’s action.
Challenger Tom Brewer defeated incumbent Al Davis Tuesday in the race for the 43rd District seat in the Nebraska Legislature, capturing 52.5 percent of the vote to 47.5 percent for Davis. Brewer secured 9,096 votes to 8,253 for Davis in a district that spans from Chadron and Alliance, east to Ainsworth and Springview, and south to Hyannis.
Davis was one of several incumbents who were not able to secure another term in office, as Tommy Garrett was beaten in District 3, David Schnoor lost in District 15, Les Seiler was defeated in District 33, and Jerry Johnson lost in District 23.
Jeffrey Scherer won an at-large race for Northeast Community College Board of Governors, securing 25,501 votes (54 percent) to 21,429 votes (46 percent) for Ted Hillman.
In the contested races for the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District Board, Mark Carpenter defeated Isaac Wright in Subdistrict 5 by a total of 3,485 (59 percent) to 2,396 (41 percent), and Keith Heithoff won a close race over Mark Schrage in Subdistrict 7 by a vote count of 3,124 (52.5 percent) to 2,811 (47.5 percent).
Voter turnout statewide was 68.5 percent, with 831,438 votes cast from among the 1.21 million registered voters.
Blaine and Keya Paha counties were two of the five counties that saw voter turnout exceed 80 percent.
* Nebraskans vote overwhelmingly to reinstate death penalty, repeal legislative action
(Posted 6:15 a.m. Nov. 9)
By Vincent Peņa, Nebraska News Service
Nebraska voters have made up their minds, and they want the death penalty back.
After nearly two years of campaigning for what has turned out to be the most controversial issue in the Nebraska election, voters in the state decided to repeal Legislative Bill 286 (LB 286) and reinstate the death penalty as the ultimate form of punishment, in what turned out to be a landslide decision.
The "repeal" side received 59.6 percent of the vote, compared to just 40.4 percent for the "retain" side.
The decision is a big win for Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, who invested a large amount of money and time into getting Referendum 426 on the ballot in order to repeal the death penalty decision that outlawed the practice last year.
Bob Evnen, co-founder of the group Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, which led the push to repeal LB 286, said the victory was expected.
"From the time in 2015 when the unicameral repealed the death penalty, there were a number of us who thought a strong majority, a substantial majority of Nebraskans were for the death penalty and believed that it ought to be on the books," Evnen said.
In May 2015, Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, getting much-needed help from Republican senators within the officially nonpartisan Legislature, was finally successful in repealing the death penalty by a vote of 30-19 after decades of unsuccessful attempts.
Chambers and many others in favor of eliminating the death penalty have argued was ineffective, costly and perhaps most importantly, hasn't been used in nearly two decades. He has spent the bulk of his career in government working on abolishing the death penalty in the state of Nebraska, which he says is rife with issues.
After the Legislature repealed the death penalty in LB286, Ricketts promptly vetoed the bill. But within a few days the Legislature moved to override Ricketts' veto. Not long thereafter, a pro-death penalty group called Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and Ricketts launched a petition to put the issue on the ballot and give Nebraskans the opportunity to decide. They gathered more than 166,000 signatures.
"After the unicameral repealed we started a petition for a referendum," Evnen said, reiterating his earlier point. "We did that based on our belief that a substantial majority of Nebraskans believed that the death penalty ought to be utilized."
The referendum, known as the Nebraska Death Penalty Repeal Veto Referendum, or Referendum 426, was tinged with somewhat confusing language, in that people aren't voting whether to retain or repeal the death penalty itself, but rather the law that eliminated the death penalty in 2015.
The issue had split the state, both within the state's government and the populace. But the race didn't turn out to be as close as some expected. While the governor favored keeping the death penalty on the books, the unicameral wanted to eliminate capital punishment and use life without parole in its place.
One of the main issues for opponents of the death penalty is the drug protocol, which has been widely criticized as ineffective. Currently there are no drugs to carry out the executions. But Evnen said that with cooperation this issue too can be resolved.
"The hope is now that the unicameral will cooperate with the executive branch and work to establish a successful protocol," Evnen said. "Other states do it; we can do it too."
Chambers vowed in an interview with the Nebraska News Service in October to make death penalty a key issue once again his next term.
The "repeal" side had garnered support from various law enforcement agencies across the state, as well as Ricketts himself, who had injected $300,000 into the campaign, and several other groups, while the "retain" side was supported by a number of politicians and organizations as well, including the ACLU of Nebraska, the Lincoln Journal Star and others.
It's unclear if and when Nebraska will be able to start executing the 10 men serving on death row.
* Robust turnout among area voters during 2016 General Election
(Posted 10:30 p.m. Nov. 8)
A total of 76 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in Brown County for the General Election, with 1,618 voters submitting a ballot from the 2,129 who were eligible.
The race between Al Davis and Tom Brewer for the District 43 seat in the Nebraska Legislature was extremely close in Brown County, with the incumbent Davis picking up 784 votes to 779 for Brewer. The margin was less than half of 1 percent in Brown County between the two legislative candidates.
Brown County was Donald Trump territory Tuesday, with 1,380 votes cast for the Republican presidential candidate compared to just 153 for Democrat Hillary Clinton, 39 for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and seven for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. There were also 17 write-in votes cast for president in Brown County.
In a local referendum, Long Pine voters chose to recall Mayor Beverly Newport by a 103-30 margin. Approximately 77 percent of Long Pine voters chose to recall the city’s mayor.
Teresa Lemunyan was the top vote-getter in a race for two seats on the Long Pine City Council. Lemunyan received 98 votes, and will be joined by Aaron Miller on the council. Miller picked up 91 votes. Joyce Micheel received 52 votes to finish in third place.
Brad Wilkins (1,181 votes), Mark Johnson (1,100 votes) and Scott Erthum (1,092 votes were elected to the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education. There were 44 write-in votes for the school board.
Deb Hurless was re-elected to the Ainsworth City Council with 596 votes. There were a total of 148 write-in votes for the second council seat, with Greg Soles receiving 80 write-in votes to secure the second council seat. Melissa Wenger picked up 25 write-in votes, and Schyler Schenk received 15 write-in votes for City Council.
Randy Welke (24 votes) and Daniel West (17 votes) were elected to the Johnstown Village Board.
Republican Buddy Small ran unopposed for another term as Brown County Commissioner.
Brown County voters by a wide margin voted to go against the Nebraska Legislature and restore the death penalty in the state. There were 1,156 votes (75.5 percent) cast in the county to repeal the Legislature’s action to remove the death penalty, with just 374 votes cast to retain the Legislature’s decision.
In the contested race for an at-large seat on the Northeast Community College Board of Governors, Jeffrey Scherer carried Brown County over Ted Hillman by a margin of 617-436.
Brown County voters were in favor of retaining all the judges on the General Election ballot.
Donald Trump was the heavy favorite for president amongst Rock County voters, with 687 ballots cast for the Republican candidate compared to just 70 for Democrat Hillary Clinton. Libertarian Gary Johnson received 32 Rock County votes and Jill Stein four.
Voters in Rock County agreed to allow the county to expand the use of the previously approved 1 cent additional levy for the ambulance association. A total of 624 voters cast ballots in favor of the expanded use of funds for equipment and training, while 140 voters opted to keep the 1 cent of additional levy to strictly fund the purchase and outfitting of an ambulance.
In the lone contested race in Rock County, Rod Stolcpart won a four-year term on the KBR Rural Public Power District Board of Directors, securing 296 votes compared to 150 for Sam Coulter.
Rock County voters were vastly in favor of repealing the Nebraska Legislature’s decision to abolish the death penalty in the state. There were 605 votes cast to repeal the Legislature’s decision compared to 177 who voted to retain the abolishment of the death penalty.
Ted Hillman edged Jeffrey Scherer by a 250-233 margin in Rock County in a race for an at-large seat on the Northeast Community College Board of Directors.
A portion of Rock County voters had a contested race for the Subdistrict 5 seat on the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District Board, with those voters siding with Mark Carpenter over Isaac Wright by a 273-141 margin.
Others in Rock County had a decision between Mark Schrage and Keith Heithoff for the Subdistrict 7 seat on the Upper Elkhorn Natural Resources District Board, with Heithoff winning the county by a narrow 204-201 margin.
Tim Shaw (622 votes), Teresa Wiiest (571 votes) and Leah Hagan (555 votes) earned four-year seats on the Rock County Public Schools Board of Education.
Gary Williams was re-elected as Bassett’s mayor with 216 votes, and Reno Gordon (254 votes) and Michael Turpin (247 votes) were elected to the Bassett City Council.
After winning a Primary Election race, Republican Dustin Craven ran unopposed Tuesday for a term as Rock County Commissioner.
The judges up for retention all received strong support from Rock County voters.
Rock County had 79 percent of its registered voters cast a ballot in the General Election. There were 815 voters who participated in the Election of the 1,030 who are registered in the county.
In Keya Paha County, voters overwhelmingly chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton for president, with 458 votes cast in the county for Trump. Clinton received 39 votes and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson secured 17 votes in the county.
Voters in Keya Paha County overwhelmingly chose to repeal the Nebraska Legislature’s decision to abolish the death penalty in the state, with 424 voters opting to repeal the Legislature’s decision compared to only 64 who voted to retain the Legislature’s decision.
Keya Paha County voters sided with challenger Tom Brewer over incumbent Al Davis, 295-187, in the race for the Nebraska Legislature’s 43rd District seat.
In the only contested race in Keya Paha County, incumbent Meredith Worth won another term on the KBR Rural Public Power District Board of Directors, defeating challenger Kirk Sharp by a 294-178 margin.
Running for an at-large seat on the Northeast Community College Board of Governors, Jeffrey Scherer earned 172 Keya Paha County votes compared to 118 for Ted Hillman.
Erik Johnson (398 votes), Tanya Hallock (391 votes) and Brian Munger (337 votes) each secured four-year seats on the Keya Paha County Public Schools Board of Education.
Ernest Hallock (125 votes) and David Lewis (109 votes) won terms on the Springview Village Board.
After winning a Primary Election challenge, Republican Mike Tuerk was re-elected to the Keya Paha County Board of Commissioners unopposed Tuesday.
All of the judges received a comfortable margin of votes to retain their seats on the bench from Keya Paha County residents who cast a ballot.
A robust 81 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for the General Election, with 164 voting early and 362 casting ballots on Tuesday. A total of 526 of the 652 registered voters in the county participated in the General Election.
* Friday fire destroys Ainsworth family's home
(Posted 7:30 p.m. Oct. 21)
A Friday morning fire resulted in the loss of a home for an Ainsworth family.
At approximately 10:30 a.m. Friday, a fire was reported at 1111 E. Plainsman Drive in a home owned by Brandon and Mandy Evans.
Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala said, upon firefighters’ arrival, smoke was billowing from the home. He said the fire started in a storage room in the basement of the house.
“We gained access through the front door, and one crew took a line downstairs,” Fiala said. “But, it was just too hot so they had to come back up.”
He said fire crews battled the fire from the main floor, and also applied water through a basement window. The Bassett Volunteer Fire Department provided mutual aid to the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department. Crews remained on the scene as of 7 p.m. Friday.
The fire chief said no one was in the home when the fire started. He said the house and its contents would likely be a total loss.
One cat was rescued from the inside of the home and taken to a veterinary clinic. A second cat’s whereabouts were initially unknown, but the cat was able to make it outside the home and was found Friday evening.
Fiala said an inspector from the Nebraska State Fire Marshal’s office had been on scene, but due to the smoke and debris had not been able to make a determination as to the cause of the fire. Fiala said no neighboring structures were threatened.
Monetary donations for the Evans family are being collected by all three Ainsworth banks, and the Red Cross will also provide assistance to the family.
* City Council asks Ainsworth property owners for $282,250
(Posted 7 a.m. Sept. 15)
The Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday asked property owners for $282,250 to support a 2016-17 general fund budget of $5.14 million.
During the annual budget hearing and property tax levy hearing, the council proposed a levy of 47 cents per $100 in value for all property located inside the city limits.
The overall valuation in the city increased by just over $2 million to $60 million. The city kept the levy at the same 47-cent per $100 in value level that it did during the 2015-16 year, which will allow the city to collect an additional $27,000 in taxes from property owners.
The city’s $5.14 million budget includes $278,797 in debt service on the remaining $687,810 in bonded debt. The city has bonds remaining from past street, water and wastewater projects.
The city will not likely spend the entire $5.14 million budgeted for the general fund. In the 2015-16 fiscal year, the city actually spent $2.35 million, including $222,260 to pay down debt. City spending in 2015-16 was below the $2.78 million spent during the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Included in the budget is the city allocating all $884,000 in economic development funding for disbursement, though the likelihood of that occurring is slim.
The budget includes $3.4 million in operating expenses, $744,198 in capital improvements, $557,384 in other capital outlays, $278,797 to service city debt, and $162,542 in miscellaneous expenses.
In the 2015-16 year, the city actually spent $1.69 million in operating expenses, $110,910 in capital improvements, $148,520 in other capital outlays, $222,260 to service bonded debt, and $181,376 in other expenses.
No one spoke in opposition to any of the spending in the 2016-17 budget during Wednesday’s hearings, and the council unanimously approved the budget and property tax request.
In other business Wednesday, the council voted to abate five remaining nuisance violations on parcels inspected this year by the Central Nebraska Economic Development District.
CNEDD Director Judy Peterson said two of the seven properties that were declared nuisances were cleared after the property owners abated the violations.
She said, of the remaining five parcels, three have done some cleanup and have indicated they have a plan to remedy the remaining violations. She said two property owners have not responded.
“One of the property owners was given additional time after a show-cause hearing,” Peterson said. “One property owner plans to do some demolition and has been in for a permit. One property is changing ownership, and there is a plan for cleanup.”
The board approved moving forward with abatement, with the five property owners having until Oct. 11 to either clear the violation or provide a written plan to the Central Nebraska Economic Development District for addressing the violations.
Should the violations not be cleared or a plan presented, the council will act on abating the nuisance violations during its Oct. 12 meeting and levy the cost of the abatement onto the parcel’s property tax statement.
Councilman Chuck Osborn said, “I wonder if we are doing any good with this. I have gone back and looked at the areas that were inspected the first two years. A lot of them have gone right back to the way they were before.”
Councilman Brian Williams agreed, saying, “There are some from the other two areas that are back to being in pretty bad shape.”
City Attorney Rod Palmer said, in his experience, nuisance abatement will be an ongoing project, not a one-time venture.
The council discussed potentially placing a ballot measure for city voters relating to bringing Keno to the community.
Councilwoman Deb Hurless provided the group with data on the percentage breakdowns for Keno related to paying back prize money and paying other expenses. At the end, the information indicated there was a profit margin of around 9 percent from the gross dollars spent playing the game of chance.
Committee member Graig Kinzie said he wanted some guidance from the council on the percentage it was willing to share with any proprietors potentially interested in having the game in their business.
“That is the first question I will be asked,” Kinzie said. “Looking at these percentages, I am a lot more lukewarm about this than I was before.”
The council agreed to offer a 50-50 split of any profits to proprietors interested. Kinzie said he would visit with two business owners in the community to see if there was any interest before the council determined whether it wanted to proceed.
The item was placed on the council’s October agenda.
During her report, City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said cemetery software has now been installed in the city office.
She said the streets department purchased a 1998 boom truck at a cost of $7,000. The truck, which was previously owned by an electrician in Wyoming, will be used primarily for tree trimming, and hanging flags and lights.
She reported building permits for the year totaled $882,450 in improvements.
The consent agenda approved Wednesday included a special designated liquor license for the Sandhills Lounge to serve alcohol in the Ainsworth Conference Center during the Nov. 4 Pheasants Forever banquet.
It also authorized the Ainsworth Women’s Club to close Main Street from 4:30 until 6:30 p.m. Oct. 31 for a Trick or Treat Safe Street.
The consent agenda also included approval of Mayor Larry Rice’s appointments of Keith Baker to another five-year term on the Ainsworth Housing Authority, Kristin Olson to another five-year term on the Community Redevelopment Authority, Jacob Sinsel to a two-year term on the Ainsworth Betterment Committee, and Pat Nelson and Maxine Mattern to fill vacant seats on the Sellors-Barton Cabin Advisory Board.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 12.
* Keya Paha County Commissioners adopt $3.25 million general fund budget for 2016-17
(Posted 3 p.m. Sept. 14)
Keya Paha County property owners will pay $962,990 to support the county’s general fund budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
During Tuesday’s budget hearing and property tax request, the board approved a $3.25 million budget, with $1.63 million budgeted for the general fund and $894,430 in the roads department fund.
The $962,990 in property tax is about $37,000 more than the $925,340 requested for the 2015-16 fiscal year budget.
Keya Paha County’s levy rate, despite the small increase in tax collection, dropped from 22 cents per $100 in valuation in 2015-16 to 20.8 cents per $100 for the 2016-17 year.
Had the county not collected the additional $37,000 in property tax, the levy rate would have been an even 20 cents per $100 in value.
The overall valuation in Keya Paha County increased from $418.7 million in 2015 to $461.5 million in 2016, an increase of $42.7 million. The overall value of all classifications of property in Keya Paha County rose 10 percent between 2015 and 2016.
One cent of levy in Keya Paha County for the 2016-17 year generates $46,148 in property tax, compared to the same 1 cent of levy generating $41,878 during the 2015-16 fiscal year.
In addition to the 20.8 cents in levy for the general fund, Keya Paha County property owners will also pay $14,037 to the Keya Paha County Agricultural Society, which represents about one-third of 1 cent of levy.
The Keya Paha County Rural Fire Protection District will receive a total of $44,635 in property tax, which represents a levy rate of nine-tenths of 1 cent.
The total levy approved by the commissioners Tuesday of 22.1 cent per $100 in valuation will generate $1.02 million in total property tax, up slightly from the $983,082 generated in 2015-16 from a levy of 23.4 cents per $100 in valuation.
Keya Paha County’s actual disbursements in 2015-16 were $1.43 million, which were down from the $1.71 million disbursed during the 2014-15 fiscal year.
The county spent $796,902 from its general fund in 2015-16, down from $907,686 in 2014-15. Roads department spending was down from $676,073 in 2014-15 to $553,374 in 2015-16.
Following Tuesday’s budget hearing, in which no opposition was expressed, the commissioners approved the 2016-17 county budget and the property tax request.
* Commissioners ask for $2.51 million to support 2016-17 general fund budget
(Posted 3:45 p.m. Sept. 13)
During the annual budget hearing and property tax request Tuesday, the Brown County Commissioners approved a general fund budget of $4.11 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year that asks property owners for $2.51 million in taxes.
The county’s property tax asking is $245,380 more than the $2.26 million requested for the 2015-16 fiscal year. However, with valuations in the county rising from $668 million to $824 million, due in large part to another jump in agricultural property value, the overall county levy decreased from 41.2 cents per $100 in property value to 35.6 cents per $100 in value.
The total value of all property in Brown County for the 2016 tax year is $156 million above the 2015 tax year total, representing a 23 percent year-over-year increase in the total value of property in the county.
With the increased overall valuation in Brown County, 1 cent of tax levy equals $82,438 in property tax generated, compared to $66,831 in tax generated from 1 cent of levy for the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Had the county asked for the same $2.26 million in property tax as it did for the 2015-16 fiscal year, the levy would have dropped to 33.4 cents per $100 in value. The 35.6 cents of property tax per $100 in valuation for 2016-17 is 5.5 cents below the 2015-16 levy.
In addition to the $2.51 million in property tax to support the general fund, property owners in Brown County will pay $401,540 in tax to support the voter-approved Brown County Hospital addition bonds.
The $401,540 hospital bond payment is lower than the $453,090 collected during the 2015-16 fiscal year. With the increased valuation in the county, the hospital bond represents 4.8 cents in tax levy per $100 in valuation for the 2016-17 year, compared to 6.7 cents in tax levy during the 2015-16 year.
The levy breakdown for property tax collections in Brown County for the 2016-17 year includes $2.51 million for the general fund for 30.4 cents in levy, $305,731 for the Brown County Rural Fire Protection District for 4 cents in levy, $52,500 to the Brown County Agricultural Society for a 0.6-cent levy, and $401,540 to the Brown County Hospital addition bond representing 4.8 cents in levy.
Keeping the Brown County Rural Fire District’s levy at 4 cents allows the district to receive $103,746 more than it did during the 2015-16 year. The $52,500 contribution to the Brown County Agricultural Society was $20,000 more than the previous year, with that $20,000 allocated for arena repairs.
Taking all funds into account, the total property tax asking of $2.94 million is $185,050 more than the $2.75 million collected during the 2015-16 fiscal year.
The commissioners, as part of the budget, approved a contribution of $11,000 to the Ainsworth Public Library to allow county residents the ability to utilize the library free of charge, and a $5,000 partnership contribution to the North Central Development Center.
The Brown County Hospital’s budget is also included as part of the overall county budget. However, the only tax dollars supporting the hospital are for the voter-approved addition bond. The Brown County Hospital’s general operating budget is funded completely through hospital revenue.
The hospital addition bond, thanks to attractive refinancing rates and a contribution from the hospital’s operating budget, has $4.85 million remaining. By refinancing the remaining 10 years of bond payments, and receiving the contribution from the hospital’s operating revenue, one full year of bond payments were removed, leaving nine years remaining to pay the hospital addition in full instead of 10 years.
The total county budget, including the hospital’s budget and the budgeting of the now $1.93 million in the county’s inheritance tax fund, is $19.5 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year.
As an accounting standard, the commissioners budget for the spending of the entire $1.93 million in the inheritance tax fund, though actual expenditures from the inheritance tax fund have only been approved by the board recently, and in the amount of $340,000, to support the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board’s efforts to reopen a nursing home in the community, which is expected this fall.
The commissioners approved $154,551 in disbursements from the inheritance tax fund during the 2015-16 fiscal year to support the Care Center Board. The inheritance tax fund still has $1.93 million remaining for use by the board to support the betterment of Brown County. As a practice, the commissioners have rarely utilized the funds in the inheritance tax.
Counting the hospital’s operating expenses, $16.2 million was disbursed by the county during the 2015-16 year, up $2 million from the $14.2 million disbursed during the 2014-15 fiscal year. Increased general fund disbursements from $2.52 million in 2014-15 to $3.5 million in the recently completed 2015-16 fiscal year accounted for about half of the overall disbursement increase.
Following the budget hearing, in which no opposition to the budget was expressed, the board approved the budget, the property tax request, and the allowable increase in restricted funds.
The next regular meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Sept. 20.
* School Board approves $9.36 million budget for 2016-17
(Posted 7 a.m. Sept. 13)
Property owners in the Ainsworth Community Schools District will be asked to pay $5.96 million to support a 2016-17 budget of $9.36 million.
Following a public hearing Monday, the Board of Education approved the 2016-17 budget, which is about $61,000 higher than the 2015-16 budget.
In addition to the $5.96 million to support the school’s general fund, property owners will pay $176,585 to support the kindergarten through eighth grade building bond, and $122,712 to support the high school building bond.
Superintendent Darrell Peterson told the board the 2016-17 year will be the final time bond funds are collected for the school addition.
“That levy will drop off next year,” Peterson said. “The bonds will be paid off after those taxes are received. That will amount to about $300,000 in taxes that won’t have to be collected next year.”
The $6.26 million in total property tax asking is a little more than $400,000 more than was requested from taxpayers to support the 2015-16 budget.
Despite the increase in tax asking, the levy rate decreased dramatically for the 2016-17 year, as property owners will pay 83 cents for every $100 in value. That total includes the 9.2 cents in levy for the voter-approved bonds, and is almost 12 cents lower than the 2015-16 levy rate of 95 cents per $100 in value.
The levy rate for Ainsworth Community Schools dropped substantially thanks to the overall valuation in the county again skyrocketing, mainly due to agricultural property values that were up by more than 20 percent from the prior year.
The valuation in the Ainsworth school district rose from $655 million to $806 million, an approximately 23 percent jump.
Had the school district opted to keep the property tax asking the same as the 2015-16 school year, the levy rate would have dropped to just under 78 cents per $100 in value.
The current school aid formula utilized by the Nebraska Legislature has resulted in state assistance for education to the Ainsworth district dropping from $1.71 million during the 2010-11 school year to zero for the 2016-17 year.
This will be the first year under the formula where Ainsworth Community Schools receives absolutely no funding assistance through the TEEOSA formula, though it is the third straight year with state funding assistance of less than $48,000.
“There was a piece in the formula that provided us a little in sales tax dollars, but that went away for this year,” Peterson said.
That meager sales tax portion had returned $33,266 to the district in the 2014-15 year, and $47,819 in the 2015-16 year. The last year the district received anything significant relating to state assistance was back in 2013-14, when $356,086 was returned to the school through the state aid formula.
Peterson said the $9.3 million budget provides for a cash reserve of approximately 23 percent.
Just because that dollar amount is budgeted does not mean that many dollars will be spent.
For example, during the 2015-16 school year, the district adopted a budget of $9.29 million, but spent a total of $7.38 million, including the money toward the bond funds. In the 2014-15 school year, the district budgeted $9.05 million, and spent $8.37 million. A large portion of the spending difference between those two years was a bond payment in 2014-15 that was more than $1 million higher than the payment made in 2015-16.
No one spoke in opposition to the budget, nor questioned any of the spending line items, during Monday’s special meeting.
Following the public hearings, the board adopted the 2016-17 budget and the property tax request.
The only other action item Monday was the passage of the second reading of a policy regarding staff members being prohibited from assisting anyone in finding a job who had been convicted of sexual assault of a child.
During her report, elementary principal Sarah Williams said Roni Daniels is spearheading the backpack food program this year, which provides supplemental food during the weekend to families who qualify. Williams said Al Steuter with the Brown County Foundation has been key in assisting with raising funding for the backpack program.
Secondary principal Bill Lentz said he has shared his expectation for behavior with the high school students and staff, and the district is emphasizing the concept of respectfulness.
He said there would not be a ninth period or Saturday school this year, as Lentz reported he did not believe those methods were effective. Instead, he is asking teachers to work directly with students before and after school who need additional help.
During his report, Peterson said the district has been serving local beef through the school lunch program. He said they have already gone through one animal and were starting on a second.
“It will take about eight to get us through the full year,” the superintendent said. “We currently have four animals that have been donated.”
He said there would be an event, likely during homecoming week, to recognize those supporting the local beef in school lunch program.
The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 8 p.m. Oct. 10.
* Department of Roads plans 9 projects for 2017 in District 8
(Posted 9:30 a.m. July 11)
Nebraska Department of Roads Director Kyle Schneweis released the fiscal year 2017 Surface Transportation Program, which details how the NDOR plans to use highway user dollars to provide the best state highway system possible for all Nebraskans and the traveling public.
The 2017 State Highway System Program is published at $520 million and is funded from state and federal highway user taxes and fees.
Ninety-five projects will be let to contract on the State Highway System during fiscal year
2017, which runs July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.
There are nine projects on the 2017 highway plan for District 8, which encompasses north central Nebraska. Seven of those nine projects include resurfacing, with the other two slated for micro-surfacing.
Milling, resurfacing work and bridge repairs are scheduled for 6.3 miles of Highway 7 from the Calamus River north in Brown County at an estimated cost of just under $2 million.
An additional 12.3 miles of Highway 7 milling and resurfacing work is planned for Highway 7 north of the first project at a cost of $3.2 million.
An 8-mile stretch of Highway 12 from Springview west in Keya Paha County is scheduled for milling and resurfacing work at an estimated cost of $3.3 million.
More than 25 miles of Highway 61 in Cherry County is scheduled for micro-surfacing work at a cost of $1.5 million. There is a 7.8-mile stretch of Highway 83 between Thedford and Valentine scheduled for milling and resurfacing work at a cost of $3.2 million.
The other District 8 projects are planned for Highway 91 in Loup County, Highway 91 in Garfield County, Highway 183 in Loup County and Highway 281 in Boyd County.
The nine projects planned in District 8 for 2017 carry a total estimated cost of $29.2 million.
Numerous projects are included on the Department of Roads’ five-year plan, including:
NDOR Five-Year Plan
Blaine County from Brewster north – 8.4 miles of milling and resurfacing, $3.6 million.
Brown County in the Ainsworth area – Micro-surfacing, $2.3 million.
Brown County in Ainsworth and south – 7.2 miles of milling and resurfacing, $3.8 million.
Rock County from the Niobrara River south – 5.3 miles of milling and resurfacing, $3.1 million.
Keya Paha County from the Niobrara River north – 4.7 miles of milling and resurfacing, $2 million.
Brown County in Ainsworth – 1.3 miles of concrete paving, $4.8 million.
Brown County near Willow Creek – Culvert repair, $600,000.
Brown County near Long Pine Creek – Bridge rehabilitation, $870,000.
Rock County – Micro-surfacing, $2.3 million.
Cherry County in Valentine – Micro-surfacing work, $4.3 million.
Cherry County from Merriman west – Micro-surfacing, $900,000.
Cherry County from Eli to Nenzel – Micro-surfacing, $1.7 million.
Holt County in O’Neill – Joint repair and grinding, $390,000.
Rock County from Rose south – 6 miles of milling and resurfacing, $2.6 million.
Rock County from Rose north – Micro-surfacing, $1.8 million.
Rock County from Bassett south – 10.1 miles of resurfacing, $3.7 million.
Keya Paha County north and south of Springview – Micro-surfacing, $890,000.
Keya Paha County from the Niobrara River north – 4.3 miles of milling and resurfacing, $2.1 million.
Keya Paha County from the Highway 12 junction north to the South Dakota line – 7.1 miles of milling and resurfacing, $2.9 million
Loup County north and south of Taylor – Micro-surfacing, $1.5 million.
Rock County from Newport north – Resurfacing, $4.5 million.
Keya Paha County from the Niobrara River north – 9.7 miles of milling and resurfacing, $3.3 million.
Keya Paha County from the Keya Paha River to the South Dakota line – 6.5 miles of milling, resurfacing and bridge repair, $3.5 million.
Cherry County at the Minnechaduza Creek – Bridge project, $1.5 million.
Cherry County from Sparks east – 3.5 miles of milling and resurfacing, $1.5 million.
Keya Paha County east and west of Burton – 9.4 miles of milling, resurfacing and bridge work, $4.5 milion.
Boyd County near Bristow – Culvert repair, $1.1 million.
Boyd County from Lynch to Monowi – 8.6 miles of milling, resurfacing and bridge repair, $3.2 million.
Holt County from Amelia north – 6.4 miles of milling, resurfacing and bridge repair, $3.2 million.
Holt County north and south of Holt Creek – 8.5 miles of milling and resurfacing, $3 million.
Holt County from Atkinson south – 6.1 miles of milling, resurfacing and bridge repair, $2.8 million.
Holt County from Brush Creek to the Niobrara River – 4.8 miles of milling and resurfacing, $2.2 million.
Boyd County from the Niobrara River to Butte – 5.2 miles of resurfacing, $1.9 million.
Boyd County from Butte north – 7.3 miles of resurfacing, $2.5 million.
Blaine County from Brewster east – 9.6 miles of milling and resurfacing, $4.7 million.
Loup County from the Blaine County line east – 6.3 miles of milling and resurfacing, $2.5 million.
There are additional District 8 projects in the five-year plan for Highway 61 in Cherry County, Highway 83 in Cherry County, Highway 96 in Loup and Garfield counties, and Highway 281 in Holt County.
The projects on the District 8 five-year plan total $144 million.
The state received $246 million from motor fuel taxes, $119 million for transportation funding from motor vehicle sales taxes, and $43 million from motor vehicle registration taxes.
The Transportation Innovation Act, passed by the Nebraska Legislature in 2016, will also begin providing revenue for the Department of Roads. An estimated $58.5 million in roads revenue is projected for the 2017 fiscal year.