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* Funeral Service notes: (see more on the obituaries page)

* Hazel M. Engle, 93, of Ainsworth 2 p.m. Dec. 10

* Dema Hollenbeck, 95, of Clearfield, S.D. 10:30 a.m. Dec. 10

* Meeting reports located below for:

Dec. 7 Brown County Commissioners

Dec. 6 Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board

Dec. 2 Ainsworth City Council special meeting

Nov. 21 Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees

* 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.
The governor also discussed the potential budget shortfall for the upcoming budget biennium, and the way the state plans to implement the death penalty following the referendum that was overwhelmingly approved by voters to restore capital punishment in the state.
To hear the report with Gov. Ricketts and KBRB's Graig Kinzie, click on the audio links below.

audio clips/Gov Ricketts 12-8-16 property tax reform.mp3

audio clips/Gov Ricketts 12-8-16 death penalty referendum.mp3

audio clips/Gov Ricketts 12-8-16 budget & trade.mp3

* 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.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 5:55 p.m. Tuesday on Highway 20 approximately 4 miles west of Johnstown, a 2017 Subaru Outback, driven by Marsha Giere, 70, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., was traveling west when the vehicle struck a deer in the roadway.
No persons were injured during the accident. Damage to the Subaru was estimated at $3,500.

* 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.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Dec. 7)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a one-vehicle rollover accident that occurred Monday northeast of Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at noon Monday on Road 888, a 1995 Honda Civic, driven by Crystal Martinez, 47, of Long Pine, was traveling east when the driver lost control and entered the south ditch. The Honda rolled once, coming to rest on its wheels.
No injuries were reported. The Honda was considered a total loss.

* 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.

* Chamber of Commerce awards $250 in Christmas Bucks during Week 1 drawing

(Posted 9:15 a.m. Dec. 5)

The Ainsworth Area Chamber of Commerce is once again rewarding those who shop locally by providing $250 in weekly drawings for its Christmas Bucks promotion.
Those shopping in Chamber of Commerce member businesses during the holiday season may fill out a green entry slip for their chance to win $50 in chamber bucks. The chamber will draw five winners weekly during the holiday shopping season.
Week 1 drawing winners are Julie Worden, who made her winning purchase in Red & White Market; Phillip Chamberlain (Bomgaars), Joe Dodds (Red & White), Holly Anderson (Keller’s Custom Embroidery & Imprints) and Edith Jefferis (Red & White).
Winners may pick up their $50 in Christmas Bucks from the chamber office, located in Home Again on Main Street. The Christmas Bucks may be redeemed from any chamber member business.

* City Council approves LB 840 loan for business ownership transition

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Dec. 2)

During a brief special meeting Thursday, the Ainsworth City Council approved a loan application for LB 840 funding in the amount of $90,000.

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson told the City Council the loan was for a business transition project, and included the city taking a first position on the property involved.

A loan rate of 5 percent interest was established based on the current T-bill rate plus 2 percent.

Olson said the LB 840 Loan Review Committee recommended the council approve the loan request.

Councilman Greg Soles asked how much remained in the LB 840 fund following several recent loan applications being approved.

Councilwoman Deb Hurless said just $7,400 in unallocated funds remained in the LB 840 account, which receives one-half cent of sales tax in the form of monthly deposits.

Soles said, “On the other two NCDC projects that were approved, we could leave some of those funds in the account until they are needed.”

The council unanimously approved the LB 840 loan request.

In the only other action item Thursday, the council approved a request from the Ainsworth Nazarene Church to close Elm Street between Second and Third streets from 7 until 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 14, for the church’s live nativity event.

In addition to the street closing, the council approved closing the alley west of Elm Street between Second and Third streets from 5:30 until 9 p.m. as part of the Nazarene Church event.

The regular December meeting of the Ainsworth City Council was moved up from 7 p.m. to noon.

* November weather warmer, drier than average

(Posted 11:15 a.m. Dec. 1)

Ainsworth Weather Observer Gerry Osborn reported November was much warmer than the average, and the city received just more than one-third of its expected moisture.
To hear the November weather summary, click on the audio link below.

audio clips/Gerry Osborn November 2016 Weather.mp3

* Anonymous donor provides $30,000 to Endowment Fund, with $15,000 matched

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 30)

An anonymous donor recently made a $30,000 contribution to the Brown County Community Foundation Fund’s Endowment Campaign.

The gift was matched by $1 for every $2 contributed by the Sherwood Foundation, which equates to a $45,000 contribution to the Brown County Endowment Fund.

An anonymous contribution is possible because the Brown County Community Foundation Fund is an affiliated fund of the Nebraska Community Foundation. The donor made a contribution to the Endowment Fund by making arrangements for the gift directly with the staff at Lincoln, and requested the donation remain anonymous. 

The staff person to contact is Les Long, who is the Controller for the Nebraska Community Foundation. Long can be reached by phone at 402-323-7346; email at llong@nebcommfound.org; or at P.O. Box 83107 Lincoln, NE  68501-3107.

The Brown County Foundation Board will never know why the gift was given or who this generous person(s) may be, but the important thing to realize is that someone passionately believes in the future of Brown County, and that the Endowment Fund is a great strategy for insuring a high quality of life for generations to come.

* District tour of Legion Posts begins Thursday in Ainsworth

(Posted 1:30 p.m. Nov. 29)

Members of the American Legion District 1 are hosting a membership tour this week. Beginning Thursday and culminating with an event Saturday at the Hot Springs, S.D., VA, Legion members will host district officers in each post in the area.

The Ainsworth American Legion Post will host a 7 a.m. breakfast Thursday, and the group will then visit the Newport Legion Post at 9:45 a.m. in the community building.

The Bassett American Legion Post will host lunch for the touring group at 11:15 a.m. Thursday, with coffee served at 1 p.m. in the Long Pine Vets Club. Thursday’s tour concludes with a 3:30 p.m. social hour in the Springview Legion Post.

The District officers will tour Legion posts between Valentine and Crawford on Friday, and then wrap up the event at 1:30 p.m. Saturday with The Yanks Who Gave Christmas party in the VA Hospital at Hot Springs, S.D.

Cookies and coffee are served at each stop of the district tour, and comfort items for the hospitalized veterans are also gathered at each post home.

* One motorist arrested on DUI charge during enforcement period

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 28)

The Brown  County Sheriff’s Department, through funding provided by the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, participated in the national “Click It or Ticket” campaign during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

The campaign is designed to increase public awareness in the importance of seat belt usage and make roadways safer.

Law enforcement across the nation joined in the effort to save lives by strongly enforcing seat belt laws during the enforcement period.

The sheriff’s department utilized regular enforcement, saturation patrols and an enforcement zone during the weeklong campaign.

Three deputies worked a total of 10 hours of overtime during the enforcement, and issued five speeding citations, one citation for a stop sign violation, and one citation on a charge of driving under suspension.

In addition, one motorist was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence. The sheriff’s department issued a total of eight citations and 22 warnings during the enforcement period.

Sheriff Bruce Papstein thanks everyone for doing their part to make roads safer by always wearing a seat belt and making sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up at all times.

* Lions Club approves more than $10,000 toward community projects

(Posted 9:30 a.m. Nov. 22)

During its recent meeting, the Ainsworth Lions Club approved a community service plan that will include more than $10,000 toward local projects.

 The Lions Club officers and directors met Nov. 3 to develop a community service project plan to present to the board. The plan approved Monday includes $1,500 toward health care projects, $2,000 in community service donations, $2,000 toward park benches, $6,000 toward a new park swing set and crumb rubber, and $3,000 toward playground equipment boards.

Evan Evans presented information regarding park benches and a swing set to be placed at the city parks. The board approved the $2,924 purchase.

The board also approved a $300 donation to the Ainsworth Food Pantry.

District 38-I Gov. Dave Collins spoke to the club members about the Nebraska Lions Club and Lion Club International. 

Collins presented a 25-year membership chevron to Phil Fuchs and a 10-year membership chevron to Dwayne Grunke. He also presented Club President Brian Williams with two Club Legacy Project awards - a 100-year Legacy Project-Playground Equipment Award and a Centennial Service Challenge Award.

The club welcomed three new members during its meeting. Bill and Connie Lentz joined the Lions Club, sponsored by Jerry Ehlers. Don Crone also joined the club, and was sponsored by Jerry Allen.

A discussion was held regarding a date for the annual Lions Club Family Christmas Party. The club will try to avoid dates that have school activities.

* Rock County, Atkinson libraries receive 3-year accreditation

(Posted 9:15 a.m. Nov. 22)

Nebraska Library Commission Library Development Director Richard Miller announced the accreditation of public libraries across Nebraska.

“We are dedicated to helping Nebraska libraries meet Nebraskans’ information needs, opening up the world of information for citizens of all ages,” Miller said. “The Library Commission continues to work in partnership with Nebraska libraries and the regional library systems, using the Public Library Accreditation program to help public libraries grow and develop.”

Public libraries in Nebraska are accredited for a three-year period, from Oct. 1 of the first year through Sept. 30 of the third year.

Nebraska Public Libraries Accredited through Sept. 30, 2019, include the Rock County Public Library at Bassett and the Atkinson Public Library.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 9 a.m. Nov. 22)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a one-vehicle accident that occurred Monday, Nov. 21, in Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 3:55 a.m. Monday at the intersection of Dawes and South Walnut streets, a 2005 Pontiac sedan, driven by Brenda Nelson, 59, of Ainsworth, was turning from Dawes Street onto Walnut Street and struck a utility pole.
No injuries were reported. The Pontiac was considered a total loss.

* Trustees officially appoint Taylor to Brown County Hospital's active medical staff

(Posted 3:45 p.m. Nov. 21)

During the recent meeting of the Brown County Hospital Board of Trustees, Dr. Beatrice Taylor was officially appointed to the hospital’s active medical staff after her credentials were reviewed by the board.

The trustees also approved PAC Jodi Scheele to the hospital’s courtesy staff, and reappointed  Dr. Ryan Banks to the courtesy staff.

Hospital Administrator Shannon Sorensen reported the Brown County Hospital Auxiliary recently purchased a Nu-Step machine for the physical therapy department. The hospital auxiliary continues its support for the hospital through the purchase of needed equipment.

The board approved renewing its annual Nebraska Hospital License application, which will be presented to the Brown County Commissioners.

The trustees also voted to approve its health insurance group plan for the upcoming year, and approved the annual program evaluation for home health service as presented by Geri Johnson.

In other annual action items, the board approved the annual program evaluation for the hospital and for the rural health clinic as presented by Sorensen and Erica Hasenohr.

Matt Lentz presented the hospital’s annual quality improvement plan to the board. That plan was also approved by a unanimous vote of the trustees.

During her report to the trustees, Sorensen said the hospital has made the transition in its service excellence initiative to being self-run, with consultants no longer required to help administer the program.

Sorensen also updated the board on the pharmacy remodeling, with additional information to be provided during the board’s December meeting.

Prior to adjourning, the trustees held an executive session to discuss employment contracts. No action was taken following the executive session.

* Cornelius named to Nebraska Cattlemen Young Cattlemen's Conference

(Posted 3:15 p.m. Nov. 21)

Tabbatha Cornelius of Ainsworth is one of 10 from the state to be named to the Nebraska Cattlemen Young Cattlemen's Conference. The 2017 class nominees were accepted from throughout the state and selected by a committee to participate in the two-year leadership program.
"The next generation of Nebraska Cattlemen will ensure Nebraska remains the global epicenter of the beef industry," Nebraska Cattlemen Executive Vice President Pete McClymont said. "Our Young Cattlemen's Conference delivers a strong foundation of industry knowledge and provides the tools these producers need to build a successful future."
The goal of the Young Cattlemen's Conference is to expose young and emerging leaders to a variety of areas of the beef industry and provide them with necessary leadership tools. During the two-year program, conference members are provided training on professional communication, given the opportunity to tour multiple Nebraska-based agriculture production facilities and learn to navigate state agencies and legislative processes.

* Sheriff's department participating in 'Click It or Ticket' mobilization this week

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 21)

Through funding provided by the Nebraska Office of Highway Safety, the Brown County Sheriff’s Department will participate in the national “Click It or Ticket” campaign Nov. 21-27.

The campaign is a national program to increase public awareness and make roadways safer during the Thanksgiving holiday period.

The sheriff’s department is joining with other state and local law enforcement officers, and highway safety advocates to help save lives by strongly enforcing seat belt laws.

While this year’s “Click It or Ticket” mobilization runs from Nov. 21-27, Sheriff Bruce Papstein said motorists should be aware that deputies enforce seat belt laws year round.

The national “Click It or Ticket” mobilization has increased seat belt usage and saved numerous lives since its inception. High-visibility enforcement and encouraging loved ones to buckle up can turn thousands of lives lost into more lives saved.

Papstein thanked everyone for doing their part to make roads safer by always buckling up and making sure everyone in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 21)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a vehicle-deer accident that occurred Saturday, Nov. 19, on Highway 183.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 5:48 p.m. Saturday on Highway 183 south of the Niobrara River bridge, a 2003 Chevy pickup, driven by Pauline Pilkington, 79, of Springview, was traveling north when the vehicle struck a deer in the roadway.
No persons were injured during the accident. Damage to the Chevy was estimated at more than $1,000.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Nov. 18)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a one-vehicle accident that occurred Thursday, Nov. 17, in Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 3:20 p.m. Thursday in the alley on the west side of Main Street, a 2014 Dodge Caravan, driven by Brandi Morrow, 33, of Stuart, was backing up and struck a utility pole.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Dodge, owned by CNCAP of Loup City, was estimated at $1,000. The utility pole did not sustain any damage.

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 3:30 p.m. Nov. 17)

In addition to fines, each case carries $50 in court costs

Allyssa Carbis, age 21, of Kearney, charged with leaving the scene of an accident/failing to furnish information, fined $500 and sentenced to six months of probation.

Kaylyn Mizner of Ainsworth, issuing a no-account check less than $100, fined $25 and ordered to pay $71 in restitution.

Brandon L. Shaul, 18, of Ainsworth, minor in possession of alcohol, $300.

Sterling J. Bowers, 27, of Springview, driving under suspension, $100.

William M. Thompson, 29, of Denver, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Herold J. Victor IV, 33, of Port Saint Lucie, Fla., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Jason P. Carlson, 38, of Denver, Colo., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Karsyn L. Irwin, 18, of Ainsworth, careless driving, $100; also charged with minor in possession of alcohol, sentenced to 40 hours of community service and driver’s license impounded for 90 days.

Carsten W. Ganser, 17, of Ainsworth, negligent driving, $25.

Andrew W. Wiebesiek, 18, of Ainsworth, first offense driving under the influence, fined $500 and sentenced to six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days, ordered to install an ignition interlock device, and ordered to pay $500 restitution; also charged with possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, fined $300 and sentenced to six months of probation.

Ashley A. Beck, 32, of Sterling, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Blaine J. Grangroth, 36, of Rife, Colo., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Luke R. Stoinski, 21, of Abrams, Wis., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Ted Hilderhoff, 43, of Wood Lake, first offense driving under the influence, $500 and sentenced to six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Vanessa Fernandez, 38, of Ainsworth, dogs running at large, $50.

Casey B. Gallegos, 45, of Ainsworth, two counts of disturbing the peace, fined $100 for each count.

Trevor J. Modaff, 21, of Springview, minor in possession of alcohol, $300; also charged with licensing a vehicle without liability insurance, $100.

Richard S. Path, 50, of Ainsworth, driving under suspension, $100.

Philip E. Zwiebel, 57, of Ainsworth, second offense driving under the influence, $500 and sentenced to 10 days in jail with credit for one day served, one year of probation, driver’s license revoked for one year, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Craig A. Haake, 52, of Gothenburg, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Anthony Bartak, 20, of Madison, minor in possession of alcohol, $300.

Clayton J. Larson, 18, of Springview, minor in possession of alcohol, $300.

Austin L. Painter, 22, of Ainsworth, possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce, $500 and sentenced to 60 days in jail with credit for one day served.

Tommy Parks, 32, of Ainsworth, third degree assault, sentenced to three days in jail.

Brittany R. Pourier, 26, of Rapid City, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Levi A. Hollenbeck, 21, of Valentine, minor in possession of alcohol, $300.

Sloan C. Raymond, 15, of Ainsworth, failure to dim headlights, $25; also charged with no operator’s license, $75.

Matthew Stephens, 35, of Aurora, Colo., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Elias J. Coblentz, 30, of Wellman, Iowa, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

* Commissioners approve sheriff's department roof repairs during emergency meeting

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 17)

A roofing project at the Brown County Sheriff’s Department became more costly Wednesday, as the contractor replacing the roofing found additional issues that forced an emergency meeting of the Brown County Commissioners.

John Oman with Roof Pros of Loomis told the board deck on the siding and fascia had to be replaced, or water would continue to be an issue in the building.

“Water has been coming in for quite some time,” Oman said. “We can fix the roof, but if the siding issue isn’t addressed, water will still get in.”

Oman said the repairs would keep water out of the basement, and would save the sheriff’s department money in its heating and air-conditioning costs.

Commissioner Les Waits said getting everything done at once would save the county a little money instead of having to pay mileage for the company to come back and make additional repairs later.

The original quote of $17,000-plus for the roofing work has now had three changes approved. The board previously approved a $3,200 addition to the project for sheeting on the lower section of the sheriff’s department roof.

With Commissioner Buddy Small joining the meeting by phone and Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus absent, the board approved two additional change orders - $2,862 for the decking, and $2,400 for new gutters.

Oman said the changes to the original quote were due to the conditions that were found when the old roof was removed.

“We found we were not able to just replace the roofing,” Oman said.

The next regular meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Dec. 6.

* Ainsworth Blue mock trial team wins regional, advances to state for 11th straight year

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Nov. 17)

The Ainsworth Blue Mock Trial team won a unanimous decision against the Ainsworth Red team Wednesday to advance to the Nebraska Mock Trial Championship competition at Lincoln Dec. 6-7. 

The Blue team represented the State of Nebraska in the trial held in the Rock County Courthouse.

The regional final, which was judged by attorneys Boyd Strope, Steven Brewster, and Rod Palmer, capped a perfect season for Ainsworth Blue, as the team swept all of the judges’ ballots in this year’s Region 4 competition. 

The Ainsworth team will join 11 other teams from around the state to vie for a state championship and the chance to compete in the National Mock Trial Competition at Hartford, Conn., in May 2017.

This will be Ainsworth’s 11th straight appearance at the state championships, with a string of regional championships that stretch back to 2006.

* Firefighters respond to grass fire, gas leak Tuesday afternoon

(Posted 7:15 a.m. Nov. 16)

The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department had a busy afternoon Tuesday, assisting the Johnstown Volunteer Fire Department with a grass fire and responding to a reported gas line leak.

At 3:50 p.m. Tuesday, the Ainsworth department was called to assist the Johnstown department with a grass fire 2 miles north and 1 mile west of the Ainsworth Airport.

Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala said a center pivot was being erected on property owned by Gordon Hitchcock, and a welding torch ignited a grass fire.

Fiala said the fire was contained to approximately 1 acre, and no damage was reported.

As the firefighters returned to Ainsworth, they received a call of a gas leak in the 100 block of East Fifth Street.

Fiala said a gas line running from a main line to a gas grill on the property was struck, causing the line to leak.

Fire danger remains high on Wednesday, with dry, warm and windy conditions expected. However, the area is expected to receive moisture Thursday in the form of rain and snow that should alleviate, at least temporarily, the fire danger.

* Brown County taxable sales decline 8 percent in August

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 16)

Nebraska Department of Revenue
Comparison of August 2016 and August 2015 Net Taxable Sales
for Nebraska Counties and Selected Cities

County
or City

2016
Net Taxable
Sales

2015
Net Taxable
Sales

Percent
Change

2016
Sales Tax
5.5%

2015
Sales Tax
5.5%

Boyd

1,019,839

1,022,707

(0.3)

56,091.24

56,249.01

Brown

2,938,973

3,210,101

(8.4)

161,643.71

176,555.69

Ainsworth

2,801,837

3,036,076

(7.7)

154,101.21

166,984.31

Cherry

7,094,741

7,251,922

(2.2)

390,211.10

398,856.07

Valentine

6,898,461

7,014,380

(1.7)

379,415.68

385,791.19

Holt

10,101,666

9,080,272

11.2

555,592.39

499,415.55

Atkinson

1,587,310

1,535,351

3.4

87,302.24

84,444.43

O'Neill

7,199,365

6,428,735

12

395,965.45

353,580.75

Keya Paha

206,254

200,673

2.8

11,344.01

11,037.06

Rock

665,630

671,309

(0.8)

36,609.73

36,922.07

Valley

3,893,318

3,481,935

11.8

214,132.73

191,506.65

Ord

3,501,183

3,129,767

11.9

192,565.24

172,137.36

State Total

$2,530,822,906

$2,385,654,626

6.1

$139,208,811.07

$131,262,862.26

Nebraska Department of Revenue
Comparison of August 2016 and August 2015
Motor Vehicle Sales Tax Collections by County

County
or City

2016
Net Taxable
Sales

2015
Net Taxable
Sales

Percent
Change

2016
Sales Tax
5.5%

2015
Sales Tax
5.5%

Blaine

217,305

169,497

28.2

11,903.52

9,257.85

Boyd

529,401

462,928

14.4

29,219.54

25,465.78

Brown

1,033,867

1,021,353

1.2

57,159.11

56,466.27

Cherry

1,497,405

1,261,826

18.7

82,854.47

69,765.74

Custer

$2,696,412

$2,380,759

13.3

$149,177.32

$131,579.06

Holt

2,836,858

3,196,343

(11.2)

156,941.36

176,794.33

Keya Paha

218,368

363,395

(39.9)

12,018.13

20,016.53

Rock

350,482

392,105

(10.6)

19,294.09

21,598.41

Valley

978,003

1,008,502

(3.0)

54,247.38

55,762.85

State Total

$382,146,523

$353,642,984

8.1

$21,188,827.95

$19,599,244.45

* Fourth-grade students provide slide show of State Fair trip to school board

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 15)

During a short meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Monday, fourth-grade students Jordan Beatty, Gus Ganser and Jolyn Pozehl presented the board with a slide show of their September trip to the Nebraska State Fair.

An annual trip taken by the fourth-grade class, students were divided into groups of three and spent the day viewing the exhibits at the State Fair. Teacher Amanda Ganser said the class left Ainsworth at 6:30 a.m. and did not return until 6:30 p.m.

Beatty, Ganser and Pozehl described each photo and the information they learned from each booth.

During his report Monday, Superintendent Darrell Peterson said all board meeting information was now being posted on the school’s web site.

“This was one of the suggestions that came from the community engagement session,” Peterson said.

He said there was good conversation, and it gives the school a chance to look at things that can be done better. A report will be submitted to the school by the representatives from the Nebraska Association of School Boards, who conducted the community engagement session.

Due to a music concert, the board’s Dec. 12 meeting was moved to 8 a.m., and the January meeting was pushed back to 7 p.m. Jan. 16, the third Monday of the month instead of the traditional second Monday meeting.

Peterson also reported breakfast and lunch participation has increased through the first quarter of the school year compared to 2015-16. The district has a profit margin of a little less than $4,000 between August and October. The school lunch program is designed to be revenue neutral.

He said the district has not received enough donated local beef to make it through the school year, but the district appreciates everyone who has contributed toward the program that brings beef raised locally to the school lunch program.

The district received a $2,045 credit from Lunchtime Solutions in September for the local beef provided through the program that did not have to be purchased by the meal service company.

Secondary Principal Bill Lentz said he was impressed by the program the school hosted Friday for Veterans Day.

Elementary Principal Sarah Williams reported Educational Service Unit 17 staff has helped third-grade students take virtual field trips to the Henry Doorly Zoo at Omaha and to the Pike’s Place Fish Market at Seattle, Wash.

“This has been a great resource, and it is interactive,” Williams said.

She said the fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade classes would participate in a drone workshop offered by the ESU later this month.

Williams also reported Little Paws Preschool is looking for a co-teacher to assist the 31 students currently enrolled.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 8 a.m. Dec. 12.

* Long Pine receives $30,000 USDA grant to replace warning sirens

(Posted 1:30 p.m. Nov. 14)

USDA Rural Development Nebraska State Director Maxine Moul announced USDA is investing in five projects totaling $164,100 that will help rural Nebraska communities, including Long Pine, with needed improvements ranging from the purchase of an ambulance to a new roof for a county fair horse/cow building. 

Funding is made possible through the USDA Rural Development Community Facility Grant Program.

Long Pine will utilize a $30,000 USDA grant leveraged with $10,244 from the city to purchase and install two new emergency warning sirens that will replace two non-functioning sirens.

The other communities receiving funding were Walthill ($50,000), Guide Rock ($50,000), Nuckolls County Agricultural Society ($19,800) and Webster County ($14,300).

“The infrastructure of rural communities is essential and USDA Rural Development is pleased to be able to assist these Nebraska communities,” Moul said. 

* Elsmere's Scheer, Mullen's Dent win inaugural ERA World Rodeo Championships

(Posted 9:30 a.m. Nov. 14)

The world’s premier professional rodeo athletes and animals that represent the new Elite Rodeo Athletes (ERA) tour brought the year-long competition to a thrilling end Sunday in the American Airlines Center at Dallas, Texas, crowning 16 final event and overall champions and handing out more than $1 million in cash purse prizes.
“What started out as a fresh idea between a few cowboys on how we could advance and better the sport of rodeo turned into a dream-come-true this weekend in Dallas,” said ERA interim President Bobby Mote. “We couldn’t be happier with how the ERA World Championship turned out over three days at the American Airlines Center. Rodeo is a big part of Texas’ great heritage and boy did the ERA deliver to our fans.”

Cort Scheer of Elsmere was crowned the champion saddle bronc rider following the three rounds of the world championships, and Steven Dent of Mullen was the champion bareback rider. Lisa Lockhart finished as the champion in barrel racing, with Chandler Bownds the champion bull rider, Bray Armes the champion steer wrestler, Shane Hanchey the champion tie-down roper, and Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill the champion team ropers during the inaugural season.

Two big scores in saddle bronc highlighted the season’s final event in the popular, high flying discipline. And in the end the overall champ, Cort Scheer, and his 86-point ride was edged out in the final round by Iowa’s Wade Sundell and his 87-point ride.

Sundell, riding the horse they call “Out West,” would secure his second-place overall position in the ERA season standings with the win, but he finished 1,000 points back of Scheer for the overall title. Canada’s Zeke Thurston would place third overall in the standings, the only Canadian to make the ERA’s overall podium in in the opening season.
Scheer said, regarding his overall championship: “Unbelievable, you know? You watch all of your idols walk around with gold buckles all the time so it’ll be pretty cool to finally get to wear one.”
Like the grand finale of a fireworks display, Sunday’s bareback riding competition didn’t disappoint as the fans were brought to their feet not only by the podium trio of champion Steven Dent of Mullen, runner-up Bobby Mote of Oregon, and Kaycee Field of Utah in third, but also by the final retirement run of longtime great rodeo star Ryan Gray.

Dent’s 86-point run on the bucking horse they dubbed “Smack Daddy” was the weekend’s second-highest score, and easily the day’s top scoring bareback ride during Sunday’s final round.
Dent said, “I was just trying to stay calm and get a good seat before I nodded, things just worked out well after that. And on the title, it feels great. Just competing against the best guys in the world everyday just makes you better, and I’m humbled and feel blessed to be able to beat those guys. It’s unbelievable.”

* Rifle season begins Saturday for deer hunters, check-in locations open throughout area

(Posted 7:15 a.m. Nov. 11)

Deer season opens one-half hour before sunrise on Saturday and continues through one-half hour after sunset on Sunday, Nov. 20.

Deer may be checked in at the following locations:

Ainsworth – Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative Ampride on Highway 20.

Springview – Turbine Mart on Highway 183.

Bassett – Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Rock County Sheriff’s Department.

O’Neill – O’Neill Tire and Supply.

Valentine – Valentine Fish Hatchery.

Butte – Firehouse Café.

 

KBRB encourages hunters to email photos from their hunt to kbrb@sscg.net Please include high-resolution JPEG photos with the hunter, and not just the animal itself. Include the hunter's name, the date harvested, the county where the animal was harvested, and any other information, such as if it was a hunter's first deer, the number of points, any scoring that was done, whether it was a whitetail or mule deer etc.

Beginning Monday, KBRB will post photos to our annual hunting gallery, which can be found on our KBRB web site on the sports page.

 

Deer hunting is enjoyed by thousands of Nebraskans who want to put meat in their freezer and create memories and carry on traditions with friends and family. While enjoying the hunt, Nebraskans should make safety their top priority.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has the following reminders for the Nov. 12-20 firearm deer season:

— Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded, keep the firearm muzzle pointed in a safe direction, and keep your finger off of the trigger until you’re ready to fire.

— Know your target and what is beyond it, never pull the trigger unless you are sure your target is a deer, and know the potential distance of your shot.

— Use the firearm’s safety, but don’t rely on it, because safeties can fail.

— Don’t shoot at flat, hard surfaces or water, as bullets can ricochet.

— Unload firearms when climbing into and out of tree stands and when carrying them in a vehicle.

— Tell someone when and where you are hunting and when you expect to return home. Check in with them when you return. Avoid hunting alone, if possible.

— Have the proper clothing and gear for the weather, and keep an eye on the forecast.

— Check your hunting equipment to make sure everything is in proper working order, including your tree stand.

— Tree stand hunters should wear a fall-arrest system, use a haul line to raise and lower gear into your stand, and always maintain three points of contact when climbing.

— In Nebraska, anyone hunting deer under a firearm permit during a firearm season must display at least 400 square inches of hunter orange on their head, chest and back. This also applies to anyone archery hunting during the November firearm deer season and the January 1-15 deer season.

— Hunter education certification is required for some hunters.

* Ainsworth Public Library receives national award

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 11)

For the first time, the Ainsworth Public Library has received a three star rating in Library Journal’s Index of Public Library Service 2016.

The Library Journal Index gives an overall indication of how libraries stack up to their peers nationally. Over 7,300 libraries across the nation were evaluated for the America’s Star Libraries report, with only 12 libraries in Nebraska receiving the award. 

To be recognized as one of the top libraries in the nation, the libraries were rated on five separate categories:  number of visitors, rate of circulation, attendance at local programs, internet usage, and electronic circulation.

The complete report on the Ainsworth Public Library is posted on the bulletin board in the library for those who would like to view it.

Library Director Gail Irwin said the library could not have achieved the national recognition without exceptional library patrons.

“Thank you to our library patrons, our fantastic community partners, our library staff, our Library Board of Trustees, and our Library Foundation Board for making us an America’s Star Library,” Irwin said.

* City Council approves 3 LB 840 applications totaling $190,000 Wednesday

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 10)

Following a trio of public hearings Wednesday, the Ainsworth City Council approved several applications for LB 840 funds totaling $190,000.

The largest of the applications was for $100,000 to be used toward local business improvements.

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson said local businesses would apply to a committee for funding to be used toward improving their business. The committee would set up guidelines.
She said businesses making improvements to their facilities would help increase the city’s tax base.

NCDC also applied for $60,000 in LB 840 funding to assist in developing workforce in the community.

Olson said, during recent business visits, recruiting quality workforce was the top issue identified by business owners.

“Several other communities are utilizing workforce recruitment funds,” she said.

Olson said a committee would be established to review applications from businesses seeking workforce recruitment assistance, and the businesses would be required to providing matching funds.

“Some businesses may want to help an employee with moving expenses,” Olson said. “Some may want to offer a sign-on bonus. Some may want to provide education assistance.”

The council unanimously approved the applications for LB 840 funding, and also approved a third LB 840 application from a business in the amount of $30,000 to be used toward working capital and purchasing equipment.

Olson said the loan to the business, at 4 percent interest, would create a job in Ainsworth and would be a benefit to the business community by allowing the service-based business to set up shop in the community.

She said a guarantee on the loan was provided by the owners of the business, and the city would take a position on the equipment purchased until the five-year note was paid.

NCDC Board members Doug Weiss and Kim Buckley presented the council with the development center’s proposed budget for 2017.

Weiss said the NCDC budget committee met to discuss a shortfall for 2017 after the city reduced its contribution by $5,000 and Brown County reduced its contribution by $1,000.

After a few years of trying to have office staff handle both NCDC and Chamber of Commerce duties, the two boards agreed to end that arrangement and the chamber has relocated to another business. The chamber had been providing $12,000 annually to the NCDC for rent, utilities and staff.

“We made some pretty deep cuts to our programs to make up for the loss of the chamber funds, but we don’t feel we can make any more cuts to account for the loss of contributing partner funding without severely affecting the programs we administer,” Weiss said.

Weiss said the NCDC has shown the city a return on its investment, and he requested the city take action to restore the $5,000 that was cut from its contribution.

Councilman Chuck Osborn encouraged the NCDC to provide the council with an application for LB 840 funding to make up the difference for 2017.

“Then, we can revisit the contribution from the general fund next year,” Osborn said. “I think that is the cleanest way to address it this year.”

Weiss said, if the council favored that route for this year, the NCDC would submit an application to the LB 840 program to account for the cuts in the general contribution by the city.

In other business Wednesday, Mayor Larry Rice said he is trying to coordinate downtown snow removal between business owners, snow removal contractors and the city streets department.

“If we can coordinate the snow removal, it would fix some problems,” Rice said.

He said the streets department is typically forced to go back and clean Main Street three or four times due to snow being cleared from the sidewalks at different times and pushed into the street.

Councilman Greg Soles said vehicles left parked on Main Street overnight present a problem as well.

“That makes it tough to work around,” Soles said.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the city first clears the emergency routes, Main Street and around the school, then breaks the city into four quadrants and clears neighborhood streets one quadrant at a time with the first quadrant rotating each snow event.

“I know our guys would find it helpful if the sidewalks on Main Street could all be cleared prior to traffic parking on Main Street for the workday,” Schroedl said.

The council discussed options for having contracted snow removers coordinate the time that snow is removed, and potentially having some kind of agreement between the city, the contractors and the business owners to make the snow removal process more efficient.

No official action was taken, as Rice said he would continue to work with the parties on a solution.

During his report, Rice reported the Ainsworth Lions Club was planning to spend $2,000 on benches to donate to the Courthouse Park, $5,000 for a new swing set, and $3,000 toward equipment repairs at city parks.

During her report, Schroedl said she was approached by a resident about the city potentially being willing to sell a windmill that was located on city property northeast of Ainsworth on land the city leases as farm ground.

The council gave Schroedl the go-ahead to research the issue and move forward with selling the windmill if no issues were discovered.

She also reported the city plans to hold another free tree limb pickup day Nov. 29 if the weather holds. She reported there was good response during the free tree limb pickup day in the spring, and there have been several requests for another.

The consent agenda approved Wednesday included the appointment of Cody Goochey to the Ainsworth Park Board to fill a vacancy created by Jason Adkisson moving from the community, and also included a special designated liquor license for the Farmers-Ranchers Cooperative to serve alcohol during a Jan. 5 event in the Ainsworth Conference Center.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Dec. 14 in the Conference Center.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:15 a.m. Nov. 10)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a two-vehicle accident that occurred Wednesday, Nov. 9, in Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 12:06 p.m. Wednesday at the intersection of North Main and Fifth streets, a collision occurred between an eastbound 2009 Chevy sedan, driven by Candra Glinsman, 46, of Sargent, and a 2002 Ford van, driven by Donna Kegley of Ainsworth.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Chevy, owned by Donald Coslor of Sargent, was estimated at $1,500. The Ford, owned by Home Health Medical Equipment, sustained approximately $1,000 damage.

* Ainsworth Red team advances to District Final to face Ainsworth Blue in Mock Trial

(Posted 6:15 a.m. Nov. 10)

In a Mock Trial elimination round held in the Brown County Courthouse Wednesday, Ainsworth Red defeated Valentine to advance to the district final against Ainsworth Blue.  The Red Team, portraying the defense, won in a unanimous decision by attorney judges Kyle Peterson, Bill Erickson and Jim Duncan of Broken Bow.

The loss, coupled with a previous loss to Ainsworth Blue, eliminated Valentine from the district competition.

The district final will be held at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, in the Rock County Courthouse at Bassett.

Ainsworth Blue will represent the State of Nebraska, and Ainsworth Red will defend Blake Brando, who is accused of first degree murder.

If Ainsworth Blue prevails, the team advances to state competition at Lincoln.  If Ainsworth Red wins, the teams will switch sides and have a second 9 a.m. final on Friday, Nov. 18, in the Holt County Courthouse at O’Neill.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted noon Nov. 9)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a two-vehicle accident that occurred Tuesday, Nov. 8, in Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 5:23 p.m. Tuesday on Main Street near the Highway 20 intersection, a collision occurred between a 1997 Chevy pickup, driven by Cole Sundquist, 17, of Ainsworth, and a 2002 Toyota sedan, driven by Sydney Graff, 17, of Long Pine.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Chevy was estimated at $500. The Toyota sustained approximately $1,500 damage.

* 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 Peña, 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.

* Agenda for Wednesday Ainsworth City Council meeting

(Posted 8 p.m. Nov. 8)

Ainsworth City Council
Meeting 7 p.m. Nov. 9
Ainsworth Conference Center
Agenda

1.                  Roll Call

 

2.                  *Approval of consent agenda

All items listed with an asterisk (*) are considered to be routine by the City Council and will be enacted by one motion.  There will be no separate discussion of these items unless a Council member or a citizen so requests, in which event the item will be removed from consent status and considered in its normal sequence on the agenda

 

3.                  *Minutes of the previous meetings: 10/12/2016; 10/27/2016

 

4.                  *Treasurer’s report

 

5.                  *Department Head Reports

 

6.                  *Claims

 

7.                  *Application for special designated liquor license for Farmers Ranchers Coop to serve alcohol at their event at the Ainsworth Conference Center on January 5, 2017 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

 

8.                  *Mayoral Appointment recommendation:

 

Park Board:  Cody Goochey with a term expiring 1/1/2018 to fill a vacancy left by Jason Adkisson

 

9.                  Hearing to review the LB 840 2016-03 application in the amount of $60,000 for workforce development

 

10.              Hearing to review the LB 840 2016-04 application in the amount of $100,000 for local business improvements

 

11.              Hearing to review the LB 840 2016-05 application in the amount of $35,000 for working capital and equipment purchase

 

12.              Budget report from NCDC – Doug Weiss

 

13.              Discuss and consider the mayor’s recommendations of two appointments for positions on the Economic Reuse Plan Review /LB 840 Loan Committee

 

14.              Discuss the City of Ainsworth’s snow removal procedures

 

15.              Discuss and consider potential sale of a windmill on City property

 

16.              Report from City Administrator/Clerk/Treasurer Schroedl

 

17.              Mayor’s report

* Saturday accident in Long Pine hills claims life of 42-year-old Ainsworth man

(Posted 9:15 a.m. Nov. 8)

A one-vehicle accident Saturday evening on Highway 20 claimed the life of a 42-year-old Ainsworth man.

According to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, at 8:12 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, on Highway 20 just east of the Long Pine Spur intersection, a 1991 Nissan sedan, driven by Javier Hugo Garcia, 42, of Ainsworth, was traveling east when the vehicle drove onto the south shoulder of the highway.

The vehicle overcorrected and began to skid sideways, crossing into the westbound lane and then rolling in the north ditch before coming to rest on its top.

Garcia was pronounced dead at the scene. The Ainsworth and Long Pine Volunteer Fire departments and the Brown County Ambulance Association responded to the accident in addition to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.

The Nissan, owned by Ricardo Moreno of Grand Island, was a total loss.

* School Board hears suggestions, concerns during community engagement session

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 8)

More than 50 residents took part in a community engagement session with Ainsworth Community Schools board members and staff Monday.

Hosted by representatives from the Nebraska Association of School Boards, those attending were asked about their expectations for the school and the characteristics that made for a quality school environment.

“Kudos to your board for engaging its stakeholders,” Moderator Marsha Herring with the NASB said. “The community and the school district have to work hand in hand, and the board wants to learn the community’s expectations.”

Carl Dietz with the NASB, the former superintendent of Ogallala Public Schools, said he was impressed with the students he spoke with and the positive things they said about Ainsworth Community Schools and the community.

“About half told us they would be willing to come back here to live,” Dietz said.

Broken into groups, those in attendance were then asked several questions relating to the school. The following are the questions asked and the responses received.

 

1. Describe the characteristics of a quality school climate and learning environment.

* Safe environment for students and staff.

* Communication between the school and parents.

* Hiring teachers who engage with both students and parents.

* Teaching life skills to all students, preparing all for the future and the workforce, not just the high-ability learners who plan to go to a four-year school.

 

2. As a vested district patron, what are your expectations and priorities for the Ainsworth school district?

* Students have the knowledge when they leave to pursue any career they choose.

* Teaching life skills.

* Encouraging participation in activities to make the students well-rounded.

* Assisting students from families who struggle economically to reach their full potential.

* Instilling confidence in students to achieve their goals.

* Providing options for all different types of learners.

* Finding qualified staff to fill open positions.

* Being responsive to a changing community, with a growing language barrier for some students.

 

3. What can the Ainsworth school district do to grow parent, community member and business leader involvement and partnership with the school?

* Take students into the community, visit the businesses, senior center, nursing home, and volunteer with community service organizations.

* Make school board meeting agendas more informative so patrons know what the specific topics will be and have the information ahead of time to decide if they want to attend the meeting and provide input.

* Make plans known ahead of time for infrastructure improvements, curriculum changes, by utilizing a one- and three-year plan.

* Expand the COE program to younger students and bring more students and resources into the program. This would provide students with additional mentors.

 

4. What challenges will the district and community face in the next three to five years that may impact the school district?

* Shrinking class sizes and possible consolidation.

* Filling staff openings, and finding quality staff members to replace retiring teachers.

* Financing the school, with a difficult economic environment for agriculture.

* Additional second-language learners.

* Additional transportation for school activities due to consolidation.

* Making sure people who move into the area feel connected to the school and the community.

 

5. Are there specific ways in which you and the school can collaborate to enhance educational opportunities for Ainsworth students?

* Expanding the COE program.

* Having students become a part of community organizations.

* Have business leaders come to the school to provide information to the students about what they do and the opportunities that are here.

* Be positive about the school so students receive the message that the school is a positive place to be.

* Continue the efforts of a steering committee consisting of parents, students and staff to provide input to the district.

 

Following the session, those in attendance were given a chance to provide additional feedback. Members of the Board of Education, who participated in the session through a special meeting, thanked those in attendance for providing their input.

The board will meet in regular session at 7 p.m. Nov. 14.

* Polls open at 8 a.m. Tuesday

(Posted 7 a.m. Nov. 7)

Brown County voters will cast their ballots for the General Election Tuesday in the Ainsworth Conference Center. All Rock County voters will utilize the Bassett Fire Hall to vote, and Keya Paha County voters will cast their ballots in the Springview Elementary School multipurpose room.

Polls on Election Day are open from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

 Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton are on the ballot for the presidency, and voters in Nebraska will also see Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein on the ballot.

Another major choice Nebraska voters will make will be whether to retain the Nebraska Legislature’s decision to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska in favor of a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, or whether to repeal the Legislature’s decision and restore the death penalty in the state.

Referendum 426 will ask the voters to choose to “Retain” the Legislature’s decision to eliminate the death penalty, or “Repeal” the Legislature’s decision and keep the death penalty as an option when a person is charged with first-degree murder.

Neither of Nebraska’s two U.S. Senate seats are up this year, and 3rd District Rep. Adrian Smith is running unopposed for another two-year term in the House of Representatives.

One of the few contested races for Brown County and Keya Paha County voters to help decide is for a four-year term in the Nebraska Legislature, with 43rd District State Sen. Al Davis running for re-election against challenger Tom Brewer.

Republican Mary Ridder, after defeating incumbent Jerry Vap by the narrowest of margins in the Primary Election, is running unopposed Nov. 8 for the District 5 seat on the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Bob Phares is running unopposed for another term on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Keith Harvey is unopposed for the Northeast Community College District 2 Board of Governors seat. However, there is a contested race for an at-large seat on the NECC Board of Governors between Ted Hillman and Jeffrey Scherer.

In Brown County, Long Pine voters are being asked whether Mayor Beverly Newport should be removed from office. There are three candidates – Joyce Micheel, Aaron Miller and Teresa Lemunyan, running for two seats on the Long Pine City Council.

Deb Hurless is running for re-election to the Ainsworth City Council. There are two council seats open. While Hurless is the only candidate who will appear on the ballot, Greg Soles, Melissa Wenger and Schyler Schenk have filed as write-in candidates for the council.

Voters will have the option to darken the oval and write in one or both of those three candidates.

Incumbents Brad Wilkins and Mark Johnson and former board member Scott Erthum are running for three seats on the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education.

Renee Adkisson is unopposed for another term on the Educational Service Unit 17 Board of Directors.

Republican Buddy Small is running unopposed for another four-year term on the Brown County Board of Commissioners.

Two candidates – Randy Welke and Dan West – are running for two seats on the Johnstown Village Board.

Rock County voters have a referendum on the General Election ballot, and will be asked whether to allow Rock County, on behalf of the Rock County Ambulance Association, to expand the permissible use of a previously passed 1-cent additional levy to allow those funds to be used for medical equipment, supplies and training of personnel in addition to the sinking fund for the purpose of purchasing and equipping an ambulance.

Voters in Rock County will be asked to vote either “For” or “Against” expanding the use of the 1-cent ambulance levy.

There are few contested races in Rock County. There are two candidates – Sam Coulter and Rod Stolcpart – running for the Rock County seat on the KBR Rural Public Power Board of Directors.

Leah Hagan, Teresa Wiiest and Tim Shaw are running for three seats on the Rock County Public Schools Board of Education.

After winning a Primary Election race, Republican Dustin Craven is running unopposed for a four-year term on the Rock County Board of Commissioners.

Michael Turpin and Reno Gordon are running for two open seats on the Bassett City Council, and Gary Williams is running unopposed for another term as Bassett’s mayor.

Rick Anderson, Steven Kreitman and Bernie Hart are running for three, six-year terms on the Rock County Airport Authority.

There are two seats open for the Newport Village Board, but there are no candidates who have filed for those seats.

Roxie Lindquis is unopposed for a seat on the Educational Service Unit 17 Board of Directors.

The only contested race in Keya Paha County is for the county’s seat on the KBR Rural Public Power District Board of Directors, with Meredith Worth and Kirk Sharp running for that seat.

Brian Munger, Tanya Hallock and Erik Johnson are running for three seats on the Keya Paha County Public Schools Board of Education, and Ernest Hallock and David Lewis are running for two seats on the Springview Village Board.

Republican Mike Tuerk, after winning a Primary Election race, is running unopposed for another term as the West District Keya Paha County Commissioner.

Voters in the area will be asked whether or not several judges should be retained in office.

Judges up for retention include Chief Justice Michael Heavican to the Nebraska Supreme Court and John Wright to the District 6 seat on the Supreme Court.

Frankie Moore is up for retention to the District 6 seat on the Court of Appeals.

Daniel Fridrich, John Hoffert and James Coe are up for retention to the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court.

Karin Noakes is up for retention as a District Court Judge for District 8, as is Tami Schendt.

There are several Natural Resources District races in Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties that have either one or no candidates running for office.

More information on the 2016 General Election can be found on the Nebraska Secretary of State’s web site at www.sos.ne.gov.

* Foundation develops Facebook page; receives $30,000 donation to Endowment Fund

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 4)

The Brown County Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee is encouraging those with ties to the county to “Like” the foundation’s newly developed Facebook page. The Advisory Committee will post announcements, news and upcoming campaigns to the page. 
Contributions to the Endowment Account in the past month totaled $31,400. Of the total, $30,000 was from an anonymous donor, which came as a surprise to the committee, and with great appreciation. This month’s donations will result in a $15,700 match from The Sherwood Foundation.  
The Ainsworth Community School’s beef processing account received a $200 donation.
The next meeting of the Brown County Community Foundation Fund Advisory Committee is scheduled for 5 p.m. Dec. 5.

* Traffic Accident

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Nov. 3)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department investigated a two-vehicle accident that occurred Wednesday, Nov. 2, in Ainsworth.
According to the sheriff’s department report, at 4:03 p.m. Tuesday on Maple Street near the Eighth Street intersection, a collision occurred between a 2011 Ford pickup, driven by Jacob Johnson, 31, of Atkinson, and a 2007 Ford pickup, driven by John Halbersleben, 70, of Ainsworth.
No injuries were reported. Damage to the Halbersleben Ford was estimated at $1,000. The 2011 Ford, owned by Black Hills Gas Distribution, did not sustain any damage.

* Commissioners approve crack-seal work for Elsmere Road

(Posted 10:30 a.m. Nov. 1)

The Brown County Commissioners on Tuesday gave Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin the go-ahead to secure crack-seal work for asphalt surfaces on the Elsmere Road and the road running north from Highway 20 to the KBR Solid Waste Transfer Station.

Turpin said Topkote provided a quote of 57 cents per foot for the crack-sealing work.

“We have $150,000 in our asphalt budget,” Turpin said. “I would like to use between $40,000 and $50,000 of that to crack seal those two roads.”

Turpin said he wanted to keep up with crack-seal work on the Elsmere Road instead of falling behind and having the road surface become compromised.

In another roads item Tuesday, the board, with Chairman Buddy Small absent, approved a safety committee recommendation to require roads department employees to wear steel-toed protective boots during working hours.

The commissioners approved reimbursing the employees $40 each toward the cost of the boots. Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus, who serves on the county’s safety committee, said the steel-toed boots could help prevent an injury to a roads employee’s foot if an object fell on it that would otherwise lead to a worker’s compensation claim and lost productivity.

Turpin reported the roads department replaced planking on a canal bridge deck located just north of Ainsworth on North Ash Street. He said the department would soon haul white rock from a stockpile in South Dakota, as the county was running low on that material.

The board approved a budgeted $250,000 transfer from the county’s miscellaneous general fund to the highway fund.

In other business Tuesday, BKR Extension Educator Pat Jones asked the county to appoint Clisty Taylor to the BKR Extension Board for a three-year term. Taylor replaces Andrew Paddock, who completed his term, on the Extension Board. The commissioners made the appointment.

Treasurer Deb Vonheeder presented the board with a delinquent property tax report. She said there was $6,116 in unpaid personal property tax from the 2015 tax year that will be submitted to the sheriff’s department for distress warrants to be issued.

She said $271,606 in real estate tax was delinquent. Of that total $260,254 is from the 2015 tax year, which just became delinquent Sept. 1. Only $11,000 in real estate tax is overdue from prior to 2015.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Nov. 15.

* 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.

* Commissioners tackle numerous items during lengthy meeting Tuesday

(Posted 7 a.m. Oct. 19)

The Brown County Agricultural Society received the go-ahead Tuesday to begin work on replacing the chutes and pens at the Fairgrounds Arena, with the County Commissioners agreeing to front money from the county’s inheritance tax fund to pay for the renovations.

Ag Society representatives Tim Iverson, Dave Sherman and Kenny Eggers provided the board with details on the estimated $65,000 project, which will replace all the chutes and gates at the arena and also bring in dirt to raise the elevation and help keep water from standing.

“The initial bids came in pretty high,” Iverson said. “We did some work on the blueprints and came up with a project that will work monetarily.”

Sherman said there will be a lot of donated labor with the project, and he asked if the county roads department would be willing to haul in the dirt this fall after the old chutes and gates are torn out.

“We would like to get everything torn out this fall so it has a chance to get settled for the spring,” Sherman said.

Sherman said the Ag Society needed an indication from the county on if it would be willing to help finance the project now. The commissioners included $20,000 toward the project in its 2016-17 budget, but the price tag is a little more than three times that total.

“We want to get on the same page so we know if we can tear out the old chutes and gates yet this fall,” Sherman said. “We can’t do the project in parts. Would you rather we wait three years at $20,000 per year before doing this?”

Eggers said he worried the price tag for the project would be $85,000 if the Ag Society waited for two more $20,000 allocations from the county.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said, “When I do a project, I want to get it done. The original plan was for us to do $20,000 each of the next three years. I am not opposed to taking money from the inheritance tax fund and then paying it back over the next three years.”

Wiebelhaus said the current chutes present a safety issue at the fairgrounds.

“It is time to either do something or let it go,” Wiebelhaus said.

Commissioner Buddy Small said he agreed the Ag Society should go ahead and get started on the project this fall.

The board agreed to pay for the cost of the project using the $20,000 allocated to the Ag Society for the 2016-17 year, with the remainder coming from the inheritance tax fund. The county will then continue to budget an additional $20,000 annually to the Ag Society, with those funds used to pay back the inheritance tax fund.

In other business, the board, following a lengthy discussion on the procedure and the lack of implementing a surveyor, approved a subdivision request for Nathan Johnson for a 5-plus acre parcel northwest of Ainsworth that Johnson plans to use for a home site on property currently owned by his grandfather, Brent Johnson.

Zoning Administrator Dean Jochem said, if someone wants to build a home in the country, they have to have at least a 5-acre tract.

“Typically, a surveyor goes out to the property and surveys out at least 5 acres,” Jochem said. “This deals with a house that Nate Johnson has purchased and moved onto the property. They do not have a zoning permit yet. Their attorney drew up a legal description that does not match.”

Jochem said the legal description provided by the attorney looks like it includes a portion of a neighboring property.

“I can’t recommend approval like this,” Jochem said. “I am upset that, in order to save a few bucks, an official survey was not done. The only thing that is going to solve this is to have a legal survey done. Then, any liability is the responsibility of the surveyor.”

County Assessor Charleen Fox said a survey would be more precise than the legal description provided, but that description did show the parcel to be 5.92 acres, which is what she would use for assessment purposes.

Mark Johnson said he didn’t understand how something so simple needed to become so complicated, as the land currently belongs to his father and would be going to his son for a home site. He said they had measured the site and it met the county’s requirements.

Wiebelhaus said he understood the Johnsons’ hesitation to pay for the cost of a survey.

“If I was just going to buy 5 or 6 acres, the last thing I would want to do is spend $2,500 on a survey,” Wiebelhaus said.

Small said,” We don’t want to make things difficult for anyone, but we want to keep this clean. Would you consider having a survey done?”

County Attorney David Streich said it appeared there was enough cushion that the county’s 5-acre rule was satisfied. He said it was unclear if a subdivision was even necessary, though subdivisions have been standard practice in the past.

Streich commended Jochem for identifying the potential boundary issues in the legal description, as that document would be included with the deed to the property and could affect any future sale of the parcel.

“In terms of the zoning permit, I believe they qualify,” Streich said.

Following discussion on having the Johnsons modify the legal description to ensure it does not include any of the neighboring property, the board approved the subdivision request.

Also Tuesday, North Central Development Center Board members Kim Buckley, Greg Soles and Doug Weiss approached the commissioners about the county’s decision to cut $1,000 from its contribution to the NCDC.

“We are visiting all our contributing partners to let them know what the office is doing,” Buckley said. “We see you lowered your amount to the NCDC, and when we see what the NCDC has done to increase the valuation in the county, we wonder what your expectations are for the office?”

Soles said the NCDC Board would have to figure out the office’s budget soon, and wanted to know the county’s rationale for the cut.

Commissioner Les Waits said any group that gets taxpayer money submits a budget to the commissioners.

“That gives the board an idea of how those dollars are being spent,” Waits said. “Right now, no one knows what is going on.”

Buckley said each contributing partner has a representative on the NCDC’s Board, and each gets a copy of the budget annually.

Small, who represents the county on the NCDC Board, said, several times, he has been told something is confidential.

“The other boards I am on, nothing is confidential to the board members,” Small said.

NCDC Director Kristin Olson said Community Development Block Grant and Housing and Urban Development regulations require any information relating to low to moderate income applications be kept confidential.

“Only the loan committee knows the applicant’s identity,” Olson said. “The loan committee receives the application and then makes a recommendation to the City Council. All the NCDC office does is process the applications.”

Small said, when a director asks a question, he would like an explanation if something is confidential.

“I find it insulting when I am told it is confidential when I ask a question,” Small said.

Olson said she serves on the Central Nebraska Housing Developers Board, which handles owner-occupied housing rehabilitation projects.

“The policy is the same,” Olson said. “We only see a number, not a name.”

Weiss said the NCDC apparently has a public relations problem that needs to be rectified.

“We need the county on board so we can continue to move forward,” Weiss said. “Everyone needs to take a step back and look at the results. Sometimes economic development is messy, but things are getting done.”
Buckley said, as a business owner, he looks at is the return he sees on investments he makes.

“If I make a $10,000 investment and I get a $20,000-plus return, why would I not continue to invest?” Buckley said. “I certainly wouldn’t make a cut. This office has grown immensely in the past 10 years in terms of the projects it has taken on. We have a limited budget, and when it is cut it limits how much we can do.”

Olson said one of the main goals of the NCDC is to increase the tax base in the county.

“We are delivering that to our partners,” Olson said. “We are giving a return on your investment. I am frustrated too. We are out there doing a lot of projects. Sometimes the projects land, sometimes they don’t. I am always happy to answer any questions I can.”

Olson said the NCDC obtained a $90,000 grant for the county to replace the heating and air-conditioning in the courthouse and sheriff’s department, money that would have otherwise come from the taxpayers.

More than $400,000 was raised during the 2012 wildfires, much of which went to fire departments. More than $58,000 was raised for the care center, including $19,000 to employees who were not getting paid by their former employer.

She said professional recruitment efforts helped land two doctors for the Brown County Hospital.

“The professional recruitment funds mean that money is not having to come out of the hospital’s or county’s budget,” Olson said.

She said recent housing and commercial projects have added millions of dollars to the county’s valuation, increasing the tax base.

No action was taken, but the commissioners thanked the NCDC representatives for explaining its efforts and agreed to continue a dialogue going forward.

Hospital Administrator Shannon Sorensen and Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wood provided the board with the results of the hospital’s 2016 audit.

Wood said the audit showed no major deficiencies, only routine deficiencies related to the segregation of duties.

“That is written into about every audit for smaller entities,” Wood said. “There were no significant changes to our balance sheet.”

Wood said the hospital had an operating margin of 3.8 percent in its recently completed fiscal year, compared to an average operating margin of 1.8 percent among hospitals of similar size in the state.

She said the hospital had 168 days of cash on hand for hospital operations, well above the average of similarly-sized hospitals.

Opening a bid, the board approved the lone $40,340 quote from MIPS Inc. to microfilm documents in the county clerk’s office.

Clerk Travee Hobbs said the county didn’t have an option, as the microfilming work was required by the state.

“It will be next fall before they can get here, so this can be included in next year’s budget,” Hobbs said.

In a roads item, the board approved an $84,925 quote from Norfolk Contracting to replace a canal bridge on 429th Avenue near Road 879.

The board also asked Streich and Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin to draw up a sale contract of the county’s 1991 motor grader to the city of Ainsworth for $30,000.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for Nov. 1.

* City Council approves abating nuisance violations on 2 properties

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Oct. 13)

The Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday approved moving forward with abating nuisance violations on two properties in the city.

Central Nebraska Economic Development District Director Judy Peterson, who serves as the city’s nuisance abatement officer, said, of the five properties that remained with nuisance violations after inspections between Elm Street and Main Street from Highway 20 south, three of the property owners had either provided a written plan for addressing the violations or had filed for a demolition permit with the city to completely remove a structure.

“Some of the five have been cleaned up a little, but all five are still in the same condition,” Peterson said.

By a 3-0 vote with Councilman Chuck Osborn absent, the council approved moving forward with abatement on the two parcels where the owner did not provide a plan for correcting the violations, with the cost of the abatement billed to the property owner.

Peterson also serves as the Community Development Block Grant economic development reuse fund administrator for the city, and provided the council Wednesday with an updated set of guidelines for the CDBG revolving loan fund.

The council plans to utilize the remaining CDBG revolving loan funds toward its commitment to the Sandhills Care Center.

Peterson said she had submitted the previous revisions made to the program guidelines to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. She said DED came back with additional changes.

The council approved the changes to the revolving loan fund guidelines as presented.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved a cost-share agreement with Denny Bauer of DBK Farms to rebuild irrigation ditch pads on city property that Bauer leases.

“Occasionally those ditch pads need to be rebuilt,” Bauer said. “It has probably been 20 years or more since any work was done on them.”

Bauer asked the council pay for 50 percent of the cost of the ditch repair work with a cap of $500. Bauer said he would pay for the other 50 percent, and if the total project costs more than $1,000, he would take care of it.

The council also approved a three-year renewal with the Sandhills Chapter of Pheasants Forever to allow the group to continue to conduct its youth mentor hunt on city property east of Ainsworth.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the previous agreement expired in September, and she recommended the council renew the agreement for three years with the same terms.

The city renewed its group health insurance plan with Coventry. Schroedl said the premiums increased 9.1 percent for the upcoming year for the same high deductible and co-pay after increasing by 12.8 percent the previous year. She said the city uses the high-deductible plan, then self-insures for part of the deductible.

During her report, Schroedl said the Brown County Sheriff’s Department has had to ban one person from city parks after receiving reports of people loitering and sleeping in the city parks.

She said the Brown County Commissioners offered the city its 1991 motor grader for $30,000 if the city had interest in the machine. The county was upgrading equipment and could receive $30,000 if it traded in the used machine. She said Streets Foreman Monte Goshorn had met with the county roads department crew to look at the machine.

During his report, Mayor Larry Rice said irrigation pipe at the cemetery was run over and damaged recently, but the driver was observed and ticketed by the sheriff’s department. Damage to the pipe was approximately $500.

He also said the ticket stand building at the entrance to East City Park was recently struck by a vehicle and damaged.

Rice said Modern Woodman representative Stan Libolt donated $250 to plant six new trees on the north side of East City Park.

Rice informed the council that three public hearings had been advertised to be held Wednesday, but due to Osborn being absent from the meeting and some question as to whether any of the council members would abstain from voting on any of the LB 840 loan applications, the hearings were postponed.

Schroedl said, if there was a question about whether there would be a majority vote by the council following any of the hearings, she was not clear on the procedure and had asked City Attorney Rod Palmer for guidance.

Palmer said it would be up to each council member individually to determine whether or not they have a personal conflict on any issue that is brought before the council.

Councilman Greg Soles said one of the LB 840 loan applications scheduled for a hearing Wednesday was time sensitive, and the applicant had already been delayed once after initially applying to the CDBG re-use loan program and then being shuttled to the LB 840 program after the CDBG funds were potentially allocated for the care center.

“One of these applicants cannot wait for another month,” Soles said.

Rice said the city would re-publicize the hearing notices and hold a special meeting on the soonest allowable date.

The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 9.

* Care Center passes fire marshal's inspection; rates set ahead of November opening

(Posted 7 a.m. Oct. 4)

Resident rates for the Sandhills Care Center were set Monday on a scale based on the level of care needed.

The Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board approved the private pay schedule rate as presented by representatives from Rural Health Development.

The rate for a resident needing a standard level of care is $193 per day for a semi-private room, and $218 per day for a private room.

Walt Dye with Rural Health Development said the rates will be competitive with other facilities in the area.

“These rates are comparable to Stuart’s rates,” Dye said. “These are right in the ballpark with other facilities in western Nebraska.”

Dye also recommended the board increase the rates by 2 percent to 3 percent annually, as the costs to operate a nursing home typically increase by 4 percent to 8 percent annually.

“If you increase the rates by 2 percent to 3 percent each year, it helps you avoid having to take a larger jump down the road,” Dye said.

Care Center Administrator Stephanie Rucker reported the facility passed the fire marshal’s inspection and received a certificate of occupancy Sept. 26. She said RHD then submitted its application for licensure to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“They can call anytime within 30 calendar days of when the application was submitted to schedule a visit,” Rucker said.

She said the facility would be licensed by DHHS by Oct. 27 at the latest, and could accept residents at any point after the licensure is received.

She said interviews were scheduled with several Certified Nurses Assistants, and the facility had hired two LPNs.

Rucker said the personnel needed to receive the licensure were in place. She said 16 resident applications have been received, though the facility would not be able to accept all 16 right away.

Two residents would be admitted initially, and the facility would then need to become Medicare and Medicaid certified. Once that certification is received, the facility would then begin adding additional residents.

Brown County Hospital Administrator Shannon Sorensen presented the Care Center Board with a title to a 2011 Ford bus that previously belonged to the Ainsworth Care Center.

Sorensen said the Hospital Board of Trustees voted to donate the bus to the Sandhills Care Center.

“Our goal was to make sure the bus did not leave the community,” Sorensen said. “It is a nice vehicle.”

Board Chairman Kent Taylor thanked the hospital for the donation, and the board approved having Taylor sign the bill of sale for the vehicle.

The board opened two bids, both from Ainsworth Motors, for a minivan to replace the 1994 van it currently owned. Ainsworth Motors submitted a bid of $10,900 for a 2011 Ford Flex van with 105,000 miles, and a bid of $9,025 for a 2010 Dodge Caravan with 80,000 miles.

After receiving the donation of the bus, the board opted not to approve the purchase of a van. After contacting Ainsworth Motors, board member Jim Walz said the dealership would honor either bid in a month if the vans were not sold to another buyer.

During a renovation committee report, Dick Schipporeit said there was a concern with the roof at the Sandhills Care Center.

“The valleys are not in very good shape,” Schipporeit said. “Century Lumber has agreed to donate the material to fix the valleys, and Frank Williams has agreed to supervise the repairs.”

Schipporeit thanked members of the Ainsworth United Methodist Church, who have volunteered numerous hours helping to renovate the building and grounds.

Taylor said he was grateful for all of the volunteer help and donations that have been received. The donations and volunteer hours have reduced the amount of money needed to get the building to the point it passed code and was ready to accept residents.

Rucker said approximately $74,000 has been spent currently in payroll and operating costs to get to this point.

Walz said the $70,000 to $80,000 was going to be well below the initial estimate of $150,000.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into with that building,” Walz said.

The North Central Development Center, after months of work, negotiated for the building to be donated to the NCDC by its previous owner, RP Midwest. NCDC subsequently turned the building over to the Ainsworth-Brown County Care Center Board in exchange for the legal costs to complete the transaction.

By a 3-2 vote, the board approved having the Sandhills Care Center be a tobacco free campus. During its September meeting, the board indicated it was not in favor of a tobacco free campus and had RHD create an amended policy creating a designated smoking area outside the building for residents and staff.

However, three of the five board members indicated, after spending time thinking about the issue, they were in favor of RHD’s original recommendation to keep the entire campus tobacco free.

With board members Walz and Chuck Osborn voting against, the board approved the tobacco free campus policy.

The board heard proposals from Juan Reyes with NP Dodge Insurance of Omaha, and Janet Fredrick of JG Elliott of Scottsbluff relating to property, liability and workmen’s compensation insurance for the facility.

The board will open bids from the two companies, and any other bids that may have been received, during a special meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Ainsworth Care Center. Both Reyes and Fredrick said they would be available by phone Tuesday for any additional questions the board may have after opening the bids.

* 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.

* Brown County Hospital 2017 budget presented to commissioners

(Posted 10 a.m. Sept. 7)

Representatives from the Brown County Hospital presented the facility’s 2017 budget to the Brown County Commissioners Tuesday, showing the hospital finishing the 2016 year with a projected net profit of $366,242.

The Brown County Hospital generated $9.73 million in total operating revenue for 2016, with $9.74 million in operating expenses for a nearly balanced profit-loss margin. When including the voter-approved addition bond revenue, grant income and other contributions, the facility finished the year with the $366,242 profit margin.

In presenting the 2017 budget, Hospital Administrator Shannon Sorensen and Chief Financial Officer Lisa Wood said there were no major changes to the budget with the exception of the two additional providers, Dr. Ruslan Tourtsev and Dr. Bea Taylor, being added to the hospital staff.

The proposed budget projects revenue of $10.6 million for 2017, with expenses of $10.1 million.

Wood said adding the two physicians will increase expenses for the hospital, but should also lead to increased revenue when the providers begin to pick up increased patient visits.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus asked about two expense line items for 2017 that showed significant projected increases.

Sorensen said the maintenance and repair line item increased by 15 percent because the hospital had a credit for 2016 from its electronic health records installation that dropped the 2016 expense line. She said that line item of $467,000 was similar to the 2015 line item of $441,961, but the credit for 2016 dropped that line item to $407,359.

With a 23 percent budgeted increase in the “other” expense category, Wood said there was a detailed breakdown of items that fall into the “other” line item. She said the increase was attributed to the hospital helping to match physician recruitment efforts, such as student loan contributions. She said those contributions are spread out over the length of the physician’s contract.

Wood said the hospital also anticipated revenue in 2017 from again providing services to a local nursing home, as the Sandhills Care Center is scheduled to open late this year and will likely contract with the hospital for some services in 2017.

The commissioners include the Brown County Hospital’s budget as part of its 2016-17 budget. The annual budget hearing and property tax request for the Brown County 2016-17 budget is scheduled for 8 a.m. Sept. 13.

In related items Tuesday, the commissioners approved resolutions setting the 2016-17 property tax levy for the Brown County Rural Fire Protection District and the Brown County Agricultural Society.

The rural fire protection district will receive 4 cents in property tax levy for the 2016-17 budget year, and the agricultural society will receive $32,500 for its general operations and $20,000 toward arena renovations.

Commissioner Buddy Small reported the county had a balance of $70,000 in its sanitary landfill budget, and the county’s budget preparer recommended the balance did not need to be that high.

The commissioners approved reducing charges to county residents for solid waste disposal for 2017. Instead of a $10 monthly solid waste disposal charge for county residents, those outside the Ainsworth and Long Pine city limits, the board voted to cut the charge in half to $5 per month for 2017. The business rate and the cabin rate for solid waste fees in the county will also be cut in half for 2017.

The reduced fees take effect in January and are for 2017 only. The board will reassess the fees prior to 2018.

The commissioners received one bid to provide meals to the Brown County Jail for inmates. Big John’s submitted a bid of $9 per lunch and $9 per dinner delivered to the Brown County Jail. The bid from the local restaurant was equal to the bid it submitted the prior year, and the board approved it.

However, Wiebelhaus advised Sheriff Bruce Papstein he would like to see the sheriff’s department provide inmates with sandwiches, chips and fruit for a lunch meal, with the county required to serve one hot meal per day to jail inmates.

“It is not as big a deal when we only have one or two inmates,” Wiebelhaus said. “But, lately we have had five and six inmates in the jail, and going to one hot meal would cut down on some expense.”

Papstein said the sheriff’s department did recently replace a refrigerator in the building. He asked Wiebelhaus if it would be sheriff’s department personnel who would then be responsible for preparing the inmate lunches. Wiebelhaus said it would fall to the sheriff’s department to prepare the lunches for inmates, with the evening meal then still provided by the contracted restaurant.

The commissioners acknowledged the Brown County Ambulance Association roster as presented by members Mike Rudnick and Paul Carpenter.

Rudnick said the association has seen growth in its membership, and now has enough emergency medical technicians to implement a schedule that has an EMT on-call every five weeks. In the past, Rudnick said some EMTs were on call two of every three weeks.

The roster includes 21 EMTs, six ambulance drivers, and nine additional area responders as part of the on-call transfer schedule implemented in the past year by the association.

In addition, the roster shows nine students currently taking classes to become emergency medical technicians.

Rudnick and Carpenter then demonstrated the new power lifts that the association had purchased for its two ambulances. The board agreed to assist in the purchase of one of the power lifts, and will attempt to receive assistance for the cost of the lift from the Nebraska Intergovernmental Risk Management Agency.

The power lifts keep ambulance association personnel from having to physically lift patients in a stretcher into the ambulance.

During his report, Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said the department has been hauling clay and patching roads, and planned to start next week on the replacement of a bridge on Norden Avenue near property owned by Royce Greder.

Turpin told the board he would like to continue the roads department’s summer hours through the month of September.

He requested again using a winter schedule that has roads department employees work four, 10-hour days instead of five, eight-hour days.

Wiebelhaus said he would again like to wait until November to begin the four-day shifts and run that schedule through the end of March.

The board approved a contract with Madison’s Great Western for propane at the county’s Johnstown roads shop. The county contracted the 1,800 gallons of fuel at $1.02 per gallon, with the county responsible for paying 10 cents per gallon up front.

The commissioners approved having Turpin sign supplement program agreements with the Nebraska Department of Roads for the Norden Bridge replacement project.

The board held an executive session to perform its annual performance evaluation of the highway superintendent.

The next regular meeting of the board is 8:15 a.m. Sept. 20, with the budget hearing Sept. 13.

* 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

Highway 7

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.

Highway 20

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.

Highway 183

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.

Highway 137

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.

Highway 12

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.

Highway 11

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.

Highway 91

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.

* Public Service Commission District 5 race may be too close to call

(Posted 7 a.m. May 11)

The vote may be too close to call for the District 5 seat on the Nebraska Public Service Commission following Tuesday's Primary Election.
Fewer than 60 votes separates Mary Ridder and incumbent Jerry Vap. Both Republicans, Ridder received 21,818 votes (50.07 percent) Tuesday to 21,761 (49.93 percent) for Vap. That 57-vote margin represents just a 0.14 percent difference between the two candidates and may trigger an automatic recount in the race.
As expected, Donald Trump easily carried the state of Nebraska during Tuesday’s Republican Party Presidential Primary.

Trump received 61.5 percent of the Republican vote statewide, with Ted Cruz finishing a distant second at 18.5 percent.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton received 53 percent of the statewide vote to 47 percent for Bernie Sanders. The vote was largely symbolic, however, as Sanders won 15 of the 25 Nebraska delegates during the Presidential Caucus that was held in March. Tuesday’s support for Clinton was a reversal of the Caucus results two months prior.

In the Second District Republican Congressional Primary, Don Bacon captured 66 percent of the vote to 34 percent for Chip Maxwell. Bacon will face Democratic incumbent Brad Ashford in the November General Election.

Jeff Fortenberry in District 1 and Adrian Smith in District 3 both ran unopposed. Fortenberry faces Daniel Wik from the Democratic Party in November to retain his seat. Smith does not face a challenger in November.

While both candidates advance to the November General Election, Tom Brewer made an early statement by garnering 54.3 percent of the vote in the Nebraska Legislature’s 43rd District race. Incumbent Al Davis received 45.7 percent of the vote.

Davis will find himself in a similar position as four years ago, when he trailed John Ravenscroft following the Primary Election but defeated Ravenscroft in the General Election.

Brewer received 5,204 votes to 4,380 votes cast for Davis.

Voter turnout statewide was just 26.5 percent Tuesday, with 309,079 votes cast from the 1,165,371 registered voters.

Cherry County voter turnout eclipsed 50 percent at 50.5 percent, with 2,134 ballots cast from the 4,219 registered voters.

Holt County turnout was above the state average at 33 percent, with 2,305 ballots cast from the 6,988 registered voters.

Blaine County turnout was 42.3 percent, as 162 of the 383 registered voters showed up at the polls Tuesday.

* Voter turnout just 39.5 percent in Brown County with few races on the ballot

(Posted 10 p.m. May 10)

With few contested races Tuesday, voter turnout in Brown County was its lowest in several election cycles. Just 825 voters, 39.5 percent of the 2,087 registered, cast ballots in the Primary Election.

There were 744 votes cast in the Republican Primary, 60 in the Democratic Primary, and 21 non-partisan ballots were cast.

By a narrow margin, 417-387, Brown County voters favored challenger Tom Brewer over incumbent 43rd District State Sen. Al Davis. Both Davis and Brewer advance to the November General Election.

Republican voters in Brown County cast 555 ballots for Donald Trump for President. Ted Cruz finished second with 79 votes, followed by 36 for Ben Carson, 33 for John Kasich an 18 for Marco Rubio.

Brown County also favored challenger Mary Ridder for the Public Service Commissioner District 5 seat over incumbent Jerry Vap by a 396-207 margin.

* Craven, Tuerk win contested commissioner races in Rock, Keya Paha counties

(Posted 9:30 p.m. May 10)

Rock County Republican voters chose Dustin Craven to be the next commissioner and Keya Paha County Republicans re-elected Mike Tuerk to the Board of Commissioners in the only two contested local races in the area.

Craven received 313 Republican votes during Tuesday’s Primary Election, to 170 for incumbent Ernie Hasch. There was no Democratic Party candidate, so Craven will run unopposed in November.

In Keya Paha County’s West District Commissioner race, Tuerk received 96 votes in his re-election bid to 44 for challenger Jim Ruther. Tuerk will not face opposition in November from the Democratic Party.

Rock County and Keya Paha County Republicans overwhelmingly selected Donald Trump as their candidate for President. Though all Republican challengers had suspended their campaigns, five candidates had previously filed paperwork to appear on the ballot.

Trump secured 308 Republican votes in Rock County and 203 in Keya Paha County. Ted Cruz finished second in both counties, with 74 votes in Rock County and 31 in Keya Paha County. John Kasich picked up 31 votes in Rock County and 15 in Keya Paha County. Ben Carson had 26 votes in Rock County and 20 in Keya Paha County, and Marco Rubio received 13 votes in Rock County and four in Keya Paha County.

In the race for the District 5 seat on the Public Service Commission, challenger Mary Ridder carried both Rock and Keya Paha counties over incumbent Jerry Vap. Ridder secured 217 votes in Rock County to 140 for Vap, and 124 votes in Keya Paha County to 67 for Vap.

Keya Paha County voters favored challenger Tom Brewer over incumbent Al Davis for the 43rd District seat on the Nebraska Legislature by a 168-132 margin.

Republican Third District Rep. Adrian Smith ran unopposed Tuesday, as did Bob Phares for re-election to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Voter turnout was 52 percent in Keya Paha County despite the few contested races, with 320 of the 634 registered voters casting a ballot.
Turnout in Rock County was solid as well at 53.6 percent. A total of 540 of the 1,006 registered voters in Rock County cast a ballot Tuesday.

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