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* Weekly summary from the Brown County Sheriff’s Department

(Posted 6:45 a.m. June 1)

May 23

  • Investigated a report of a possible bonfire in violation of Ainsworth City Ordinance on N Merten Street in Ainsworth. Per city ordinance section 9-205: fires shall be in a fireproof burner, have a screen of not more than one inch mesh, and must be located 15 feet away from any building.  A verbal warning was issued. 
  • Investigated reports of possible harassment and/or stalking along Hwy 20. This is an ongoing investigation.

May 24

  • Investigated reports of rocks being thrown at a residence and vehicle.
  • Received a report of a possible scam. Subject was advised to cancel debit card and given the Attorney General Fraud and Scam line.
  • Responded to reports of negligent driving on W 2nd St in Ainsworth. Subject was located and a citation was issued for negligent driving, no operator’s license and expired registration.
  • Received a report of a dog at large. Owner was located and the dog was retrieved.
  • Responded to reports of a reckless driver on Main St in Ainsworth. Subject was located, and a citation was issued for driving left of center and reckless driving.

May 25

  • Received a report of a dog at large on 2nd St in Ainsworth. Animal was located and returned to the owner.
  • Investigated a report of suspicious activity involving an Ainsworth residence without electrical power. No criminal activity was involved. Resident was instructed to contact landlord.
  • Received a report of a stop sign at the 183 Jct being down. The Nebraska Dept of Roads was advised of the downed sign.
  • Investigated a report of suspicious activity in rural Brown Co.
  • Performed a Welfare Check on a rural Brown Co resident.

May 26

  • Received reports of cattle out on 430th Ave. Owner was contacted and the cattle were relocated back into pasture.
  • Provided traffic control for a cattle crossing on Hwy 183.
  • Received reports of a bull out on S. 432th Ave. Owner was contacted and the bull was put back in.
  • The Brown Co Ambulance Association transferred a resident from Brown Co Hospital to Norfolk.

May 27

  • Received reports of a dog at large in rural Brown Co. Caller was advised to contact KBRB and social media to locate the owner.
  • Responded to reports of negligent driving on N Ash St in Ainsworth. Subject was not located at this time.
  • Received reports of possible child abuse or neglect at an Ainsworth residence. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • During a traffic stop on Hwy 20, with the assistance of the K9 Unit Dutch, three subjects were issued citations for Possession of Marijuana more than one ounce,  Possession of Controlled Substance (THC), and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia. All three subjects were arrested and booked into the Brown County Jail.

May 28

  • Received a report of a possible scam. The individual was advised of the Attorney General Fraud Line at 1-800-727-6432.
  • Released two subjects out of Brown Co Jail on bond.

May 29

  • During a traffic stop on Hwy 20, two juvenile subjects were arrested and issued citations for Driving Under the Influence of Drugs. Both juvenile subjects were later released from custody to responsible caretakers.

Weekly Summary

                 6 – Burn Permit Issued (by all Brown Co Fire Depts)

     6 – Handgun Permits Applied For

    16 – Incidents Reports Were Taken.

      1 – Paper Services Were Served.    

  167 – Phone Calls Were Received

     8 – 911 Emergency Calls Received 

     9 – Titles Were Inspected.

* Vaccination clinics available next week in the area

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

The North Central District Health Department has walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinics available next week. Those who have not been vaccinated may go to the Rock County High School gym from 4 until 6:30 p.m. Thursday, June 3, or from 1 until 4 p.m. Friday, June 4, in the Evergreen Assisted Living center at O’Neill.

Following FDA recommendations, NCDHD has begun offering the Pfizer vaccine to anyone 12 years of age and older. Contact the NCDHD office at 402-336-2406 for more information.

The health department was made aware of two new COVID-19 cases in the district since Monday, one of which was confirmed in a Keya Paha County resident.

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 2:15 p.m. May 27)

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

Joshua E. Brotherton, age 20, of Stover, Mo., charged with speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, fined $75.

Roberto Munoz Grimaldo, 36, of Ainsworth, possessing fish without a permit, $100.

Luis Alberto Rodriguez, 38, of Ainsworth, speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.

Henry A. Munoz, 21, of Socorro, Texas, attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; also charged with possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce and less than 1 pound, $500; minor in possession, $100; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Jasmine S. Talk, 20, of Ainsworth, minor in possession, $300; possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $100; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Spencer C. Peterson, 21, of Huron, S.D., two counts of attempting a Class 4 felony, fines $1,000 on each count; possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce but less than 1 pound, $500; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Anson J. Sadler, 21, of Alcester, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Kailie H. Wilson, 25, of Bailey, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Jaden R. Collins, 23, of Council Bluffs, Iowa, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $150; operating a vehicle to avoid arrest, sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Amber D. Hollenbeck, 26, of Bassett, disturbing the peace, $200.

Jorge Meza Jr., 21, of Huron, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; minor in possession, $300; attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000.

Kelly S. Sehr, 44, of Broomfield, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Martha G. Garcia Medina, 22, of Ainsworth, first offense reckless driving, $500.

Lydia G. Allen, 24, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Madison M. Svenson, 17, of Bassett, expired in-transit decal, $50.

Dylan J. Henson, 29, of Ainsworth, obstructing a peace officer, sentenced to one year in jail; shoplifting more than $500 and less than $1,500, sentenced to one year in jail.

George C. Spanel, 68, of Ainsworth, second offense driving under the influence, $500, also sentenced to 10 days in jail with credit for two days served, six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 18 months and ordered to install an ignition interlock device; driving left of center, six months of probation.

Jose Medrano Angulo, 35, of Madison, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; no operator’s license, $75.

William M. Reiter, 22, of Bellwood, speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Willard R. Jacobs, 71, of Burwell, first offense driving under the influence, $500, sentenced to seven days in jail with credit for two days served, driver’s license revoked for six months and ordered to install an ignition interlock device; driving left of center, $25; possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, $25.

Reeve W. Binger, 20, of Brooklyn, Wis., speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.

Venessa A. Fernandez, 42, of Ainsworth, dog running at large, $25.

Sylas Stender, 32, of Bassett, first degree criminal trespassing, sentenced to 10 days in jail with credit for two days served and one year of probation; criminal mischief, ordered to pay $1,871 in restitution; two counts of violating a harassment protection order, sentenced to 30 days in jail on each count with credit for 15 days served on one count and 13 days served on the second count.

Hannah E. Miles, 22, of Eagen, Minn., possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Timothy P. Wagner, 31, of Ainsworth, dog running at large, $25; failure to license a dog or cat, $25.

Kim M. Eddie, 57, of Dillon, Mont., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Elias D. Deleon Gomez, 65, of Glendale, Ariz., speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Demetrius R. Garret, 23, of New Town, N.D., attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce and less than 1 pound, $500; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100; speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Andrew S. Quinn, 50, of Grand Forks, N.D., attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Rebecca T. Perez-Torres, 29, of Morris, Minn., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce and less than 1 pound, $500; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

* Nelson shares State Track All-Class Gold in the high jump

(Posted 2 p.m. May 27)

Ainsworth freshman Carter Nelson shared the all-class gold medal in the high jump during the Nebraska State Track and Field Championships. Clearing the bar at 6-feet-8, Nelson not only won the Class C gold medal but shared the all-class gold with Reid Nelson of Elkhorn South and Jacob Dowse of Sidney.

Nelson is Ainsworth’s first all-class gold winner in track and field since Andrew Wewel completed the feat in the pole vault at the 1998 state meet.

* Smith selected for Shrine Bowl game

(Posted 2:15 p.m. May 26)

North Central senior Paxton Smith has been invited to play in this year’s Shrine Bowl. Smith, a linebacker and fullback for the Knights, was named to the Shrine Bowl’s North roster as a running back.

The 63rd annual Shrine Bowl is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 5, at Carol Cope Stadium on the University of Nebraska-Kearney campus.

Coaches for this year’s Shrine Bowl are Kurt Frenzen of Columbus Lakeview for the North and Mark McLaughlin of Platteview for the South.

* Walk-in vaccination clinics available Wednesday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 25)

The North Central District Health Department has COVID-19 walk-in vaccination clinics available to the public on Wednesday.

People may walk in and receive vaccine from 1 until 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Atkinson Community Center, and from 1:30 until 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Butte Community Center. Both clinics will have the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine available. 

Following FDA and ACIP recommendations, the NCDHD has begun offering Pfizer vaccine to anyone 12 years of age and older. Anyone interested in may contact the local school office or the North Central District Health Department office.

More than 40 percent of the nine-county health district’s population of those 16 and older have now been fully vaccinated, with 14,600 people completing their vaccination series. Another 379 people have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine.

The health department was made aware of just one positive case of COVID-19 in the district since Thursday. That case occurred in a Holt County resident.

* Weekly summary from the Brown County Sheriff’s Department

(Posted 8:30 a.m. May 24)

Brown County Sheriff’s Office Weekly Summary

May 16 – May 22

May 16

  • Deputies responded to a report of a driver south of Ainsworth on Hwy 7 with possible injuries. Individual was assisted to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Investigated multiple residences in violation of Ainsworth City Ordinance.  Verbal notices were issued.  

May 17

  • Responded to reports of motorists impeding traffic west of Johnstown. Motorists were participating in a Medal of Honor appreciation event.    
  • Investigated reports of fraudulent unemployment claims. This is an open investigation.
  • Responded to a juvenile disturbance on Maple Street.
  • Received reports of child abuse or neglect at an Ainsworth residence.

May 18

  • Responded to a barking dog complaint on North Main Street. The owners were issued a verbal warning.
  • Provided traffic control for a cattle crossing North of Hwy 20 and West of the 183 Jct. to the South side of Hwy 20.
  • Responded to a report of an unknown male who looked lost or confused walking on Hwy 20. Pedestrian was located, and displayed no concerns at this time.
  • Responded to a complaint of an unwanted person at a residence in the Johnstown Subject was later located traveling on Hwy 20 east of Johnstown, arrested for Driving Under the Influence, and booked into the Brown County Jail.

May 19

  • Released a subject out of the Brown Co. Jail on bond.
  • During a traffic stop in Ainsworth a juvenile subject was issued a citation for no operator license.
  • Received a report of an elderly individual at an Ainsworth residence possibly being neglected and receiving improper care.
  • Responded to reports of a runaway juvenile from a child advocate agency. Juvenile was located and returned home to caretaker.

May 20

  • Multiple Ainsworth City Ordinance Violation notices were served.
  • Performed a welfare check on a rural Long Pine resident.
  • The Brown Co. Ambulance Association transferred a patient from the Brown Hospital to the Ainsworth Regional Airport.
  • Received a report of an elderly individual needing assistance to relocate from health care facility back to original residence.

May 21

  • Responded to reports of a possible suicidal individual at an Ainsworth residence. Individual was located and placed into Emergency Protective Custody.  Individual was later transported to Faith Regional Health Services in Norfolk.
  • Received information about property discovered in a pasture South of the Ainsworth Regional Airport. This is an ongoing investigation.

May 22

  • Assisted an allied agency about a possible runaway juvenile and missing person.
  • Received reports of possible theft at two rural business in Brown Co. This is an ongoing investigation. Any information involving this theft can be reported to the Crime Stopper Hotline at 402-382-3121.
  • During a traffic stop on Hwy 20 a subject was arrested for driving under the influence and a second subject was issued a citation for Procuring Alcohol to a Minor. Subject was booked into the Brown Co Jail.

Weekly Summary

                  1- Burn Permit Issued (by all Brown Co Fire Depts)

                  2- Handgun Permits Applied For

      20- Incidents Reports Were Taken.

      6- Paper Services Were Served.     

      116- Phone Calls Were Received

      18- 911 Emergency Calls Received 

      5- Titles Were Inspected.

* Weiss appointed to UNMC Board of Counselors

(Posted 7:45 a.m. May 24)

The University of Nebraska Medical Center Board of Counselors recently held its annual meeting, naming new officers, welcoming 12 new members and reappointing others who continue to serve. The board – a group of 85 community and business leaders from Nebraska and beyond – advises UNMC Chancellor Dr. Jeffrey P. Gold on health care issues of importance.

Among the newly appointed board members is Deb Weiss, a medical technologist with the Brown County Hospital.

Stephen Isom, the owner of Isom Insurance Agency of Valentine, is also a current Board of Counselors members.

* Commissioners receive estimates for Meadville Avenue projects

(Posted 7 a.m. May 19)

The Brown County Commissioners Tuesday received engineering estimates for two major projects on Meadville Avenue.

The first estimate of $909,653 submitted by Miller and Associates replaces the box culvert over the Sand Draw Creek on Meadville Avenue with a bridge. That project has been approved, and the county is responsible for just 20 percent of the total cost.

The second estimate of $2.44 million would replace 7.5 miles of asphalt on Meadville Avenue with a 4-inch overlay of asphaltic concrete.

While the county is moving forward on the bridge project, the commissioners have not made a final decision on the asphalt project. The county did instruct DA Davison of Kearney to prepare bonding documents for the project, citing low interest rates, but a final decision on moving forward with that project has not been made.

During his report, Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said the roads department is replacing a culvert across Plum Creek on Road 877, which will complete FEMA projects from the 2019 flooding with the exception of a few remaining bridge projects.

Turpin reported the county’s 2012 Prostar truck needed approximately $12,000 in repairs to replace a cracked head. He said the engine is not in great shape, and replacing the entire engine would cost $40,000.

“I think we need to start buying new trucks,” Turpin said. “The amount of money we are spending on making repairs to these used trucks is outrageous. I think we look to start buying new, run them for 100,000 miles, then trade them. Right now, we have trucks down when we need them.”

The commissioners instructed Turpin to go ahead and have the cracked head replaced to get the truck back into service.

Turpin also asked the board to consider making an offer on a 55 by 140 foot lot near the roads department’s Long Pine shop that was recently listed for sale.

Turpin said the lot would allow the roads department to stockpile material and would save the county time and distance from having to haul material from the Ainsworth shop for projects in the Long Pine area.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said purchasing the lot would pay for itself over time by saving the roads department trips to Ainsworth. Commissioner Denny Bauer agreed, saying the labor cost savings alone made sense to purchase the lot instead of having the roads department employees spending time driving back and forth for materials.

Turpin said the lot was listed at $6,250. The board agreed to make an offer of $5,000 for the lot.

After holding interviews earlier on Tuesday with three candidates selected by a committee from among six applicants, the commissioners voted to offer the county’s new emergency management director position to Traci Ganser.

The commissioners previously voted to end their membership in the Region 24 Emergency Management Agency, and decided to hire the position in-house. The commissioners indicated Ganser’s pay for the full-time position has not yet been determined.

The board conducted a call with budget preparer Caleb Johnson, who informed the board it would need to amend its budget in order to refinance the Brown County Hospital addition bonds.

Johnson said the $2.11 million payment that would be made May 26 to close the current bond was not included in the county’s 2020-21 budget.

The county’s new budget year does not begin until July 1, making the budget amendment paperwork necessary even though the county is simply paying a current bond to issue new bonds at a lower interest rate.

Johnson said he would prepare the documents and publications needed for the commissioners to hold a hearing and approve amending the budget to reflect the bond refinancing.

The commissioners voted to reappoint Phil Fuchs as the joint city and county representative on the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors. The board also appointed Tom Jones to the care center board to replace current county representative Henry Beel. Commissioner Buddy Small’s seat on the care center board will be appointed during the commissioners’ June 1 meeting, with Small agreeing to continue to serve.

Jeep Cozad asked the commissioners to refund trash charges he was incurring at his ranch because he contracted with J&J Sanitation to haul his trash from the site.

The commissioners told Cozad to simply present the statements he pays to J&J Sanitation and the county trash fees would be removed.

Treasurer Deb Vonheeder said she would check in with Cozad once or twice a year to get a copy of a recent statement to show the J&J service was still active.

In final action items Tuesday, the board approved a budgeted transfer of $300,000 from the county’s miscellaneous general fund to the county highway fund, and approved a Blue Cross/Blue Shield subgroup insurance application renewal.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. June 1.

* Area students named to UNK dean’s list

(Posted 7 a.m. May 19)

The University of Nebraska at Kearney announced students who earned a place on the dean’s list for the spring semester.

Students who are on the dean’s list must have completed 12 credit hours or more of classes with a 3.5 grade-point average or better on a 4.0 scale.

Area students named to the spring semester dean’s list at UNK are:

Ainsworth – Ben Arens, Tory Cole, Tate Fernau, Miranda Raymond, Elizabeth Salzman, Raven Stewart, Ashley Titus and Andrea Werner

Bassett – Aubrey Kroll and Josie Kuchera

Wood Lake – Britley Schlueter

Stuart – Christopher Schaaf

Atkinson – Benjamin Slaymaker

Brewster – Paige Martindale

Valentine – Jackson Barton and Anna Perrett

Butte – Heather Atkinson and Sydney Atkinson

* Range Cafe receives award from Girl Scouts of Nebraska

(Posted 5 p.m. May 18)

Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska is celebrating outstanding volunteers with awards that recognize them for the meaningful contributions they make to the girls they serve.

Among this year’s award winners is the Bassett Lodge and Range Café, which received a Community Benefactor Award from the Girl Scouts.

The volunteers go above and beyond to make a difference for the organization and for girls. They share their time and talents to help girls develop into women who advocate for positive change in the world.  

“Girl Scout volunteers have faced many unique challenges this year, however, their resilience has carried them through the pandemic as they adapted to offer safe and valuable program opportunities for girls,” said Fran Marshall, chief executive officer of Girl Scouts Spirit of Nebraska. “We are extremely grateful for all of our volunteers and proud of the difference they make in the lives of girls.”

The Spirit of Nebraska Community Benefactor Award recognizes organizations or individuals who are not Girl Scout members and provide outstanding assistance and support to Girl Scout programming.

* Several vaccination clinics available in the area

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 18)

The North Central District Health Department has walk-in COVID vaccination clinics available during the next several days. A walk-in clinic is scheduled from 3 until 5 p.m. Wednesday in the Ainsworth Conference Center, and from noon until 4 p.m. Friday in the Evergreen Assisted Living facility at O’Neill.

Next week, walk-in clinics will be available May 26 from 1:30 until 4 p.m. in the Butte Community Center and from 1 until 5 p.m. in the Atkinson Community Center.

A total of 14,219 residents of the nine-county health district have been fully vaccinated, representing about 40 percent of the population. Another 564 residents have received the first dose of a two-dose vaccine.

The health department, following CDC guidelines, will administer the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 who would like to be vaccinated.

Those looking for additional information on vaccines may go online to www.getvaccineanswers.org.

Test Nebraska COVID-19 testing is available free of charge from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. on Mondays in the North Central District Health Department office. Testing is also available through local medical providers.

* Lions Club will serve alumni banquet June 26

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 18)

The Ainsworth Lions Club will again serve the alumni banquet meal, with this year’s event scheduled for June 26 in the Ainsworth Conference Center.

Roland Paddock reported the school kitchen will still be available for use to prepare the meal. Evan Evans reported he will check to see if the Conference Center’s meeting room can be utilized for salad prep.

The Lions Club membership approved the slate of 2021-22 officers and directors via email vote, with Bob Beatty serving as club president for the upcoming year. Club dues will remain at $65 for an individual member, with a $40 membership for the spouse of a member.

Connie Lentz reported 15 club members picked up 15 large bags of trash during the Adopt a Highway cleanup on Highway 20 east of Ainsworth.

After agreeing during its previous meeting to run the concession stand at the Brown County Fairgrounds June 5 for a rough stock challenge, Vance Heyer and Phil Fuchs agreed to head up the committee. Any members available to help are asked to get in touch with Heyer or Fuchs.

Evans said he would check with the city of Ainsworth to set up a workday to install the new borders and crumb rubber for playground equipment at the city park.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Lions Club Board of Directors is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. June 21.

* Weekly summary from the Brown County Sheriff’s Department

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 17)

May 9th

  • The Brown County Ambulance Association transported an Ainsworth resident to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Responded to a report of a vehicle driving recklessly in excessive speeds on Hwy 20. Vehicle was not located at this time.
  • The Brown Co Ambulance Association transported a second Ainsworth resident to the Brown Co Hospital.
  • Investigated a report of juveniles possibly vandalizing multiple vehicles in Ainsworth. Juveniles were given a verbal warning; no property damage was reported at this time.

May 10th

  • Received reports of a dog at large. Owner was contacted and dog was returned.  
  • Provided a welfare check on an Ainsworth resident.
  • Booked a subject into the Brown Co Jail.
  • Released a subject from the Brown Co Jail for completed sentence.

May 11th

  • Responded to a possible disturbance at a rural residence.
  • Investigated a report of a hit & run in Ainsworth on N. Woodward.
  • Investigated reports of a two vehicle accident without injury at an Ainsworth Business parking lot.
  • Responded to reports of a vehicle traveling at excessive speeds on S Hwy 7. Vehicle was not located at this time.
  • Booked a subject into the Brown Co Jail.
  • Release two subject from the Brown Co. Jail on bond.

May 12th

  • The Brown Co Ambulance Association transported an Ainsworth resident to the Brown Co Hospital.
  • Investigated a report of lost property. Items were located.
  • Received reports of two dogs at large. Animals were returned to owners.
  • Received a report of a missing dog. The animal was located and returned to owner.
  • Responded to reports of a possibly suicidal minor at a rural Brown Co. residence. A safety plan was set in place.
  • Investigated a report of Semi-truck/horse accident on South Hwy 7.

May 13th

  • The Brown Co Ambulance Association transported a Long Pine resident to the Brown Co Hospital.
  • Assisted a transient along Hwy 20.
  • Investigated a reports of possible animal neglect in rural Brown Co.
  • Provided assistance to a juvenile complaint.
  • Provided assistance for a civil matter at an Ainsworth business.

May 14th

  • Responded to a report of property damage and an unresponsive motorist in rural Brown Co. The subject was found to be under the influence and was booked into the Brown Co. Jail.
  • Responded to a report of a possibly impaired driver in Ainsworth. The subject was located and there were no violations at this time.
  • Received reports of a reckless driver south of Ainsworth. Deputies provided extra patrol to that area.
  • Responded to a report of an unlicensed trailer improperly secured in Long Pine. Subject was located and issued a verbal warning.
  • Investigated a report of found property at an Ainsworth business. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Released a subject from the Brown Co. Jail on bond.
  • Provided traffic control and a motorist assist on Hwy 20 west of Johnstown.
  • Responded to reports of a reckless driver on S Hwy 7. Vehicle was located and a citation for speeding was issued.
  • Received a report of a scam phone call. Caller was advised to contact the Attorney General Fraud Line.

May 15th

  • Investigated a report of possible child endangerment.
  • Deputies provided a health and welfare check on a Long Pine residence. The Brown Co Ambulance then transported the subject to the Brown Hospital.
  • Investigated reports of an abandoned horse. This is an open investigation.
  • Received reports of a dog at large. The animal was located and taken to the Ainsworth Vet Clinic. 
  • Investigated a report of a two vehicle accident without injury at an Ainsworth business parking lot.
  • Responded to a report of a vehicle on Hwy 20 without headlights on and only flashers after dark. The vehicle was not located at the time.

Weekly Summary

                  4- Burn Permits Issued (by all Brown Co Fire Depts)

                  0- Handgun Permits Applied For

      26- Incidents Reports Were Taken.

      6- Paper Services Were Served.     

      129- Phone Calls Were Received

      7- 911 Emergency Calls Received 

      0- Titles Were Inspected.

* Vaccination clinic available in Ainsworth next week

(Posted 7:45 a.m. May 14)

The North Central District Health Department will have a walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic available in Ainsworth.

The clinic is available for walk-in vaccinations from 3 until 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 19, in the Ainsworth Conference Center.

Following the FDA recommendations, NCDHD will start offering the Pfizer vaccine to anyone 12 years of age and older. On Monday, NCDHD representatives will visit nearly every school in the district, completing second round of Pfizer vaccine and available for first doses. If you are interested in this opportunity, reach out to your local school office or call NCDHD.

A total of 14,062 people in the nine-county district are now fully vaccinated, representing 39.1 percent of the 16 and older population. Another 691 people are partially vaccinated.

The NCDHD was made aware of four new COVID-19 cases in the district since Monday. Among the new cases were two in Holt County. The health department reported 37 people recovered from the virus during the past week, including six people in Holt County, three in Cherry County and one in Keya Paha County.

NCDHD received notification of a COVID-19 death in the district, a man in his 50s from Antelope County.

On May 13, 2021 the CDC released Interim Public Health Recommendations for Fully Vaccinated People.  Key points from the summary of changes include:

An update that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance

An update that fully vaccinated people can refrain from testing following a known exposure unless they are residents or employees of a correctional or detention facility or a homeless shelter

* Area libraries receive grants to hire summer interns

(Posted 5:30 p.m. May 12)

Two area libraries received funding to hire summer interns to assist with programming. The Nebraska Library Commission recently awarded Nebraska Library Internship Grants totaling $25,000 to 24 Nebraska public libraries, including the Rock County Public Library and the Atkinson Public Library.

The grants will support public library interns who will contribute to the scope and value of the diverse programs and activities in Nebraska’s public libraries.

Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner said, “The internships are a great opportunity for students to get involved in library work. Beyond earning money and gaining valuable work experience, the student is exposed to the broad range of library services and programming. Internships provide an opportunity for the student to view the library as a viable and satisfying career choice. In addition, interns bring a fresh perspective and their own unique talents to the library.”

Student interns will learn about library work as they shadow staff, assist with day-to-day library operations, and implement special projects. Some of the activities students will participate in include:

plan and implement programs such as summer reading programs for all ages, story time sessions, book discussions, and teen/tween activities;

assist with computer classes for adults and seniors;

organize Makerspaces and Maker Clubs, as well as other STEAM learning activities, programs, and crafts;

work with Summer Youth Outreach Services to provide Bookmobile services at locations throughout the city and county;

facilitate partnerships with Doane University, the Bassett Old Feed Store Art Center, the Ponca State Park, and Nebraska Extension;

assist with outreach events outside the library;

update the library’s website and social media sites (Facebook, Pinterest, blogs, etc.) or in some situations designing and coding a new website;

assist with circulation activities, book selection, and collection management; and

work on newspaper digitization projects.

* School Board approves two contracts, two resignations Monday

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

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education on Monday approved contracts for two new teachers for the 2021-22 school year, and also approved the resignation of two staff members.

Physical education teacher and girls basketball head coach Stephen Crile submitted his resignation, thanking the board for the opportunity to teach and coach. Crile wrote he was moving closer to family.

Fourth grade teacher Alyssa Dickson also submitted her resignation effective at the end of the current school year. Dickson, in her resignation letter, wrote she would be focusing on her family.

The board approved a teaching contract for Danielle Severin to replace Loreece Thornton, who submitted to the board in April her letter of retirement. Severin is Thornton’s daughter, and will take over the math classes taught by her mother.

The board approved a teaching contract for Jessica Kempcke for physical education. Kempcke will take over for Crile’s classes for the 2021-22 year.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said the district would likely do some adjusting with current staff and would not replace Dickson’s elementary position.

In other business Monday, the board approved a recommendation from Lunchtime Solutions to raise breakfast prices by 5 cents and lunch prices by 10 cents for the 2021-22 school year. Hafer said there is a specific tool used by the Department of Education to calculate what the district should charge for meals to maintain eligibility for federal reimbursement.

Hafer said the district tries to make small increases instead of waiting a couple years and having to raise prices by 25 cents or more. He said the increase was 10 cents for both breakfast and lunch prices last year.

Hafer said the district purchased a new dishwasher and stove/range for the kitchen during the past year and used the lunch fund to pay for the $23,000 in new equipment.

The board, with Brad Wilkins absent, approved the recommended meal price increases.

The board approved annual contracts with Education Service Unit 17 for special education and school nursing services.

Hafer said the special education contract dropped from $692,203 for the current school year to $595,244 for the 2021-22 school year. Hafer said a portion of the decrease was due to the district hiring Rachel Williams in-house for special education instead of contracting for her services through the ESU.

The superintendent said the nursing contract declined from just shy of $30,000 for the current year to $27,229 for the 2021-22 year. That contract includes the services of school nurses Leanne Maxwell and Lori Clapper.

Hafer said the contracts are budgeted expenditures, and often don’t end up being as high as contracted.

The board approved a $15,756 payment to Bartlett Family Painting for painting work done in McAndrew Gymnasium ahead of the gym floor being replaced.

Hafer said the gym should be good to go for the next couple decades after receiving the new paint, and he complimented the work the company did on the project.

The board also approved $13,706 for a new floor scrubber and carpet cleaning machine from Floor Maintenance of Norfolk and Eagan Supply of Omaha. Hafer said the district’s current scrubber was a combination unit that was not sold anymore. They repaired the machine a couple years ago, but it now needed to be replaced. He said having two machines means custodial staff can now work in different areas at the same time instead of having to wait for the one machine to become available.

In a final expenditure item Monday, the board approved the first of three invoices for the replacement of the McAndrew Gymnasium floor. Hafer said the $21,350 payment was the first of three for the project, which he said was on schedule to get underway May 24.

Activities Director Jared Hansmeyer said the school was going to bring in a contractor to see if the logos from the current gym floor could be pulled up intact for possible auction.

Hafer said Burdick Cement Works would begin work soon on replacing concrete, and would begin on the east side of the elementary and the West A entrance to allow the gym floor contractors to use the west elementary entry.

Hafer said the district received CARES Act reimbursement funding in the amount of $67,692 the district used to purchase new reading curriculum.

The superintendent reported the transportation, building and grounds committee would meet prior to the June board meeting to prepare a recommendation on either continuing a bus lease or purchasing a coach bus.

During his report, Elementary Principal Curtis Childers said the students showed excellent growth in recently completed MAPS testing.

“What we are doing is working,” Childers said. “The numbers of students who are proficient have gone up quite a bit.”

Childers adjusted downward his projection for the incoming 2021-22 kindergarten class. After projecting 30 students in April, Childers said a few families moved from the district and another indicated their child would remain in preschool another year, so his projection was now between 25 and 27 students for the incoming kindergarten class.

Summer school will be held June 7 through July 1 from 8:30 until 11:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday, with free lunch served to all children 18 and under after each day of summer school.

Secondary Principal Steve Dike reported interventions with additional instruction for students struggling in coursework has been successful. He said three students struggling in math tested out of the additional instruction, as did two students in reading.

“We are getting the kids back up to where they need to be,” Dike said.

Social studies teacher Nichole Flynn introduced the four students who qualified for the National History Day contest by finishing in the top two of their event during state competition.

Kylie Orton and Kinley Olson qualified for the national competition as a group performance, as did Jonathan Strand and Genesis Ajin for their individual entries.

Flynn said, though the national contest is being conducted virtually this year, there remained a $150 entry fee per event. Flynn said the state organization paid $100 toward the entry fee and she asked the board to pay the remainder, which it approved.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 8 p.m. June 14.

* Care Center Board discusses staffing shortages Monday

(Posted 7:30 p.m. May 10)

The Sandhills Care Center Board on Monday discussed with the facility’s administrator and staff members the difficulty in finding staffing.

Administrator Penny Jacobs said the care center has several open positions. She said she has received resumes for the business office manager position, but several positions remain unfilled with no current applicants.

“We have reached out to agencies for the director of nursing position,” Jacobs said. “Currently, we are in compliance with the state. We have an RN on staff, one of our night nurses, who has agreed to be our director of nursing on paper. She has another job, so she can’t work during the days, and she does not want the job full time. She is just helping us out.”

Jacobs said even agencies are struggling to find enough staff to fill the requests they are receiving from health care facilities.

The care center paid a total of $42,470 in April to five agencies to help staff open shifts. The payments to nursing agencies accounted for just shy of 25 percent of the facility’s total expenses of $171,126 in April. Business office manager Sarah Schipporeit said using agency nursing was approximately twice as expensive as filling the shifts with in-house staff. She said the other expenses during April were in line with what they have been in the past.

With 20 residents for part of April, the care center generated $144,507 for an operating loss for the month of $26,619.

Jacobs said a substantial portion of April’s agency nursing expense was for the contracted director of nursing position, which the facility is now temporarily filling with in-house staff until a permanent director of nursing is hired.

Board member Leanne Maxwell asked, “How much longer can we sustain this? With the situation we are in, how long before we need to look at whether we can continue?”

Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said, financially, the care center can continue to sustain operations for quite some time.

“We have over $340,000 in our interlocal account,” Fuchs said. “We have another $40,000 or so coming from the state. What concerns me more is not being able to get employees. How long can we operate?”

Schipporeit said the care center cannot compete with the hospital and other facilities for nursing staff because it does not offer benefits to employees.

“In addition to trying to recruit new staff, we need to take care of the staff who are there,” Schipporeit said. “At some point, benefits are going to have to be an option to obtain and retain employees.”

Board member Buddy Small said the facility could not afford to pay benefits to employees.

“If we pay benefits, our reserves will go fast,” Small said.

Board member Dr. Mel Campbell said the care center was competing for employees against places that do pay those benefits.

Fuchs said the board may need to look at what it offers for compensation.

“If McDonald’s is paying $15 per hour and we pay a CNA $14.50 per hour to start, that is an issue,” Fuchs said. “We need to look at what the expenses would be and maybe some options for paying part of the premium.”

The board asked Jacobs why employees were leaving the facility. Jacobs said some of the issues relate to wages and benefits, and employees having to find someone to cover their shift to get time off.

Schipporeit said finding people to work in nursing has been difficult during the pandemic.

“There are people who don’t want to work in nursing because of COVID,” Schipporeit said.

Maxwell said it would be difficult to build the care center’s census without adequate staffing.

“We have to give quality care to our residents,” Maxwell said. “There is only so long that a skeleton crew can do that.”

Schipporeit said the residents were the primary focus, and the staff strives every day to provide them with the best care.

Campbell said staffing issues are not unique to just the Sandhills Care Center but are an issue industry wide in health care.

“Our options are to continue what we are doing and try to recruit, or to plan for closure,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to do that.”

Fuchs asked Schipporeit if she would provide the board with an estimate for the options to pay for part of the premiums for full-time employees who utilize the insurance benefits offered through the care center’s payroll company.

Jacobs said two CNAs would start soon with the care center when they return to the community from college. She said she continues to advertise through several avenues for open positions.

Small said he believed the care center should pare down its local advertising since the facility was not receiving applications for the positions it was advertising.

Audience member Graig Kinzie said he had visited with the board in April about the apparent lack of local interest in the director of nursing position.

For that position especially, Kinzie said the care center might be better served spending in the Omaha World-Herald’s Sunday Classified section to see if that yielded any results, even though it was costly to do so.

Kinzie provided the board with an option to pare down its advertising costs by giving a more generic description of the other open positions and directing people to the nursing home for more information as opposed to providing a full job description for each open position.

During the outset of Monday’s meeting, Pastor Georg Williams urged the board to allow him to conduct music and worship services to residents.

“It has been a year and a half pandemic, with trauma not experienced in most of our lives,” Williams said. “We are now at a time when bold action is needed and change is required.”

Williams said residents are being denied the opportunity to worship.

“For several months, I have been allowed to visit parishioners in the Rock County Long Term Care,” Williams said. “Other pastors have been allowed to visit their parishioners in numerous communities.” In the Sandhills Care Center, I am banned from admittance. I am fully vaccinated, but it makes no difference at the Sandhills Care Center.”

Williams said clergy must be allowed access to the rooms of their parishioners.

“I ask that I be allowed to create a schedule with music and worship for the residents,” Williams said.

Jacobs said the CDC’s policies have not changed.

“Sandhills Care Center residents did not contract COVID until much later than other facilities,” Jacobs said.

She said, because of that, the care center was just getting to the end of the 90-day period required for residents to be vaccinated after they have recovered from COVID.

“We have a handful of residents who are not yet fully vaccinated,” Jacobs said. “Some residents were not eligible for their first shot until last month. They won’t get their second shot for two more weeks.”

Jacobs said the facility is working to keep all the residents safe and healthy.

Maxwell asked if any other pastors have been allowed in to visit their parishioners in the sun room.

Jacobs said there are two pastors who already come in to the facility and see their parishioners one at a time in the sun room, and Williams had also been provided that option.

Campbell asked if Jacobs planned to open the facility up to additional visitation when all residents are fully vaccinated.

Jacbos said the visitation policy would be changed.

“We don’t exactly know what those changes will look like yet,” the administrator said.

Campbell said, in Rock County, pretty much every resident got COVID before there were any cases in the Sandhills Care Center. He said the CDC will continue to relax restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated.

Small questioned why the facility should have to comply with the CDC’s guidance.

Jacobs said the facility’s license and her administrative license could be affected if the facility does not comply with the guidance from the state and the CDC.

Schipporeit said the facility was in a tight spot trying to allow visitation and still comply with the regulations.

“We are not the ones making those decisions,” Schipporeit said. “We are just trying to take care of the residents the best we can.”

Campbell said the facility would be open to legal liability if it did not follow the guidelines and someone in the facility contracted COVID and passed away.

“There have been no recent COVID cases in the county, so it is getting better,” Campbell said.

Fuchs said the care center had to follow the state’s regulations.

“It is not the most accommodating, but one case of COVID in the facility could be catastrophic,” Fuchs said.

Campbell asked Jacobs to draft a letter to Williams providing an approximate timeline for residents to be fully vaccinated and restrictions to be eased.

Fuchs updated the board regarding the new generator the facility purchased.

“Dustin (Barthel) is working to get the preliminary work done so when the generator arrives it will be a short time frame to get it fully installed,” Fuchs said. “We are still waiting for the generator to arrive.”

Fuchs said he visited with maintenance employee Matt Moody regarding selling the old generator after the new unit is installed.

“We could do sealed bids or sell it on Big Iron,” Fuchs said. “I think the commission we pay would be more than offset by the additional price we would receive.”

Small agreed selling the old generator in a Big Iron auction would be the best option. He said the commission is 11 percent for items under $150,000, but the auction would remain open for increased bidding instead of the facility simply taking sealed bids for the generator.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board is scheduled for 5 p.m. June 14.

* Area students graduate from UN-L

(Posted 1:45 p.m. May 10)

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln conferred a record 3,594 degrees during commencement exercises May 7 and 8.

The 3,512 graduates are from 58 countries, 43 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 250 Nebraska communities.

Tom Osborne, former Nebraska football coach, athletic director and congressman, delivered the keynote address during the undergraduate ceremonies May 8 at Memorial Stadium.

Area students graduating from UN-L include:

Ainsworth

  • Colin L. Dike, College of Education and Human Sciences, Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences with distinction.

Atkinson

  • Edison James Fredrick, College of Business, Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
  • Jake Tanner Judge, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Bachelor of Science in Mechanized Systems Management with highest distinction.
  • Brent Andrew Lemmer, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Bachelor of Science in Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication.

Stuart

  • Harlee Makenna Fischer, College of Education and Human Sciences, Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences.
  • Alison Paige Stracke, College of Arts and Sciences, Bachelor of Science.

Valentine

  • Riley Kate Beel, College of Arts and Sciences, Bachelor of Science.

Wood Lake

  • Mariah Del Hogenson, College of Education and Human Sciences, Bachelor of Science in Education and Human Sciences with distinction.
  • Kaylee Elizabeth Wheeler, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Bachelor of Science in Animal Science.

* Walk-in vaccination clinics scheduled for next week

(Posted 7 a.m. May 7)

The North Central District Health Department will host walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinics next week. Those 16 and older who have not been vaccinated may go to the O’Neill Armory from 4 until 6 p.m. Monday, May 10. Those 18 and older may go to the Mid Plains Community College building at Valentine from noon until 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 12.

The health department reported 13,552 people living in the nine counties served by the North Central District Health Department have been fully vaccinated, representing 37.7 percent of those 16 and older. Another 1,064 people have received one dose in the two-dose series.

Anyone who received a first dose of vaccine through an NCDHD clinic and has not received a call to schedule a second dose is asked to call the NCDHD office to schedule an appointment. More information is available online at Getvaccineanswers.org

The health department was made aware of just two new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Monday, including one confirmed case in Holt County and one case in Pierce County.

The NCDHD reported 45 people recovered from the virus during the past week. Among the people recovering were 13 Holt County residents and two residents of Brown County. 

* Area students named Academic All-State by NSAA

(Posted 7:15 a.m. May 6)

Each year the Nebraska School Activities Association and the Nebraska Chiropractic Physicians Association recognize students with Academic All-State Awards who have been nominated by their schools, based on their individual academic excellence, leadership and significant contributions made to their NSAA activity.

A total of 2,311 students were named Academic All-State for spring activities. Area students include:

Ainsworth
Brandt Murphy in boys golf, Seth Anderson and Brandt Murphy in music, Ben Flynn and Ty Schlueter in boys track and field, and Cee Anna Beel and Maia Flynn in girls track and field.

Keya Paha County
Hunter Wiebelhaus in girls track and field.

Rock County
Brooklyn Buell and Carson Shaw in music, Ben Bruns and Dolan Pospichal in boys track and field, and Jillian Buell in girls track and field.

Stuart
Anthony Heiser and Schuyler Mustin in boys golf, Jason Fahrenholz and Wade Paxton in music, Wade Paxton in boys track and field, and Katilynn Kaup and Cadence Kramer in girls track and field.

West Holt
Jackson Butterfield and Jaxson Cadwallader in boys golf, Haley Peek and Brianna Rentschler in music, Joseph Albrecht and Aaron Kraus in boys track and field, and Landyn Mlady and Haley Peek in girls track and field.

Sandhills
Brett Downing in boys golf, Miriam Ganoung and Courtney Swisher in music, Matthew Dailey in boys track and field, and Madison Marten in girls track and field.

* Area students to receive degrees from UNMC

(Posted 8 a.m. May 5)

The University of Nebraska Medical Center will hold in-person May commencement ceremonies with COVID-19 restrictions at each of its five campuses. Diplomas and certificates will be conferred on 1,051 students.

Area students scheduled to graduate include:

UNMC COLLEGE OF NURSING KEARNEY DIVISION

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Stuart — Maycey Forker

Master of Science in Nursing

Bassett — Whitney Polen

UNMC COLLEGE OF NURSING LINCOLN DIVISION

Bachelor of Science in Nursing

Atkinson — Shaely Thiele

UNMC COLLEGE OF MEDICINE

Doctor of Medicine

Stuart — Jordan Kunz

Valentine — Sara Marlatt

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Stuart — Samantha Sattler (with distinction)

* Commissioners approve setbacks for confinement facilities

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 5)

By a 2-1 vote following a public hearing Tuesday, the Brown County Commissioners approved an updated comprehensive plan and changes to the county’s zoning regulations narrowly recommended by the Planning Commission.

The main zoning change involves setbacks for environmentally controlled livestock confinement facilities. The Planning Commission, by a 4-3 vote, recommended the commissioners approve setbacks based off an odor footprint tool that would keep neighboring properties odor-free 98 percent of the time.

That setback was farther than a 96 percent odor-free model the Planning Commission voted against by a 4-3 margin.

Audience members were allowed to provide the commissioners with their thoughts on setbacks Tuesday, with Jack King Sr. telling the board he would like to see the setbacks farther than what was proposed and wanted to see those setbacks begin from the property line instead of from a dwelling.

“But, you have done more than what was there in the past,” King said. “We spent money on attorneys. With good zoning, we wouldn’t have had to do that.”

Marsha King said she would like to see any approved facilities be placed away from water sources.

Gene Snyder told the commissioners he also believed setbacks should start from the boundary line instead of from a house, but he said he could go along with the proposed 98 percent odor-free setback.

“If you make them bond to decommission wind towers, why wouldn’t you also require a bond for decommissioning confinement facilities?” Snyder asked.

Kim Snyder said she would like to see more stringent setbacks, and she was still confused about some of the specifics of the proposed regulations.

“It has been a long, hard discussion over the years, but I think we are making progress,” Snyder said.

Planning Commission Chair Linda O’Hare told the board she worried about bias and discrimination toward one entity.

Commissioner Buddy Small said state statute gives the commissioners the right to set and amend any zoning rules.

“We could do away with zoning altogether,” Small said. “Then the landowner could do anything and it would be up to the neighbors to have to hire attorneys to fight it. Zoning doesn’t make everyone happy. It is a compromise. It can be difficult to compromise in your own family, let alone an entire county.”

Commissioner Denny Bauer said a University of Nebraska-Omaha research paper showed there were 3,145 people in Brown County in the 2010 Census. The research paper projected the county’s population would be down to 1,748 people by 2050.

“I really worry about our future population if we stop agriculture,” Bauer said. “I don’t know what infrastructure should look like, but I don’t know if we can maintain a hospital, dentist, optometrist and other necessities with those kind of population declines.”

Bauer said declining population was not just an issue for Brown County.

“It we don’t stimulate economic growth, what will that do to the people who live here in the future?” Bauer asked.

Bauer said it would cost the same or more to maintain a school, even if there are half the kids there are now in the future.

Audience member Dave Sherman said business owners in Brown County could already employ 25 to 30 more people now with all the job openings.

“There is not a shortage of work now,” Sherman said. “We can maintain our way of life and still have employment. Many of us live here because of the way of life.”

Bauer said, if the county doesn’t add infrastructure, taxes have to be raised and it will cost people more for services.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said farming to scale was as much to blame for the declining population in the county as anything.

“It used to be a family lived on 40 to 80 acres,” Wiebelhaus said. “Now there are farms that are 3,000 to 5,000 acres. It had to be done to make it work.”

Audience members questioned the nationality of the workers who would come to the community if more confinement facilities were to be allowed.

Bauer asked if people had an issue with the odor from confinement facilities or if it was a racial bias issue.

“You had better decide,” Bauer said.

County Attorney Andy Taylor said Hispanics in Brown County were way more likely to be the victims of a crime in the past four years than the perpetrator of a crime.

Wiebelhaus said the nationality of workers is not what the county was basing any of its decisions on relating to zoning.

Following the public hearing, Wiebelhaus moved to adopt the odor footprint tool using setbacks from the 98 percent odor-free model, with Small seconding the motion.

Bauer said he had reservations about using the 98 percent odor-free model.

“Six of the seven Planning Commission members were initially in favor of the 96 percent tool,” Bauer said. “Then one person spoke and some changed their minds. I would like to see the 96 percent odor footprint model. A lot of counties have adopted that.”

Bauer said it bothered him that the county was going to set zoning regulations for all confinement operations except for beef operations.

“Hogs are an economic driver,” Bauer said. “Hog facilities generate a lot of economic activity. If we want to eliminate those, let’s just rezone the county from agricultural to recreational.”

By a 2-1 vote with Bauer against, the board approved the updated comprehensive plan and the zoning amendments as recommended by the Planning Commission.

In addition to setbacks for environmentally controlled feeding operations, the zoning amendments addressed perpetual conservation easements, wind towers and solar arrays.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners approved a bid from Norfolk Contracting to replace the Fairfield Creek bridge in northwestern Brown County washed out during flooding in 2019.

The lone bid was $197,584 to replace the bridge. The Nature Conservancy previously pledged $140,000 to the county to have the bridge replaced as soon as possible instead of waiting for possible cost-share assistance from FEMA.

The commissioners renewed its health insurance for 2021-22 through the Nebraska Association of County Officials’ Blue Cross and Blue Shield plan. Assistant clerk Becky Hardy said the overall plan was increasing by 3.28 percent. The board opted to keep the percentages employees pay for insurance at 22 percent, with the county paying 78 percent of the premium. The county kept the cash in lieu of insurance at 75 percent of the cost of the premium.

Bauer reported the county received six applications for the advertised emergency manager position. He said the selection committee of Kenny Turpin, Bruce Papstein, Ann Fiala and himself would review the applications and would recommend candidates to be interviewed by both the committee and the commissioners.

Bauer said the plan would be to complete the interviews and make a decision during the board’s May 18 meeting.

The board approved a resolution prepared by Taylor opposing President Biden’s 30 by 30 executive order that called for 30 percent of the country’s land to be federally protected for conservation by 2030.

The resolution reads that the Brown County Commissioners resolve, because of its duty to provide effective stewardship of its land, protect private property rights and ensure land is available for future generations to enjoy and use, that it objects to and resists the implementation of the 30 by 30 program.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin reported the roads department has been hauling clay on Moon Lake Avenue and 432nd Avenue. Harold Cheatum said the county maintainers have not been going over a road near his property and asked if the county could address it. Turpin said there are times, if a road is in good shape, that running a blade over it can actually make it worse. He said he would include the road on the department’s list as it begins pulling shoulders.

After advertising surplus items for sale, the board opened two bids for items Tuesday. Terri Van Houten bid $32 for a filing cabinet, and Sara Gurnsey bid $11 each for three electronic typewriters. The remaining surplus items that did not receive bids will be trashed.

In a final action item Tuesday, the commissioners approved a transfer of $7,000 from the county’s miscellaneous general fund to the veterans services fund.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 18.

* Ganser named Fine Arts Student of the Year

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 5)

Ainsworth High School
Fine Arts Awards Night winners
Brown County Arts Council

Fine Arts Student of the Year – Josie Ganser

Fine Arts Student of the Year Alternate – Brandt Murphy

Band

Patrick Gilmore Award – Brandt Murphy

John Phillip Sousa Award – Josie Ganser

Choir

Choir Student of the Year – Seth Anderson

Speech

Outstanding Speaker – Alyssa Erthum

Senior Oratory Award – Cody Kronhofman

Jess Duden Memorial Speech Team Member – Josie Ganser

Mock Trial

David Streich Memorial Award – Elizabeth Smith

Outstanding Attorney – Alyssa Erthum

Most Improved – Haley Schroedl

Thespians

International Honor Thespian – Brandt Murphy

Thespian of the Year – Brandt Murphy

* Location changed for Thursday vaccination clinic at Bassett

(Posted 6:45 a.m. May 5)

The North Central District Health Department has changed the location for Thursday’s walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Bassett.

Instead of being held in the Rock County High School gym, Thursday’s vaccination clinic will be located at the Rock County Fairgrounds.

Anyone interested in receiving the Moderna vaccine may go to the fairgrounds between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday. Anyone who has received a first dose of vaccine but has not yet been scheduled for a second dose is asked to contact the NCDHD office.

The health department was made aware of nine new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were one in Holt County, one in Cherry County and one new case was confirmed in Boyd County.  

* Area students scheduled to graduate from UN-K

(Posted 2 p.m. May 3)

Graduate and undergraduate degrees will be conferred for 685 spring graduates at University of Nebraska at Kearney commencement exercises Friday and Saturday at UNK’s Health and Sports Center.

Undergraduate degrees will be conferred at exercises 10 a.m. Friday, May 7. The graduate-degree hooding ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 8. This marks the first time undergraduate and graduate exercises are taking place separately.

Area students scheduled to graduate from UNK include:

Ainsworth

Neiley Arens, a Master of Arts degree in education, with emphasis in curriculum and instruction – English as a second language.

Hayley Murphy, a Specialist degree in education, with emphasis in school psychology.

Miranda Raymond, a Bachelor of Science degree in sociology. Raymond is graduating with cum laude distinction.

Sara Salzman, a Bachelor of Arts degree in education, with emphasis in elementary education and special education. Salzman is graduating with cum laude distinction.

Ashley Titus, a Bachelor of Science degree in early childhood and family advocacy. Titus is graduating with summa cum laude distinction.

Bassett

Bailey DeVall, a Bachelor of Science degree in communication disorders.

Jentrie Maurer, a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration. Maurer is graduating with honorable mention distinction.

Sage Osborn, a Bachelor of Science degree in sports management.

Stuart

Monique Schafer, a Bachelor of Science degree in family science. Schafer is graduating with magna cum laude distinction.

* NPPD has no plans to rebuild Spencer Dam

(Posted 1:30 p.m. May 3)

After an announcement from FEMA Friday that $50 million had been awarded to repair the damage done to the Spencer Dam on the Niobrara River, the Nebraska Public Power District on Monday announced it had no plans to rebuild the Spencer Dam.

NPPD representative Mark Becker said NPPD provided FEMA with the cost to rebuild the hydro dam as part of the application process, but Becker said NPPD notified FEMA at the time it had no intention of rebuilding the dam but planned to demolish and decommission the hydro plant.

Becker said FEMA’s initial release indicated the funding awarded would be used to rebuild the dam. At the time the dam was destroyed, NPPD already had an agreement in place to sell the dam to a group of Natural Resources Districts. With the dam destroyed, that agreement is no longer in place.

Becker said, now that FEMA has obligated funding for the project, NPPD will put together the plan and cost estimates to demolish and decommission the Spencer Dam and will work with regulatory agencies on that approval process.

In an amended announcement, FEMA indicated funding of approximately $50 million (75 percent federal share of total project cost) was obligated to assist the Nebraska Public Power District in either its repairs to the Spencer Hydroelectric Facility and Dam to restore the facilities back to pre-disaster design, capacity and function, or toward an improved or alternate project.

The Public Assistance Program provides grants to state and local governments and certain non-profit entities to assist them with the response to and recovery from disasters.

Specifically, the program provides assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and permanent restoration of infrastructure.

NPPD will utilize the debris removal portion of the program to assist in the decommission process of the dam and hydro plant.

* FEMA awards NPPD $50 million for Spencer Dam damage

(Posted 9:15 a.m. April 30)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has obligated more than $50 million to the state of Nebraska for the Spencer Hydroelectric plant and dam as a direct result of a major disaster declaration.

Flooding in March 2019 caused damage to the Spencer Hydroelectric plant and dam. Heavy rain on frozen ground followed by a blizzard created a record runoff, breaking up ice on the Niobrara River. Large chunks of ice floating in the floodwaters overtopped the embankment and spillway structure breaching the embankment in two locations causing catastrophic damages to the Spencer Hydro Electric plant and dam.

Funding of approximately $50 million (75 percent federal share of total project cost) was obligated to assist the Nebraska Public Power District in its repairs to the Spencer Hydroelectric Facility and Dam to restore the facilities back to pre-disaster design, capacity and function.

The Public Assistance Program provides grants to state and local governments and certain non-profit entities to assist them with the response to and recovery from disasters. Specifically, the program provides assistance for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and permanent restoration of infrastructure.

* Highway 20 Medal of Honor dedication walk scheduled

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 30)

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s highest military award for bravery. It is awarded by the President in the name of Congress.  For this reason, it is often referred to as the Congressional Medal of Honor. Since it was first presented in 1863, the medal has been awarded 3,512 times to 3,492 recipients.

In February of 2020, Governor Pete Ricketts decreed that U.S. Highway 20 shall be known as the Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway to honor Nebraska’s greatest military heroes.

American Legion members Ken Hanel of West Point and Daryl Harrison of Thurston will begin Walk the Walk, a 432-mile dedication of The Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway May 11 at the Nebraska/Wyoming border. Hanel,74, and Harrison, 66, will be supported by their wives, drivers, and back-up walkers. They will alternate walking six-mile segments for a total of 36 miles a day, and then join together in walking the 37th mile at the end of each day.  Each segment is dedicated to a specific Nebraska Medal of Honor Recipient.  There are currently 74 Nebraska Medal of Honor Recipients.

The entourage will be stopping in 11 communities – Crawford, Hay Springs, Gordon, Cody, Valentine, Wood Lake, Bassett, Atkinson, Orchard, Osmond and Laurel – to spend the night across 12 days. At each community, the entourage will join those of a patriotic nature for a supper. It is the purpose of the walkers to raise funds for further signage along the highway and introduce Nebraskans to their largest veteran memorial.

The Nebraska Medal of Honor Highway will eventually become part of a National Medal of Honor that stretches from Newport, OR to Boston, MA.

* Walk-in vaccination clinic available next week

(Posted 6:15 a.m. April 30)

The North Central District Health Department will have walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations available next week.

Those 18 and older who have not yet been vaccinated may go to the Rock County High School gym between noon and 6 p.m. Thursday, May 6. The clinic will dispense the Moderna vaccine.

If you have received a first dose of vaccine through an NCDHD clinic and have not received a call to schedule your second dose, please call the office to schedule an appointment. Still have questions regarding the vaccines? Getvaccineanswers.org is a resource for those wanting to know more and get informed.

The NCDHD was made aware of 10 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting period on Monday. Of the 10 new cases, seven were confirmed in Holt County. NCDHD reported 48 people have recovered from the virus during the past week. Among the recoveries are 18 people in Holt County and one in Boyd County.

Test Nebraska Clinics will only be held in O’Neill on Mondays from 8:30 until 10:30 a.m. at the O’Neill Armory.

* All-Sports Tailgate Party returns after year absence

(Posted 7 a.m. April 28)

After missing a year due to the pandemic, Ainsworth High School athletes were recognized Tuesday during the All-Sports Tailgate Party.

With a meal hosted by the Ainsworth Lions Club, coaches and sponsors recognized their teams and presented year-end awards.

Cheer coach Juli Murphy and Pom coach Caren Fernau recognized their squads. Murphy recognized seniors CeeAnna Beel, Josie Ganser, Adriana Hood, Cailin Orton, Elizabeth Smith and Madison Welch, all of whom were either three-year or four-year members.

Fernau recognized seniors Moriah Beel, Mila Pozehl, Molly Salzman, Madison Welch and Ellie Welke, all either three-year or four-year members of the team.

Cross country coach Jared Hansmeyer kicked off the fall sports presentations by naming Katherine Kerrigan and Ty Schlueter the cross country most valuable runners. Both were district champions and earned top five medals at the Nebraska State Cross Country Championships.

Hansmeyer recognized senior girls CeeAnna Beel, Moriah Beel and Molly Salzman for being a part of three state championship teams and a state runner-up team during their four years in cross country.

CeeAnna Beel and Ben Flynn were presented with the Team Player awards.

Girls golf coach Heather Lutter named senior Josie Ganser as the team’s most valuable player.

Football coach Jesse Owen recognized Caleb Allen for setting school career records in passing yards at 2,650 and rushing yards at 1,900. Owen named Allen the team’s MVP and the offensive MVP.

Traegan McNally received the defensive MVP award, and Riggin Blumenstock was named the special teams player of the year.

Owen presented a plaque to Cash Reynolds for being voted by his teammates as the Teammate of the Year.

Volleyball coach Jeri Graff recognized team members for setting several season and career records. Katrina Beel set the single season and career digs record. Summer Richardson set the single match set assists school record, as well as assist records for a season and career. Kaitlyn Nelson set the school’s career kills record.

Graff named Katrina Beel the team’s MVP, with Madelyn Goochey receiving the Hustle Award, Cameryn Goochey the Heart Award and Kendyl Delimont the Most Improved Player Award.

Turning to winter sports, wrestling coach Todd Pollock named Mila Pozehl the MVP of the newly created girls wrestling team. Pozehl finished sixth in her weight class at the Nebraska Girls State Championships.

Isaac Hood was named the boys wrestling MVP.

Girls basketball coach Stephen Crile recognized Bria Delimont for setting the school’s single season 3-point record with 50.

Crile named Kendyl Delimont the team’s MVP, with Bria Delimont the Offensive Player of the Year and Kaitlyn Nelson the Defensive Player of the Year. Crile presented Saylen Young and Tessa Barthel with the team’s Most Improved Player awards.

Boys basketball coach Jake Nelson recognized Carter Nelson for setting a school record with 11 blocks in a game.

Carter Nelson was presented with the team’s MVP Award. Caleb Allen received the Defensive MVP Award and Traegan McNally was named the Offensive MVP. Ben Barrow received the team’s Most Improved Player Award.

Ty Schlueter was selected as the recipient of the Bryent Wilkins Most Valuable Teammate Award.

Track and field coach Jake Nelson and boys golf coach Julie Micheel updated the audience on the teams’ seasons. Typically, the spring sports coaches present MVP awards from the previous season, but since those seasons were cancelled last year due to the pandemic there were no awards to present.

Bria Delimont and Kendyl Delimont shared the female Lifter of the Year Award, and Logan Hafer was named the male Lifter of the Year.

Katrina Beel and Moriah Beel were recognized as 12-sport athletes, competing in three sports during all four years of their high school careers.

The John Nelson Sportsmanship Award was presented to seniors Madison Welch and Logan Hafer.

* Two Highway 20 projects delayed, including in Ainsworth

(Posted 3 p.m. April 27)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that two projects on Highway 20 have been delayed.

District 8 Engineer Mark Kovar said concrete reconstruction of 1.5 miles in the Ainsworth city limits has been pushed back from this summer to next summer at the earliest.

“We did not receive any bids for that project,” Kovar said. “We have never had a project before that received no bids. I presume the contractors’ schedules were full and they couldn’t build it this year.”

Kovar said the NDOT will let bids for that project again this summer, with construction to commence in the summer of 2022.

With the Highway 20 reconstruction project in Ainsworth delayed until 2022, Kovar said the NDOT made the decision to delay the Highway 20 bridge repair project near Long Pine over Pine Creek until 2023. That project was scheduled to be bid this year for 2022 construction.

“We delayed the bridge project because we didn’t want it under construction at the same time as the project in Ainsworth,” Kovar said. “Most of the gravel for the Ainsworth project will come from the Atkinson area, so we wanted to avoid the contractor having to haul that gravel on a detour.”

Construction for the bridge project is now anticipated to begin in the summer of 2023 instead of the summer of 2022.

A project on Highway 83 through Valentine has also been delayed. That project is scheduled to reconstruct more than a half-mile of Highway 83 from the Highway 20 junction north to the Highway 12 junction.

That work was also scheduled to begin this summer but will instead begin either this fall or in the spring of 2022.

Kovar said the NDOT did receive bids on the Highway 83 project, but the bids all came in higher than the estimate so the bids were rejected.

If the Highway 83 project is awarded this summer following bid letting, the contractor will have the option to begin work on the detour improvements this fall or wait until the spring of 2022 to start the project.

“They could start on the Cherry Street detour route this fall if the project is awarded,” Kovar said.

* Walk-in vaccination clinics available this week

(Posted 6:45 a.m. April 27)

The North Central District Health Department has walk-in COVID-19 vaccination times available this week.

Anyone age 18 and older who resides in the nine counties covered by the NCDHD may come in for vaccination without an appointment from 3 until 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Rock County High School Gym, from 1 until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Butte Community Center, or from noon until 2 p.m. Friday in the Atkinson Community Center. The clinics use the Moderna vaccine.

The health department was made aware of 10 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases confirmed were three in Holt County and one in Cherry County.

More than 93,284 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered during the past week in Nebraska. As of Sunday, more than 1.27 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

As of Sunday, 601,946 Nebraskans have completed vaccination, which represents 40.6% of residents aged 16 years of age and older.

Nebraska is scheduled to receive 28,080 first doses and 28,080 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, and 20,700 first doses and 19,200 second doses of the Moderna vaccine.

* Local Pheasants Forever chapter awards scholarships

(Posted 6:15 a.m. April 23)

The Sandhills Chapter of Pheasants Forever awarded eight scholarships to the graduating class of 2021. Those selected are Ellie Welke and Moriah Beel from Ainsworth High School, Hunter Wiebelhaus and Adyson Linse from Keya Paha County High School, Zack Dickau and Grace Olson from Rock County High School and Michaela Keller and Haley Hesse from Valentine High School.

The Sandhills Chapter started its scholarship program in 2008 and has awarded a total of 63 scholarships for a total of $31,500. The program is able to offer scholarships thanks to the support of the area during its annual banquet.

* Commissioners set public hearing on zoning recommendations

(Posted 7 a.m. April 21)

The Brown County Commissioners on Tuesday set a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. May 4 in the courthouse courtroom to hear comments regarding an updated comprehensive plan and changes to the county’s zoning regulations recommended by the Brown County Planning Commission.

After a public hearing and two subsequent meetings, the Planning Commission recommended changes to the county’s zoning regulations related to environmentally controlled livestock feeding operations, wind towers and other updates. The Planning Commission also recommended the commissioners adopt an updated comprehensive plan.

Zoning Administrator Tom Jones presented the board with those recommended updates, and the board voted to schedule the public hearing during its next regular meeting May 4.

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a request from Weed Superintendent Scott Erthum to allow him to use 15-day noxious weed spray notices to landowners in addition to 10-day notices.

Erthum said the 15-day notice allows for fees to be issued for non-compliance after the 15-day period.

“I only issue two or three notices a year,” Erthum said. “It is not something I like to use.”

The weed superintendent said he was asked to help control noxious weeds in Ainsworth, Long Pine and Johnstown, and he ran into three situations where landowners were not compliant.

“We currently use a 10-day notice for non-compliant landowners,” Erthum said. “After that, we do a force spray and the landowner is charged for the cost.”

He said the 10-day notice does not work well for the small lots in town, and asked the board to allow him to use the 15-day notice that includes a fee for non-compliance. The board approved the request.

Erthum reported a grant was received to have yellow flag iris sprayed on the Long Pine Creek watershed. Though not listed as a noxious weed, Erthum said a lot of yellow flag iris is growing along the creek and it is invasive.

“It chokes off the water,” he said. “It is not good to have it in there.”

Erthum said a helicopter will be utilized through the grant funding to spray the Long Pine Creek watershed to control the plant.

The commissioners approved allowing county-owned land east of the Brown County Hospital to be utilized for the construction of a community fishing pond.

Graig Kinzie made the request to the board, and said he was working with the Ainsworth Lions Club to establish a fishing pond in the community so youth would have close access to a place to fish.

Kinzie said he had already received an outpouring of support from organizations and businesses interested in assisting with the project. He said a site for a supplemental water well was identified, but a waiver from a property owner who has an irrigation pivot near the site would be needed before a shallow well could be developed to provide water to the pond.

“The Lions Club has agreed to handle the funding for the project, and I will pursue grant opportunities on the Lions Club’s behalf,” Kinzie said.

Andrew Glidden from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission discussed design aspects for the project, telling the commissioners one-third of the pond would need to be developed to a depth of 12 feet to ease the threat of winter kill to a fish population the Game and Parks Commission would stock.

He said bentonite or other clay material would be needed to line the sides of the pond to keep seepage to a minimum.

Kinzie said one business owner had agreed to donate some of the excavation work in exchange for the topsoil, and he asked if the county would also be willing to provide some of the excavation and material removal work.

The board indicated its support, and Commissioners Denny Bauer and Reagan Wiebelhaus told Kinzie and Glidden to design the pond as large as possible. Bauer asked that a picnic shelter area also be included as part of the design.

The board approved the use of the site for the project.

During his report, Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said the roads department had completed a grading project on Meadow Lark Road, and is currently working on areas of Moon Lake Avenue that continue to wash out.

“We are putting cedar trees in there and trying to build it back up,” Turpin said.

Turpin said he visited with the Brown County Rural Fire District Board about placing a diesel fuel tank at the Raven Fire Hall for the roads department to utilize. He asked if the county would assume responsibility for the tank, which the board indicated it would.

The board heard an update by phone from Eric Kamler with Third District Rep. Adrian Smith’s office.

Kamler provided an update on legislation Smith was working on through his committee assignments. He said he had been hearing from numerous counties in the Third District regarding the 30×30 executive order that set a goal of having 30 percent of land under federal environmental protection by 2030.

He said Smith was opposed to the plan, and his office was trying to obtain information from the Department of the Interior on how the administration planned to carry out the directive.

“We are keeping a close watch on it,” Kamler said. “There is likely nothing that is going to happen quickly. They may try to beef up the CRP program. That would get them there. There will eventually be an online public comment period.”

County Attorney Andy Taylor asked Kamler if the congressman had considered holding a town hall of his own to gather comments to present to the departments tasked with carrying out the directive.

“I will share that with the congressman,” Kamler said. “I like the idea. The resolutions a lot of the counties are passing can also be presented.”

Taylor told the commissioners several counties and local governments have passed resolutions condemning the directive.

“If the plan is to seize private property, that is definitely something the county should oppose,” Taylor said. “But, we don’t know what they are planning at this point.”

Taylor recommended the county reserve taking action until its May 4 meeting to see if more details about the directive are released.

Wiebelhaus said any federal land grabs would be in opposition to the county’s comprehensive plan that protects land in the county for agricultural use.

Bauer said the county could probably not step in if it is a situation between a willing buyer and a willing seller.

“I would like to have some kind of resolution May 4,” Bauer said. “I have had a lot of calls wanting us to oppose this.”

The item was placed on the board’s May 4 agenda, as was a decision to install WiFi in the courthouse.

Clerk Travee Hobbs said having the state install WiFi was more expensive than she anticipated, but there may also be options Three River could provide for a wireless network.

Both Bauer and Commissioner Buddy Small said the county needed to provide the wireless network in the courthouse, and asked Hobbs to have a recommendation to the board May 4.

Treasurer Deb Vonheeder presented the board with a sheriff’s department distress warrant report. Vonheeder said all distress warrants had been collected with the exception of one property, which was currently in bankruptcy proceedings.

Vonheeder also said she set up a separate account to handle the federal funds the county received through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Small said the county needed to be careful on how that money is spent or it runs the risk of having to pay it back.

“Some counties are already spending it,” Small said. “If it is not spent on the right things, it has to be paid back.”

Small addressed a potential pest issue, as the courthouse has had an ongoing issue with bats getting into the building.

“If a bat bites someone, it is a liability issue,” Small said. “I talked with Olson Pest Control, but that would be rather expensive. We don’t need to do anything tonight, but do we want to pursue something?”

Wiebelhaus said he didn’t believe the courthouse had an infestation of bats.

“We could throw a lot of money at this and not fix the problem,” Wiebelhaus said.

Bauer said he has seen the guano above the ceiling tiles in the building.

“We could have them at least get us an estimate,” Bauer said.

Prior to adjourning, the board approved an additional list of surplus items to be advertised and sold from the clerk’s office and the BKR Extension office.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. May 4.

* Jerry Allen receives Lions Club Member of the Year Monday

(Posted 7 a.m. April 20)

During its meeting Monday, the Ainsworth Lions Club presented Jerry Allen with the Lions Club Member of the Year Award. Allen, who has been a Lions Club member for 60 years, has rarely missed a meeting during that time and has participated in almost all of the club’s volunteer events during the time he has served.

Allen was presented a plaque by the club Monday.

The Board of Directors approved a request from Dave Sherman from the Brown County Agricultural Society to run the concession stand at the fairgrounds during a Rough Stock Rally June 5.

The club also approved a request from member Graig Kinzie to have the Lions Club serve as the sponsoring organization for the construction of a community fishing pond in the Ainsworth area. Kinzie said he would handle any grant applications for the project, and asked if the club would serve as the sponsoring organization on any grant application. Kinzie said his family was donating $5,000 in memorial and estate money to get the project started following the passing of his father Gary Kinzie, a 50-year member of the Lions Club and an avid fisherman.

The Board of Directors approved serving as the sponsoring organization and agreed to handle donations that are made toward the project.

Marcus Fairhead updated the board regarding the upcoming Ainsworth High School All-Sports Tailgate Party. The Lions Club sponsors and serves the meal during the event, which will be held April 27 in McAndrew Gymnasium.

The club also discussed its annual Highway 20 cleanup project east of Ainsworth, with club members asked to meet at 3 p.m. May 2 at the Carquest parking lot.

The board also approved the slate of nominees for officers and directors for the 2021-22 year. Bob Beatty will serve as Club President for the upcoming year, with Dale Hafer the club’s vice president.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Lions Club Board of Directors is scheduled for May 17.

* Commissioners discuss bonding Meadville Avenue project

(Posted 7 a.m. March 17)

The Brown County Commissioners approved resolutions Tuesday to refinance the remaining Brown County Hospital addition bonds to take advantage of the current low interest rates and discussed potentially financing the rehabilitation of the Meadville Avenue asphalt utilizing the same rates.

Andy Forney with DA Davidson and Co. told the commissioners the interest rate to finance the remaining bonds on the Brown County Hospital addition was 0.95 percent, a historically low rate.

“You will save money refinancing the hospital bonds at that rate,” Forney said. “These resolutions allow us to get all the documentation completed.”

The resolutions approved by the board redeemed the 2016 general obligation refunding bonds, and issued new 2021 general obligation refunding bonds.

Commissioner Denny Bauer asked Forney to provide the county with options for borrowing to fund 7-1/2 miles of asphalt overlay on Meadville Avenue.

“We would be looking at somewhere around $300,000 per mile, so it would be around $2.5 million for the total project,” Bauer said.

Forney said large-scale projects were a popular topic among governmental entities with the low interest rates. He said there were a couple good options the county could utilize to bond a large project.

Forney said the county could pledge a portion of its annual highway allocation funding from the state as a guarantee for the bonds, or the county could create a road improvement district and use its general taxing authority as the guarantee on the bonds.

Forney said pledging a portion of the county’s highway allocation dollars would lead to a better interest rate, and the county could move forward quickly to take advantage of current interest rates. With the general obligation bonds, the county would not be able to issue the bonds until the work is completed.

“The added benefit of pledging highway allocation funds is you don’t have to have the project completed to issue the bonds,” Forney said. “You can lock in the rates, and you have three years to spend the funds.”

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin said the county received $776,000 in state funding for the current budget year. He asked if the county would have to allocate all that money?

Forney said the bond payments would be substantially less for a 10-year note than what the county receives in highway allocation funding.

“If this is something you decide to do, it would be a very similar process to what we are doing tonight,” Forney said.

Bauer said the county could use the highway allocation pledge for the bonds, then use the county’s general levy to make up the difference for what the roads department would otherwise lose in its annual state allocation.

“With the rates now, this would save us about a half-million dollars in interest,” Bauer said. “The money is never going to be any cheaper to borrow, and the road needs to be fixed. Patching a mile here and a mile there is a never-ending problem, and the road stays rough.”

Turpin said new asphalt would last 20 years with good maintenance, and he said the county may want to consider placing load limits on Meadville Avenue to further protect it.

“I think some of the problem now is some of the trucks are way overloaded,” Turpin said.

Commissioner Buddy Small said he had concerns about obligating the county to debt payments when there are other large-scale projects that may need to be addressed.

“I am not saying it should or should not be done,” Small said. “If the state determines the sheriff’s facility needs revamped or replaced, that would be a large expense. This building will need a new roof at some point. We have equipment that needs to be upgraded.”

Bauer said it would cost the county much more than that to build 10 years from now.

“We picked up $130,000 from the first round of COVID relief, and we are eligible for another $573,000 in this round of federal COVID relief,” Bauer said. “That goes a long way toward addressing some of those other concerns like the jail or the courthouse.”

Forney asked how the county was positioned financially compared to some of its neighboring counties.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said the county used its inheritance tax fund to pay for damage from flooding in 2019, while other counties had to borrow money.

“We spent a lot of our inheritance tax fund down to keep from having to tax or borrow,” Wiebelhaus said.

Forney said the total interest the county would pay over 10 years on a $2.5 million bond would be $152,000.

Bauer asked that the issue be placed on the board’s April 6 agenda to make a decision on whether to move forward with the project.

“There is no need to talk about it for six more meetings,” Bauer said. “We either do it or we don’t.”

In other roads items, Turpin said the roads department had been hauling gravel onto several roads, but it was tough to tell after the recent moisture.

“We will have to run the maintainers as soon as it dries out before we go back to our grading projects,” the highway superintendent said.

Wiebelhaus asked if there were areas in danger of having water over the road again following the recent moisture.

Turpin said there were stretches of both the West Calamus Road and the Elsmere Road that were getting bad again and were close to having water over the road.

Dan Zwiebel thanked the county for adding gravel to 435th Avenue.

“The job was well done,” Zwiebel said. “Everyone out that way is happy.”

Zwiebel said, prior to the gravel being placed on the surface, several people had become stuck on that stretch of roadway.

The commissioners approved sending a letter to Crit Mitchell thanking him for 42 years of service to the county on the roads department. Mitchell plans to retire soon.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners discussed advertising for proposals for an emergency management director after the county recently voted to end its membership in the Region 24 Emergency Management Agency.

Small said the commissioners had talked about their dissatisfaction with Region 24 for quite some time.

“I was on that board for 10 years,” Small said. “I don’t know how many times I brought up problems we had and was criticized for even bringing something up.”

Small said, shortly after Brown County voted to leave Region 24 effective June 30, Cherry County also voted to leave.

Brown County and Cherry County paid for a majority of the Region 24 budget. Those counties’ exit leaves Rock, Keya Paha and Boyd counties comprising the region.

“We think we can receive better service with our own director,” Small said.

Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala encouraged all the entities that rely on emergency management to get together a couple times each year and take advantage of what each entity brings to the table.

“We have all been left out of the process for a long time,” Fiala said. “I would like to see all those departments communicating.”

Small said the damage from the March 2019 flooding was devastating in the county, and without Turpin handling all of the FEMA paperwork, the county would not have received any federal assistance.

Brown County Ambulance Association member Ann Fiala said having its own emergency manager was a great opportunity to improve services in Brown County.

Bauer agreed to work with stakeholders on creating a job description for the position and move forward with proposals for either hiring a county employee or receiving requests for a contract for services.

In a final action item Tuesday, the commissioners appointed Bauer and Sheriff Bruce Papstein to represent the county on the Safety Committee, and appointed Turpin and Traci Ganser to the committee representing county employees.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. April 6.

* NCDHD nears Phase 2A of vaccination plan

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 16)

The North Central District Health Department is close to moving into Phase 2A of its vaccination plan, making those ages 50 to 64 year eligible to be vaccinated.

To be called for an appointment time, NCDHD asks that residents register at vaccinate.ne.gov. Clinics are scheduled and calls are made to schedule registered residents for vaccination appointments as quickly as vaccine arrives into the office. NCDHD appreciates the patience of district residents as it works to get vaccine out to its communities as quickly as possible.

Thus far, the health department has fully vaccinated 16.6 percent of the district’s population age 16 and older. A total of 5,661 district residents have received both vaccine doses, and 9,531 residents have received their first dose of vaccine. A total of 37 percent of district residents ages 65 and older have completed vaccination.

The NCDHD was made aware of 16 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Of the new cases, three were located in Cherry County, two in Holt County, and there was one new case reported in both Brown County and Keya Paha County.

More than 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered during the past week in Nebraska. As of Sunday, 624,230 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to those in Phase 1 priority groups, according to the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

Additionally, as of Sunday, 213,151 Nebraskans have completed vaccination, which represents 14.4% of Nebraskans aged 16 years of age and older.

For this week, Nebraska is scheduled to receive 25,740 first doses and 23,400 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, as well as 18,400 first doses and 18,400 second doses of the Moderna vaccine. The state will not receive any doses of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Pharmaceuticals vaccine this week.

As of Monday, 278,148 Nebraskans have registered to receive the vaccine at vaccinate.ne.gov

Those interested in registering will need to provide name and contact information, date of birth and answer health questions used to help determine priority group eligibility. The DHHS information line can assist those who need it by calling 833-998-2275.

* Prescribed burns scheduled in Brown, Rock counties

(Posted 10:15 a.m. March 15)

Prescribed burns are planned this spring on many Nebraska Game and Parks Commission wildlife management areas, state parks and state recreation areas where weather allows.

Historically, wildlife habitats were shaped by wildfires that occurred throughout the year. Burns can help set back undesirable plants that invade native woodlands and prairies, as well as other grass and wooded areas.

Prescribed burning, if used with grazing, can set back smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass, increase diversity in grasslands and improve habitat for wildlife. Burned acres often become more attractive to wildlife. Acres managed by prescribed burning has better long-term effects on wildlife habitat compared to acres not burned.

Burns will take place this spring at both Keller State Park in Brown County and the Fred Thomas Wildlife Management Area in Rock County.

* Agricultural land values increase statewide

(Posted 10 a.m. March 15)

The value of agricultural land in Nebraska increased by an average of 6% over the prior year, to a statewide average of $2,895 per acre, according to the preliminary findings of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s 2021 Farm Real Estate Market Survey. This marks the second consecutive year that agricultural land in the state has experienced an increase in average market value.

Land industry professionals who responded to the survey attributed the rise in Nebraska farm real estate values to current interest rate levels, crop prices and COVID-19 disaster assistance payments provided to operators across the state. These factors provided stability to the industry in the face of an economic shutdown and disruptions of supply chains.

“During periods of economic uncertainty, monitoring Nebraska farm and ranch real estate remains important to understanding how financial forces are impacting agricultural land markets across the state,” said Jim Jansen, an extension educator who co-authored the survey and report with Jeffrey Stokes, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Economics.

The preliminary report found that center pivot-irrigated cropland estimated values rose by about 8% across the state. Dryland cropland values rose by about 6%. Survey participants noted higher crop prices as a major force leading to higher cropland values across the state. Improvements in grazing land and hayland market values range about 3% to 5% higher than the prior year.

Survey results also revealed that rental rates for cropland and grazing land in the state have increased by an average of about 5% to 7% for cropland, while rates for pasture and cow-calf pairs saw an average increase between about 3% and 7%. Survey participants also reported that the late season runup in crop prices were a major factor leading to higher cash rental rates in 2021.

The Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Survey is an annual survey of land professionals, including appraisers, farm and ranch managers and agricultural bankers, conducted by the Department of Agricultural Economics. Results from the survey are divided by land class and agricultural statistic district. Land values and rental rates presented in the report are averages of survey participants’ responses by district. Actual land values and rental rates may vary depending upon the quality of the parcel and local market for an area. Preliminary land values and rental rates are subject to change as additional surveys are returned.

* Planning Commission reaches no agreement on setbacks

(Posted 9:15 a.m. March 11)

The Brown County Planning Commission on Wednesday made recommendations to the county commissioners to approve an updated comprehensive plan but could not come to an agreement on the major zoning regulation amendment, whether or not to propose setbacks for livestock feeding operations that require a special-use permit.

The session opened Wednesday with Steve Martin of the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska presenting via Zoom information on livestock matrix and odor footprint tools developed for use by counties as part of zoning regulations.

Martin said the livestock matrix was initially developed to provide consistency between counties for livestock feeding projects. He said a working group initially created the zoning measures to provide common practices, and if an applicant disagreed with a county’s decision the Department of Agriculture would serve as a mediator.

He said the Legislature removed the Department of Agriculture from the process, and made the matrix voluntary for counties instead of mandatory. Only five had officially adopted the matrix, though each also use their own methods.

“I believe it is a good tool,” Martin said. “It requires the applicant to gather a lot of information.”

Martin also discussed an odor footprint tool put together by several universities that includes an odor scoring system based on historical weather and wind patterns.

Martin said a property owner sued a county over a livestock feeding operation decision, and the State Supreme Court agreed the odor footprint was an acceptable tool to use when county boards voted on whether to allow a facility.

Brown County Commissioner Denny Bauer urged the Planning Commission to adopt something that is scientifically based when recommending zoning regulation updates to the commissioners.

“If someone sues the county, we have to justify why we adopted the regulations the way we did,” Bauer said.

The Planning Commission, by a 7-0 vote, approved recommending to the Brown County Commissioners that the updated Comprehensive Plan be adopted.

The commission then moved toward addressing 17 potential zoning regulation updates, with setbacks on livestock feeding operations first and foremost among the potential changes to county zoning.

Planning Commissioner Jim Jackman said there are probably seven different ideas among the seven people on the commission on how best to address setbacks.

Planning Commissioner Brad Wilkins said the long-term census data in the comprehensive plan stood out to him.

“In the 1920s, Brown County had 6,700 people,” Wilkins said. “In 2010, we had 3,100. Any way we can encourage and generate economic activity is something we all need to consider.”

In addressing setbacks and differentiating between environmentally controlled facilities and open lots, Wilkins said he could not wrap his head around why the Planning Commission would propose setbacks for environmentally controlled facilities but not for open lots.

“If we decide on no setbacks for open lots, why is that better than environmentally controlled operations?” Wilkins asked.

Jackman agreed, saying if the commission decided to implement setbacks, then they should be the same for both open lots and environmentally controlled operations.

Commission member Mark Miles said the reason to differentiate between the two types of operations is the setbacks would impact a lot more producers if placed on open lots.

“Cattle feeding adds value to cattle on local ranches, to grain, and to hay,” Miles said. “The economic impact is the difference.”

Audience member Tonny Beck said the Planning Commission would appease more producers if separating the two types of feeding operations.

Zoning Administrator Tom Jones said it has stood up in court that counties can have different setbacks based on the type of operation.

“The perception in the county is that hogs are bad and cattle are good,” Jones said. “We are trying to work out a compromise.”

Commission member Pat Schumacher said he believed there was a valid difference between the two types of operations.

“People who have called me believe open lots are acceptable, but confinement operations are not,” Schumacher said. “We also have a couple very well-run hog facilities, but I think we have reached a maximum on those.”

Jackman said he disagreed completely with that viewpoint.

“I know the hog operation raised wages in Brown County,” Jackman said. “Businesses had to compete for workers. We have to import corn to our county now. The basis on corn is the narrowest it has ever been, and it is the same for soybeans. I would hate to restrict commerce in this county.”

Miles said he believed cattle production was the No. 1 driver of the county’s economy and was the backbone of Brown County.

“I think we need to make our rules to support that,” Miles said. “I think there are scenarios where a half-mile setback is needed, but I wouldn’t want to restrict it further. We have to protect cattle producers in this county. I don’t think there should be setbacks on open lots.”

Bauer said he understood many people in the county were against hog operations.

“What happens if the feds end up dictating that cattle lots also have to be enclosed?” Bauer asked.

Wilkins said he believed the Planning Commission needed to be equitable to all livestock producers.

“We have gotten along without setbacks for 20 years,” Wilkins said. “Hard-wiring setbacks means you stop something before even getting to view each project on its own merits. That is the purpose of the Planning Commission and the county commissioners, to make those hard decisions.”

Planning Commissioner Jim Carley said, regardless of what the commission recommends, some people are not going to be happy.

“I always thought common sense should be the way we go,” Carley said. “I think we need to keep and maintain the people who have operated here. We have been successful. Big people with the money move in, buy up the property and force the little guy out.”

Planning Commissioner Steve Bejot said he had received several phone calls from people in favor of setbacks.

“Setbacks would eliminate a lot of hassle,” Bejot said.

He said he was in favor of setbacks on environmentally controlled facilities, but not on open lots.

Schumacher said 100 percent of the comments he has received from people were in favor of setbacks for environmentally controlled facilities.

“That is how I will base what I support,” Schumacher said. “Use the odor footprint for the science and go up to 2 miles for setbacks for large facilities.”

Jones said setbacks will work toward bringing in large companies and large operations that can buy enough land to meet the setback requirements, but will serve to discourage smaller producers.

Planning Commissioner Linda O’Hare said common sense should be applied.

“It is a lot of work, but I want to see economic development,” O’Hare said. “What I am hearing is support for no setbacks on open feedlots but one-half mile to one-mile setbacks for environmentally controlled facilities.”

Wilkins moved to continue with no setbacks. By a 4-3 vote, the commission indicated support for that position. Wilkins, O’Hare, Miles and Jackman voted in favor of not implementing setbacks on any facilities, while Bejot, Schumacher and Carley voted against.

The commission then proceeded to vote on each proposed zoning regulation amendment individually.

Several dealt with definitions for certain types of operations and practices, while others addressed conservation easements and removed perpetual easements from being allowed in the county. Easements would be reassessed upon the sale of the property.

Additional recommendations to the Brown County Commissioners included regulations for wind energy projects and solar projects, including one-half mile setbacks from dwellings for wind projects and money required up front for the cost to decommission wind turbines and solar arrays.

The Planning Commission first voted to table Amendment 37 related to setbacks by a 7-0 vote. However, the board then addressed a motion to recommend Option B to Amendment 37 that would include one-half mile setbacks on operations between 300 and 1,000 animal units, three-quarters of a mile setbacks for operations between 1,000 head and 5,000 head, and one-mile setbacks for operations in excess of 5,000 animal units.

That motion failed on a 4-2 vote, with Jackman, Schumacher, O’Hare and Wilkins voting against, Bejot and Miles voting in favor and Carley having left the meeting at that point.

Schumacher indicated he voted against the proposal because he felt the setbacks weren’t far enough. Miles said he voted in favor because he thought it was a fair compromise, and said more strict setbacks obviously did not have the support of a majority of the commission members.

Jackman said he believed the commission should have another meeting to further discuss a potential compromise on the issue of setbacks since the rest of the regulations had been approved to recommend to the county commissioners.

Wilkins said, with no setbacks approved, the county would continue to operate as it had in the past, looking at each special-use permit application individually for livestock feeding operations.

Jones said he would visit with commission members individually to determine options to present at a future meeting.

Upon receiving the recommendations from the Planning Commission, the Brown County Commissioners will schedule a public hearing before voting to officially adopt the comprehensive plan and any of the zoning changes.

Jones said he had a little flexibility on presenting the recommendations to the county commissioners, so if the Planning Commission chose to meet again soon on additional setback proposals, those could be included in the recommendations if any receive majority support.

* Council hears options for pool upgrades or replacement

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

The Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday heard options for either rehabilitating or replacing the swimming pool at East City Park.

Presented by Larry Steele of Miller and Associates as part of an overall park and pool improvement study, options ranged from $1.28 million to renovate the existing swimming pool and bathhouse to almost $3 million to completely replace the pool and bathhouse and more than $4 million to move the swimming pool closer to the football field and add a locker room and concessions area.

Steele told the council the current swimming pool, bathhouse and wading pool are not ADA compliant. He said the swimming pool’s recirculation system is undersized, as are its skimmers, and the diving well and boiler do not meet current standards.

Councilman Vance Heyer asked how the city’s swimming pool compared to other communities of similar size. Steele said the city has been maintaining its pool well, and most of the pools in similar-sized communities were built at about the same time.

“Your pool is just getting old,” Steele said. “It has been well maintained but it is showing its age, and the bathhouse needs major updates. The wading pool needs to have a sloped entry to meet ADA requirements.”

Steele said he received 171 responses to a survey that was made available to members of the community. The results showed 62 percent of respondents favored building a new swimming pool, with just 16 percent against. The survey rated the current pool in poor condition and received the top response on amenities the city offered that needed to be expanded or improved.

An audience member asked about the possibility of constructing an indoor pool. Steele said the cost of an indoor pool would be double the $3 million projection to replace the current outdoor pool, and would also cost the city significantly in staffing, utilities and maintenance.

Other items identified included extensions to the current hiking and biking trail, the construction of a splash pad and upgraded playground equipment.

Steele said, by completing the study, the city could apply for grant funding up to $562,000 to assist with a project.

In addition to updating the swimming pool, goals identified in the study include updating the basketball court at the Courthouse Park and adding benches and picnic tables near the fountain, and at East City Park expanding the hiking and biking trail, replacing the tennis and basketball court, replacing the sign near the highway and replacing the south restrooms.

Mayor Joel Klammer thanked Steele for his presentation and said the council would consider options.

In other business Wednesday, the council engaged in a lengthy discussion with representatives from Three River regarding the city’s recent action to file a petition for intervention with the Public Service Commission on the company’s application to refinance its existing debt.

Klammer said the city was made aware of Three River filing with the Public Service Commission to refinance only an hour or so before the deadline to file an intervention. Klammer said the city had to make a quick decision, and he said he felt the city was an interested party. He said the city’s goal was not to impede Three River’s application but only to be kept informed.

“The city supports Three River, but is just trying to protect the public,” Klammer said.

Three River Board member John Gross asked the city to get out of Three River’s way as it tried to take advantage of the current low interest rates to refinance its existing loans.

Gross said, by filing the intervention, the city triggered a 30-day extension before the Public Service Commission could rule on the company’s application.

“Interest rates have already risen 40 basis points,” Gross said. “Because of this delay, we will already have to pay an additional $275,000 in interest.”

City Attorney Rod Palmer asked, “Shouldn’t the city be concerned if Three River is unstable financially?”

Gross said the action by Three River was a simple matter to take advantage of lower interest rates. He said Three River did not finance any part of the $2 million broadband build-out in the community, but used its own existing funds coupled with a more than $400,000 state grant for the project.

Three River Manager Steve Dorf said almost every company with an existing loan is looking to refinance right now.

Councilman Brad Fiala moved to rescind the city’s intervention on Three River’s application with the Public Service Commission immediately in an effort to get to common ground.

The council unanimously approved rescinding the city’s action to intervene.

Klammer said, during the review of the broadband build-out project, the city discovered its cable franchise agreement with Three River had expired several years ago. Three River had continued to pay the city annually based on the previous agreement.

He said getting a new agreement signed has proven to be difficult, as the main stumbling block has been whether the city can require regulation on the company’s broadband service.

Klammer said Three River has argued the Federal Communications Commission prohibits the city from regulating Internet speed performance.

Fiala said Three River will offer different prices for different options.

“How do residents know what they are actually getting?” Fiala asked.

Dorf said the company had been limping along with its older network, but the new fiber network will be state of the art, and the company had upgraded to a 10-gigabyte network above and beyond the one gigabyte required for the grant.

“The state still doesn’t know how it is going to test broadband networks for speed performance,” Dorf said. “We are confident we will meet or beat those requirements.”

Dorf said Three River does not force customers to sign long-term contracts, so they have the ability to discontinue service at any point if they are unhappy.

“We have an incentive to provide quality service,” Dorf said. “We are obligated to test to the speeds we are being paid to deliver. The Department of Economic Development understands the network we are building and is satisfied with what we are doing. You are going to have the fastest Internet in the state. We are asking politely for you to step out of our way and let us provide this service.”

Fiala agreed the new broadband network would be a tremendous asset to the community.

“We just want to make sure we are protecting the residents who put us on this council,” Fiala said.

Councilman Schyler Schenk said, with the cable agreement between Three River and the city, there is a list of requirements that must be followed.

“I don’t argue that the Internet is different,” Schenk said. “But there is virtually nothing offered to the city for consumer protections on Internet service. I would like to see some of the same standards apply.”

Councilman Vance Heyer said he didn’t know if it should be the city’s job to try and regulate Internet service.

Dorf said Three River is local, its employees live in the community and the company is a part of the community.

“Brian Delimont has just been promoted to the assistant general manager and is being trained to become the next GM of the company,” Dorf said. “Brian doesn’t want to be accosted in public if we are providing poor service. We are not a big national company. We can’t afford to mess with our customers.”

Dorf said, with the new fiber network, not only will Internet speeds be tremendously improved, but the reliability of the company’s cable television and phone service will be greatly enhanced because all will be included in the new fiber network instead of the previous coaxial cable network.

Fiala said he was glad he endorsed Three River for the DED grant, and wants to continue to be able to do so.

“Four years from now, most of us will likely be off this council, and those who come after us will question why there isn’t an agreement in place,” Fiala said.

Dorf said Atkinson recently signed an agreement with another company that he said looked fair and he had provided a copy of that agreement to the city.

“Everyone who looked at that agreed it was simple and fair to both sides,” Dorf said. “This doesn’t have to be as complicated as it is being made out to be.”

He offered to sit down personally with the mayor and work out an agreement that satisfies both the company and the city without both entities having to continue to incur substantial legal fees.

Klammer agreed the two sides may just have to start again on an agreement.

“We obviously aren’t going to come to a franchise agreement tonight,” Klammer said.

No formal action was taken, though the city held an executive session with its consultant prior to adjourning Wednesday to further discuss the matter.

In other items Wednesday, resident Margene Walz asked the council why semis could not use Highway 7 just a few blocks away instead of using Pine Street.

“I live at Trailside, and my driveway faces Pine Street,” Walz said. “There are a lot of semis that go up and down Pine Street, and I am afraid someone is going to get hurt someday,” Walz said. “Most towns have a weight restriction on city streets.”

Fiala said the city has designated First Street and Pine Street as truck routes.

“I do think we need to think about slowing traffic down and doing something about people parking on Pine Street,” Fiala said.

The council approved a requested subdivision of a tract of land outside the city limits but within its 1-mile zoning jurisdiction. City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the intent of the subdivision was to sell a portion of the ground to a neighboring commercial business.

The council heard another subdivision request for 128 N. Elm St. and 134 N. Elm St. The property owner said there is interest in purchasing part of the property. Schroedl said she had not had time to fully research the subdivision request, but it would create a tiny lot of 75×60 feet. The council tabled action on that request.

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson presented the council with an update on LB 840 activity as part of the NCDC’s contract to manage the program.

She said there were 17 applications submitted to the LB 840 program between August and December, with 12 projects approved. An additional two projects have been approved so far this year.

“Interest rates are currently low, so many businesses are able to access capital without applying to LB 840 for loan funding,” Olson said. “We have made progress this year. It is good to see everyone working together.”

The council approved a recommendation from the LB 840 Loan Committee to amend the amount of a previously awarded façade grant. Schroedl said the application was approved in November for $4,200, but the contractor found structural issues that had to be addressed as part of the project. The amendment raised the grant amount to $6,560, representing half of the total project cost.
The council approved a quote from Topkote for armor coating city streets. The city locked in a price of $1.18 per square yard, with the city also responsible for supplying the gravel. The price quoted was the same as in 2020.

The council approved a contract for services with CDS Inspections and Beyond to supply housing specialist services and lead based paint specialized services to the city for its owner-occupied housing rehabilitation program.

Schroedl said the company is the city’s current provider, but the action was needed as part of the city repurposing its remaining CDBG re-use loan program funds into the housing rehabilitation fund.

Councilman Shawn Fernau said he had worked with the company and highly recommended it.

The council approved an amendment to its engineering contract with Olsson Associates in the amount of $5,000 for the wastewater improvement project. Schroedl said the city had already paid the company, but the contract needed to match what had been paid.

“This is a wash,” Schroedl said. “We just have to make sure the contract is clean for the grant funding.”

She said the city has now received approximately $245,000 of its CDBG funds from the state for the project, which has been completed.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. April 14.

* Recent cases in Brown County District Court

(Posted 1:30 p.m. March 10)

During Brown County District Court proceedings Tuesday, Dylan Henson, age 29, of North Platte, appeared for sentencing after previously pleading guilty on charges of making terroristic threats, a Class IIIA felony; third-degree assault, a Class I misdemeanor; and second offense driving under the influence, a Class W misdemeanor.

Henson was sentenced Tuesday to two years imprisonment on the terroristic threats conviction, six months in prison on the third-degree assault conviction, and two months in prison on the driving under the influence conviction. The three sentences will be served concurrently, and Henson was given credit for 139 days served.

Henson had also previously entered a plea of guilty to a Class IV felony charge of tampering with a witness. He was sentenced to one year in prison on that count with no credit for pre-sentence confinement.

Henson was also sentenced for three additional counts to which he pleaded guilty: a Class IIIA felony count of making terroristic threats, a Class I misdemeanor count of carrying a concealed weapon, and a Class W misdemeanor charge of second offense driving under the influence.

Henson was sentenced to two years in prison on the terroristic threats count with credit for one day served. He received a sentence of six months in prison on the concealed weapon count, and two months in prison on the driving under the influence count. Those sentences will be served concurrently.

The three separate groups of charges will be served consecutively.

In other District Court action Tuesday, Andrew Roepke, 21, of North Platte, appeared on a motion by the state to revoke post-release supervision. The court revoked Roepke’s post-release supervision and sentenced him to 45 days in the Brown County Jail.

ADJOURNMENT

* Care Center Board approves generator quote

(Posted 2:15 p.m. March 9)

The Sandhills Care Center on Monday approved a bid from Ainsworth Electric Motor to install a 100-kilowatt generator to replace the facility’s current 25-kw model.

Ainsworth Electric Motor submitted a bid of $56,190 for the project. Care Center maintenance director Matt Moody said the four bids received all met the specifications for the project, but he recommended Ainsworth Electric Motor due to the brand of generator and motor.

The Ainsworth Electric Motor bid quoted a Kohler generator with a John Deere motor, which Moody said were both quality products.

The low bid for the project was submitted by Nebraska Generator Services of Gibbon for $54,984. Moody said that bid included a Perkins brand engine in the generator.

“I know those have had a few problems,” Moody said of the Perkins brand engine. “Ainsworth Electric is local if we were to ever have any issues.”

The care center also received a quote of $71,113 from Power Tech of Council Bluffs, Iowa, and a bid of $75,904 for the project from Pro Electric of Ainsworth.

Moody said the new 100-kw generator will power the entire facility, which the current 25-kw generator does not.

The Sandhills Care Center received a USDA grant to cover 75 percent of the project, with the care center responsible for funding the remaining 25 percent.

The board, with Henry Beel absent, approved the quote from Ainsworth Electric for the new generator.

Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said there could be some delay getting the materials delivered for the project due to backlogs as a result of the pandemic and the recent winter storms in Texas.

“They will get the equipment here as quick as they can,” Fuchs said.

The care center also approved a quote from AKRS Equipment for the purchase of a John Deere riding lawn mower with bagger. The company provided a quote of $2,320 for the mower, which will replace an older mower the facility inherited when it purchased the building. Moody said the engine was shot on the old mower.

In other business Monday, Administrator Penny Jacobs reported the care center currently has 18 residents.

She said the facility will contract for a director of nursing for the time being until a permanent DON is hired. She said that will satisfy one of the issues identified following the care center’s recent survey from the state.

“We still need someone for that permanent position,” Jacobs said. “We also could use a couple nurses, and a full-time and part-time CNA.”

She said the facility is also in the process of hiring a person for the dietary department.

Jacobs said she is in the process of finalizing the facility’s plan of correction for the items identified during the annual survey of the care center by the state.

Chief Operating Officer Kent Taylor said the COVID vaccination clinics have been completed for residents and staff who chose to be vaccinated.

Fuchs asked if visitation to the facility has increased since residents and staff have now been vaccinated.

Taylor said everything is still being driven by county positivity rates, and does not take into account residents and staff being vaccinated.

“Brown County is in the Green Phase currently,” Taylor said. “We can have visitation, as long as people remain 6 feet apart. All the visitation is being done in the sun room, and family members schedule appointments to visit.”

Business Manager Sarah Schipporeit said the nice weather has afforded staff the chance to take residents outside and on bus rides.

Schipporeit reported the financials for the month of February are not complete due to the care center’s payroll company having an issue that affected its computer network.

Taylor reported the Medicaid rate the care center receives from the state will increase by $20 per resident per day for January through June. Jacobs said the care center currently has 12 residents who receive Medicaid assistance.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors is scheduled for 5 p.m. April 12.

* Rock County School Board votes to end mask mandate

(Posted 7 a.m. March 9)

The Rock County Public Schools Board of Education on Monday voted to remove its mask mandate, though the district is still recommending that masks be worn in the buildings.

The board indicated, if there is a positive COVID case identified in the building, the mask mandate will be reinstated for 10 days to allow the board to reassess the situation.

Anyone who wants their child to continue wearing a mask is asked to contact the office so the staff can make sure the child wears a mask during the day.

* ACS to remove mask mandate beginning March 15

(Posted 7 a.m. March 9)

Beginning March 15, masks will be recommended but no longer required at Ainsworth Community Schools. The Board of Education Monday directed Superintendent Dale Hafer to remove the mask requirement, but also gave Hafer the go-ahead to reinstate the mask mandate if there is an uptick in COVID-19 cases in the area.

Hafer told the board several school districts were having the same conversation, as the number of cases in the area decline.

“The last issue we had was coming out of the semester break,” Hafer said. “That student had close contact with someone who tested positive but was able to get a negative test and get back into school.”

Hafer said all district staff members who choose to will have the ability to receive the COVID vaccine by Wednesday.

“We have 36 signed up for the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and another handful who already received another brand,” the superintendent said. “It’s about 50-50 on staff who do and who don’t want the vaccine.”

Hafer said the North Central District Health Department quarantine rules do remain in effect, so if there is close contact with someone who tests positive, students and staff would have to quarantine if they are not wearing masks.

“We will still maintain distance the best we can, and keep the students spread out,” Hafer said. “The efforts of the custodial staff and staff members have been excellent. The electro-static sprayers have been a good investment. We haven’t even seen much regular flu.”

Hafer said it was nice just to be having the conversation about removing the mask mandate, as the situation is much better than it was in the late fall.

“About a year ago at this time, schools were making decisions to go remote,” Hafer said.

Board President Jim Arens recommended the district make the change coming back from spring break on March 15.

“You don’t need board approval either to reverse that if we start seeing cases again,” Arens said.

Board member Brad Wilkins said some states were already getting rid of their mask mandates, and others were going to remove the mandate April 9, five days after the Easter holiday.

Board member Scott Erthum said, even though masks won’t be mandated, they will still be recommended, so the district won’t go from 100 percent mask usage to zero.

“We can react if we see cases start popping back up,” Erthum said.

Though not taking formal action, the board directed Hafer to move the district to recommending but not mandating masks beginning March 15.

In other business Monday, the board approved the 2021-22 school calendar as presented. Hafer said the calendar was similar to the current year’s calendar. The first day for students will be Aug. 12, with the end of the first semester Dec. 17. Second semester classes resume Jan. 4, 2022, with graduation May 15 and the final day for students May 19.

The board accepted the resignation of English teacher Katelyn McClure effective at the end of the current school year. McClure was hired prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year. In her letter of resignation, McClure thanked the board for the opportunity to teach at Ainsworth Community Schools.

The board approved the first payment for the middle school and high school window replacement project in the amount of $104,718.

Representatives from the Nebraska Association of School Boards provided the board with an update on proposed changes to Rule 10 relating to school accreditation. The changes, which the NASB said are not major, will take effect for the 2022-23 school year.

Hafer said the state is trying to streamline the accreditation process, but none of the changes are earth shattering.

Elementary Principal Curtis Childers reported there will likely be between 27 and 33 students attend kindergarten for the 2021-22 school year.

He said between 95 percent and 97 percent of parents of kindergarten through sixth grade students attended recent parent-teacher conferences.

High School Principal Steve Dike congratulated the 17 students who qualified for state by finishing with gold medal performances in their FFA proficiencies.

Nine FFA students received State Degrees, including CeeAnna Beel, Katrina Beel, Moriah Beel, Rylan Hobbs, Cailin Orton, Shaley Starkey, Libby Smith, Ellie Welke and Caden Swanson.

Activities Director Scott Steinhauser reported there were 44 athletes out for high school track, and nine boys indicated an interest in boys golf.

Steinhauser congratulated the nine students who qualified for state speech, and the Mock Trial team for finishing fifth in the state championships.

Hafer thanked the activities directors, administrators and speech coaches for agreeing to host the district speech meet Saturday and allowing the students to perform at home.

During his report, Hafer said the building and grounds committee identified four areas around the school buildings for concrete projects. The areas include the east and west entrances to the elementary building, the Big A entrance on the west side of the school, and the sidewalks on the south side of the school.

“We probably won’t be able to do all of it this summer, but we hope to get one or two of the areas completed this year,” Hafer said.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 8 p.m. April 12, as the board will move to 8 p.m. start times beginning in April and continuing through October.

* Ainsworth finishes second in C1-6 District Speech Saturday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 9)

Class C1-6 District Speech
Ainsworth High School
Team Scores

1. Bridgeport, 220; 2. Ainsworth, 168; 3. Mitchell, 140; 4. Valentine, 126; 5. Hershey, 60; 6. Kearney Catholic, 54; 7. Gordon-Rushville, 32; 8. Chase County, 10.

Ainsworth Results
Top three in each event qualify for state

Duet Acting – 6. Katherine Kerrigan and Taylor Allen

Extemporaneous Speaking – 1. Josie Ganser; 2. Elizabeth Wilkins

Informative Speaking – 1. Ben Flynn; 6. Eden Raymond

Oral Interpretation of Drama – 3. Cody Kronhofman, Dakota Stutzman, Eden Raymond and Maren Arens

Humorous Prose – 6. Brandt Murphy

Poetry – 5. Alyssa Erthum

Serious Prose – 3. Dakota Stutzman

Persuasive Speaking – 1. Alyssa Erthum; 3. Logan Hafer.

* Nearly 14 percent of NCDHD adults vaccinated

(Posted 6:15 p.m. March 8)

Nearly 14 percent of the population 16 years of age and older in the North Central District Health Department nine-county coverage area have now received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

A total of 13,183 vaccinations have been administered, with 4,907 people in the district receiving both vaccine doses to be fully inoculated, and 8,328 people receiving their first dose of the vaccine.

NCDHD is currently focusing its vaccination efforts on those 65 years and older and those in tier 1 of the Phase 1B community partners, which includes first responders, those working in the utilities sector and educators.

The NCDHD was made aware of just four new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were one each in Holt and Cherry counties.

The North Central District Health Department was made aware the COVID-19 California variant has been identified in the district. While the California variant is believed to spread more rapidly, the available vaccines are thought to be effective against it.

NCDHD still encourages district residents to continue to wear a mask in public or where social distancing is difficult.

* Trailer fire prompts prolonged outing for firefighters Friday

(Posted 8:15 a.m. March 8)

Members of the Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department spent Friday night and early Saturday morning on the scene of a fire that started in a trailer hauling bales.

According to Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala, at 8:30 p.m. Friday, a semi driver reported the load of bales he was hauling on Highway 183 had caught fire.

Fiala said the driver noticed the bales on fire near the entrance to Keller Park, and brought the semi to the top of the hill before stopping and unhooking the trailer. Doing so, Fiala said, gave the fire department room to remove the bales from the trailer and spread them out onto a nearby field.

Fiala said, when firefighters arrived, all 34 bales on the trailer were ablaze. The Nebraska Department of Transportation and Frontier Diesel brought equipment to the scene to unload the bales and spread them onto a field owned by Steve Bartak to allow them to burn.

The trailer, owned by Buddy Tarrell of Bassett, was considered a total loss, as were the 34 hay bales.

Fiala said firefighters remained on scene until approximately 5:30 a.m. Saturday until all the bales were burned down and extinguished.

* Mock Trial team wins 2 of 3 matches at state to place fifth

(Posted 8 a.m. March 5)

The Ainsworth Mock Trial team won two of its three matches this week to bring home fifth place in the Nebraska State Mock Trial Championships.

A statewide event featuring 12 regional qualifiers, the Nebraska Mock Trial State Championships were contested virtually this year due to the pandemic.

Ainsworth portrayed the prosecution in the State of Nebraska v. Chris Hall in the opening round Monday, losing a decision to Grand Island Northwest.

On Tuesday, Ainsworth portrayed the defense and won a decision against Conestoga. On Wednesday, Ainsworth was back on the prosecution side and won a decision over Lincoln Pius X.

Omaha Creighton Prep defeated Omaha Duchene for the state title Thursday after both teams finished 3-0 during the round robin competition. McCook also finished the round robin 3-0 but did not score as many points from the judges as Creighton Prep or Omaha Duchene, placing McCook third in the state. Ogallala finished 2-1 but won a tie-breaker over Ainsworth for fourth place. Lutheran High Northeast also finished 2-1 but did not score as many points from the judges as Ainsworth, leaving Lutheran High Northeast in sixth place.

Grand Island Northwest, Bellevue West, Sidney and Conestoga each finished 1-2, and Columbus Lakeview and Lincoln Pius X went 0-3 during state competition.

Ainsworth’s team consisted of attorneys Cody Kronhofman, Alyssa Erthum, Haley Schroedl and Levi Goshorn, and witnesses Libby Smith, Brandt Murphy, Dakota Stutzman and Gracie Petty.

The Ainsworth team was coached this year by Katie McClure and Graig Kinzie. Brown County Attorney Andrew Taylor served as the team’s attorney coach, and former coach Mary Rau also provided assistance to the team.

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 6:45 a.m. March 5)

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

Payten L. Bottorf, age 20, of O’Neill, charged with being a minor in possession, sentenced to six months of probation.

Lucas B. Grubham, 42, of Valentine, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, fined $25.

Sierra L. Jones, 19, of Ainsworth, theft by receiving stolen property, $125; also charged with false reporting, $125.

Brandon Shaul, 23, of Ainsworth, first degree criminal trespassing, sentenced to 30 days in jail; also charged with speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Berlin E. Rehkopf, 19, of Ainsworth, criminal mischief between $1,500 and $5,000, sentenced to six months of probation and ordered to pay $2,456 in restitution.

Jade W. Dailey, 19, of Ainsworth, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Levi E. Gum, 26, of Long Pine, attempting a Class 2 misdemeanor, $250.

Kristina E. Bader, 26, of Aberdeen, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Marvin Ramirez Hernandez, 25, of Aurora, Colo., speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125; no operator’s license, $75.

Dade K. Brock, 23, of Valentine, first offense driving under the influence, $500, six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Brian Duran, 20, of Satanta, Kan., minor in possession, $300.

Jordan D. Perkins, 24, of Valentine, procuring or selling alcohol to a minor, $300.

Bailey L. Colman, 21, of Springview, procuring or selling alcohol to a minor, $300.

Ryan Farris, 29, of Ainsworth, three counts of issuing a bad check, fined a total of $125 and ordered to pay $258 in restitution.

Brady E. Painter, 17, of Ainsworth, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125; no valid registration, $25.

Dustin R. Gaskins, 34, of Ainsworth, two counts of violating hunting or fishing regulations, fined $100 on each count.

Russell H. Booth, 45, of Grand Island, commercial vehicle marking violation, $50.

George J. Friedrich, 25, of Bassett, commercial vehicle brake violation, $50.

Cassius L. Russell, 27, of Ainsworth, no operator’s license, $75.

Chris Johnson, 35, of Ainsworth, dog running at large, $25.

Robert J. Walton, 66, of Ainsworth, first offense driving under the influence, $500, six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Jordan P. Hunter, 31, of Denver, Colo., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Shoni R. Bussinger, 22, of Grand Island, attempting a Class 4 felony, $1,000; possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100; driving left of center, $50.

Neal J. Sherbeyn, 50, of Valentine, first offense reckless driving, $500.

Frank Whitefeather, 38, of Wellington, Texas, possession of marijuana more than 1 ounce but less than 1 pound, $500; possession of an open alcohol container in a vehicle, $50.

Jami L. Haskell, 24, of Ainsworth, first offense driving under the influence, $500, six months of probation, driver’s license revoked for 60 days, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Jared L. Holland, 36, of Langford, S.D., speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Flynn W. Farris, 56, of Amarillo, Texas, speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Eric L. Goochey, 40, of Johnstown, first offense reckless driving, $500, driver’s license revoked for 30 days, and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Tiffany A. Vos, 36, of Brooklyn Park, Minn., speeding 1-5 mph over the limit, $10; possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Shane L. Lewis, 23, of Johnstown, no valid registration, $200; 30-day commercial license residency violation, $50; unlawful or fictitious display of plates, $50.

* Health department reports 164 coronavirus recoveries

(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 5)

The North Central District Health Department reported 164 people were reported to have recovered from the coronavirus during the past week. The recoveries included 28 people in Holt County, 15 in Brown County, 13 in Cherry County, 10 in Rock County, five in Keya Paha County and four people were deemed to have recovered from the virus in Boyd County.

NCDHD was made aware of 10 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting period on Monday. Among the 10 cases were one each in Holt and Cherry counties.

The health department reported COVID-19 vaccination clinics are resuming as shipments are arriving. NCDHD continues to call registered residents as soon as vaccine doses are ready to dispense.

The health department is focusing on those age 65 and older and tier 1 of the 1B community partners, which includes first responders, those working in the utilities sector and educators.

In the nine-county district, 4,486 people have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, which represents 12.5 percent of the district’s population of those age 16 and older. Another 7,676 people have received the first dose of vaccine. 

NCDHD will have volunteers available for a call-a-thon event to get district residents registered for the COVID-19 vaccine from 4 until 6 p.m. Monday, March 8.  To participate in the call-a-thon registration call 402-336-2406.  If you have already registered there is no need to register again. This call-a-thon is for registration only. Those who call in will not be scheduled for a vaccination appointment and to allow for processing as many new registrations as possible, NCDHD will not be able to confirm your name on our list during this event.  If you registered previously and received a confirmation email or confirmation screen, you should have confidence that NCDHD has your name on our registry.

Clinics are scheduled and calls are made to schedule registered residents for vaccination appointments as quickly as vaccine can come into the office. 

* NCDHD to take calls Monday for vaccine registration

(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 4)

NCDHD is registering all ages for the COVID-19 vaccine registry. NCDHD encourages district residents to register at vaccinate.ne.gov. If assistance is needed in registering, NCDHD will have volunteers available for a call-a-thon event to get district residents registered for the COVID-19 vaccine from 4 until 6 p.m. Monday, March 8.

To participate in the call-a-thon registration, call 402-336-2406.  If you have already registered there is no need to register again. This call-a-thon is for registration only. Those who call in will not be scheduled for a vaccination appointment and, to allow for processing as many new registrations as possible, NCDHD will not be able to confirm your name on the list during this event.

If you registered previously and received a confirmation email or confirmation screen, you should have confidence that NCDHD has your name on the registry.  NCDHD is currently vaccinating community members ages 65 and older.

Clinics are scheduled and calls are made to schedule registered residents for vaccination appointments as quickly as vaccines arrive into the office. NCDHD appreciates the patience of the district as it works to get vaccine out to the communities it serves as quickly as possible. 

* Area schools, NRDs receive grants from NDEE

(Posted 2 p.m. March 3)

Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy Director Jim Macy announced the award of $6.68 million in grants to support 144 projects across the state. These grants will help fund litter and waste reduction projects, recycling programs, and pay costs for scrap tire cleanups and collections for household hazardous waste, electronic waste, and pharmaceuticals.

West Holt Public Schools received a $15,837 grant to reimburse the district for 25 percent of the cost of purchasing 60,900 pounds of crumb rubber to place under its playground equipment.

O’Neill Public Schools received a $25,365 grant to reimburse the district for 25 percent of the cost of a new track surface made from 82,000 pounds of crumb rubber.

The Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District received a $53,964 grant to host a 300-ton scrap tire cleanup in Cherry County.

The Upper Loup Natural Resources District received a $14,000 grant toward operating expenses of its recycling program. The NRD accepts materials from Blaine and Thomas counties among others, and the southern portions of Brown and Cherry counties.
“There were many outstanding applications submitted to NDEE this year,” Macy said. “These grants will assist many important local efforts to promote litter and waste reduction, and help handle the costs of proper disposal of many materials, such as household hazardous waste and scrap tires.”
Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive funds are generated by a fee on solid waste disposed of in landfills, an annual retail business sales fee, and a fee assessed on the sale of new tires. Grants are provided to local integrated waste management projects, and can include recycling systems, household hazardous waste collections, and composting. For 2021, 31 projects totaling $3.06 million were funded under the Business Fee and Disposal Fee categories.
Also included in the Waste Reduction and Recycling Incentive program are Scrap Tire funds, which are generated from a $1 fee on new tires purchased in Nebraska. In 2021, 60 grants totaling $1.53 million were awarded. These grants will fund 13 scrap tire cleanup events across Nebraska. Enough funding was awarded to cleanup up 3,925 tons of scrap tires. Funds will also be used to partially reimburse the cost of many products made from recycled scrap tires, such as artificial turf football, soccer, baseball, and softball fields, athletic running tracks, and playground surfacing.
Litter Reduction and Recycling funds are generated from a fee charged to certain manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers of products that commonly contribute to litter. The program has provided grants annually since 1979. In 2021, 53 litter grants totaling $2.08 million were awarded in the public education, cleanup, and recycling categories. Public education programs educate citizens on litter reduction and recycling through a variety of school and community activities. Cleanup grants provide funding for Nebraska residents of all ages who pick up litter and debris along Nebraska’s highways, waterways, recreation lands, urban areas, and other public use areas within the state. Not only are the public areas improved through the removal of litter, but also much of the material collected is recycled. Recycling programs provide an alternative to the disposal of solid waste in Nebraska’s landfills. Priority is given to programs that promote markets for recycled materials or purchasing products made from recycled materials.

* Roads plan includes major projects on Meadville Avenue

(Posted 7 a.m. March 3)

The Brown County Commissioners on Tuesday approved the one- and-six-year highway improvement plan for the county as presented by Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin.

Turpin reported, while much of 2020 was spent on projects to repair damage from flooding in 2019, the roads department did complete four projects on its one-year plan.

“We haven’t been able to get much done on the plan with all the flood repairs,” Turpin said. “We have 26 projects on the one-year plan and another 20 projects on the six-year plan. There is a slim chance that we will get all of these done, but it gives us options based on conditions.”

Turpin said the roads department completed 1 mile of grading and ditch cleaning work on Road 885, one-half mile of grading work on Road 877, and 1 mile of grading and ditch cleaning on 431st Avenue.

Turpin said a contractor also armor coated 10 miles of the Elsmere Road at a cost of $124,000. Turpin said the east end of the Elsmere Road was armor coated, and the roads department will still need to have the west end of the Elsmere Road armor coated.

Four projects on the one-year plan are major upgrades for Meadville Avenue, including a $1 million replacement of the Sand Draw Creek box culvert with a single span bridge that is slated for construction in 2021. Turpin included milling and asphalt overlay on the 7-1/2 miles of Meadville Avenue, broken into three 2-1/2 mile segments at a cost of more than $1 million per segment.

Commissioner Denny Bauer said, with interest rates well below 1 percent, it would make sense for the county to consider biting the bullet and getting the entire 7.5 miles of asphalt on Meadville Avenue rehabilitated.

“If we can borrow the money now at one-half percent interest, we need to consider it,” Bauer said. “It needs to be done, it is the most heavily used road in the county. Five years from now, the costs will rise and the interest rate to borrow could be 4 or 5 percent.”

Commissioner Buddy Small asked if an engineer on an overlay project would take core samples of the road base.

“We might run into some problems there,” Small said.

Turpin said some areas of Meadville Avenue would likely need some sub-grade repairs made before an asphalt overlay. He reported a previous traffic study conducted showed between 300 and 400 vehicles per day using Meadville Avenue.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus asked if another bond project would be too much of a burden on taxpayers, who are still paying off a hospital addition bond. The hospital bond has four years of payments remaining.

“How long would this overlay last?” Wiebelhaus asked. “If we borrowed for 15 years, would it be all beat up again by the time we pay it off?”

The commissioners discussed paying off a potential bond for the project using general roads funds as well as the county’s annual highway allocation funding from the state. Funding the project in that manner would not require a bond issue and vote as the bond would be paid for within the county’s current levy lid and would not fall outside the maximum amount the county can levy in property tax. The county is currently well below the 50 cents per $100 in valuation levy lid.

The commissioners agreed to have DA Davison provide the county with options on bonds for the project when it presents information during the board’s next meeting on refinancing the remaining debt on the hospital addition bond.

In addition to the major renovation projects on Meadville Avenue, the majority of the 26 projects on the county’s one-year plan are grading and gravel surfacing projects on a number of roads in the county. The roads department plans to armor coat the remaining 10 miles of the Elsmere Road in 2021 at an estimated cost of $124,000.

The board approved the one-and-six-year roads plan as presented.

Turpin reported the roads department has been grading roads and hauled clay onto the Raven Road.

“We have to raise two roads south of Ainsworth,” Turpin said. “There are a couple small areas where water is about to run over the road again.”

He said the roads department will soon be grading, cleaning the ditch and installing a culvert on Rauscher Avenue to improve drainage.

In other business Tuesday, the board approved a resolution requested by the Brown County Sheriff’s Department to allow the department to utilize $50,000 in grant funding from the USDA to upgrade technology in the department’s office and fleet of vehicles. The county is responsible for $17,000 in matching funds for the upgrade.

The clerk’s office reported the county is receiving $138,643 in CARES Act coronavirus funding from the federal government to reimburse the county for additional costs incurred by deputies and dispatchers, and the Brown County Ambulance Association will receive $6,558 in CARES Act funding for reimbursement for ambulance personnel.

Though the county opted to end its membership to the Region 24 Emergency Management Agency effective July 1, the board Tuesday did agree to pay its share of an update to the Region 24 Emergency Management Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The plan is updated every five years and allows the counties in the region to capture hazard mitigation funding if there is a natural disaster that occurs that unlocks hazard mitigation dollars from the federal government.

The cost to update the plan was $74,000, with 75 percent of that cost covered by a grant. The remaining cost was split between the five counties currently in Region 24, with Brown County’s share at $3,083.

Small said Cherry County also opted to leave Region 24, but it agreed to fund its portion of the hazard mitigation plan update.

The board approved a two-year agreement with Caleb Johnson of Ogallala for budget preparation services. The cost of the agreement is $3,200 annually.

Bauer encouraged the commissioners to combine annual performance evaluation wage increases and the annual cost of living wage increase.

“Ninety-five percent of the entities I have been associated with don’t separate cost of living increases and evaluation increases,” Bauer said. “I think we should include it all and do it once.”

Wiebelhaus said the county added an evaluation performance increase several years ago to reward performance instead of just providing a blanket wage increase to all employees.

“I am fine with combining it, but a small cost of living wage increase is important,” Wiebelhaus said. “Some employees have been here a long time and are maxed out on what they can make.”

Wiebelhaus said, once an employee is capped on what they can make, a cost of living increase keeps them from going backward.

“After they are maxed out, the performance evaluation increases go away but with the cost of living increase they don’t lose ground,” Wiebelhaus said. “I think we need to keep the two separate but we can go over them at the same time.”

Turpin said two employees in the roads department have reached the maximum on what they can receive. He reported one long-time roads department employee plans to retire in May, and he would like to start advertising and hire someone soon enough that the retiring employee can help train the new employee for a short time.

In a final action item Tuesday, the board approved resolutions to abandon two unused roads in the Hidden Paradise area. The property on the small portions of Hidden Paradise Road and Trout Road will revert back to the adjacent property owners.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is a special meeting at 7 p.m. March 10 in the Brown County Courthouse courtroom that coincides with a meeting of the Brown County Planning Commission.

The next regular meeting is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. March 16.

* Andy Hoffman loses battle with brain cancer

(Posted 7:15 a.m. March 2)

The Team Jack Foundation released a statement Monday confirming founder Andy Hoffman of Atkinson, 42, died due to complications from a brain cancer diagnosis.

“We are deeply saddened to share that our co-founder, Andrew Hoffman, passed away this morning from glioblastoma,” the foundation posted. “Andy was our fearless leader who loved his family with all his heart. Andy, we love you & we promise to honor your legacy by fighting harder than ever for kids.”

U.S. Senator Deb Fischer said, “Andy Hoffman was a remarkable Nebraskan, a loving father, and a wonderful friend. He was also an amazing advocate for curing pediatric brain cancer, the horrible disease that impacted his son Jack and affects too many other American families. We are heartbroken that Andy is gone, but we are comforted knowing his legacy will live on through the incredible work of the Team Jack Foundation. Bruce and I are praying for Brianna, Jack, Ava, Reese, and the entire Hoffman family.” 

U.S. Senator Ben Sasse said, “Andy’s death is tragic, and Melissa and I join Nebraskans in praying for his family. When Jack broke away on that unforgettable 69-yard touchdown run, our whole state adopted the Hoffmans as part of our families — rooting for Jack and all those fighting pediatric brain cancer. Andy — by helping share Jack’s story — helped raise awareness and money to fight back against the terrible disease. His family and legacy will continue to make Nebraskans proud.”

Hoffman founded Team Jack after his son was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer. Team Jack has raised over $8 million for research. The Hoffmans sprang into the national spotlight when 7-year-old Jack ran for a touchdown during the 2013 Nebraska Spring Game, as the Huskers embraced the Hoffmans and their fight against childhood brain cancer.

Hoffman is survived by his wife Bri, and children Jack, Ava and Reese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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