News

Visitors to the KBRB Web site may listen to live programming, with news broadcasts from 5:55 until 11 a.m., and from noon to 1 p.m., plus all of our local sports broadcasts.

E-mail us at kbrb@sscg.net

* 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.

* NCDHD reports 4,000 now fully vaccinated in district

(Posted 6:30 a.m. March 2)

The North Central District Health Department reported Monday that 4,000 residents of the nine-county district have now completed both doses of COVID-19 vaccination. That number represents 11.14 percent of the overall 16-and-older population in the district. Another 7,090 district residents have received the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine and are awaiting their second dose to become fully vaccinated.

The NCDHD is still administering vaccines to those age 65 and older, as well as first responders, utility workers and educators.

The health department was made aware of only three new COVID-19 cases in the district since Thursday, and none of those occurred in Brown, Rock, Keya Paha, Cherry, Holt or Boyd counties.

NCDHD still encourages district residents to continue to wear a mask in public places or where social distancing is difficult as well as practice social distancing while out in public.

More than 84,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered last week in Nebraska. As of Sunday, more than 428,031 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, over 145,000 Nebraskans have completed both doses of vaccination, which represents 9.8% of Nebraskans aged 16 years of age and older. 

Over the weekend, a third vaccine, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson, gained Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine requires just one shot. It is approved for use in individuals 18 years and older. The vaccine started shipping and in coming days Nebraska will learn of allocations and arrival times.

For this week, Nebraska is scheduled to receive 22,230 first doses and 18,720 second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, as well as 18,400 first doses and 18,400 second doses of the Moderna vaccine.

Finish Strong Nebraska is the state’s official COVID-19 vaccination campaign designed to keep the public motivated and informed on the vaccine. For more information and to register on the vaccine portal, visit FinishStrong.Ne.Gov. Once registered on the portal, Nebraska residents will be notified when COVID-19 vaccination begins in their area.

As of Monday, over 220,400 Nebraskans have registered to receive the vaccine at vaccinate.ne.gov

All Nebraska counties are vaccinating Phase 1B priority groups.

Local health departments and retail pharmacy partners are offering vaccines for Nebraskans 65 and older. Vaccination will expand to other 1B priority groups as supplies allow. 

Community clinics with scheduled appointments are the primary way vaccine doses are given while vaccine supplies remain limited in order to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics are staggering appointments to observe social distancing and are providing space for monitoring after vaccination.

Mild side effects like a sore arm and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms with COVID-19 vaccines. While many people will have no symptoms, for others there can be headaches, chills or a fever. These side effects are normal and a sign your body is building protection, and you should be feeling better within a few days.

Those receiving their first dose are reminded to keep their vaccination record card in a safe place and take it to their second dose appointment.

In phase three clinical trials, the Pfizer vaccine had 95% efficacy and the Moderna vaccine had 94% efficacy in preventing any severity of COVID-19. Both Pfizer and Moderna require two doses. A phase three clinical trial showed the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had 66% efficacy at preventing any severity of COVID-19 (while being studied in regions with new variant strains of COVID-19), and only requires one dose. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Each of these three authorized COVID-19 vaccines had 100% efficacy against COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths. Since each of these COVID-19 vaccines work extremely well against the virus, individuals should feel confident they are reducing their risk when they choose to vaccinate. Moreover, every person who gets vaccinated is doing their part to help reduce spread and put an end to this global pandemic.  

* NCDHD reported 158 virus recoveries during past week

(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 26)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 16 new COVID-19 cases in the district since Monday. Among the new cases are three in Holt County, two in Cherry County, and one new case was reported in both Brown County and Boyd County.

The health department reported 158 people recovered from the virus during the past week. Among the recoveries are 21 in Holt County, 20 in Brown County, 17 in Cherry County, five in Rock County, four in Keya Paha County and three people were deemed to have recovered in Boyd County.

There have been 45 cases reported in the past two weeks, and 4,256 cases overall. Of those, 3,131 people have recovered from the virus and 72 have died from virus complications.

NCDHD still encourages district residents to continue to wear a mask in public places or where social distancing is difficult as well as practice social distancing while out in public.

The health department reported COVID-19 vaccination clinics have resumed as new shipments have arrived. Some of the affected COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been rescheduled to a later date. Appointment times and locations will remain the same on the new clinic dates unless otherwise communicated.  

NCDHD is focusing on those age 65 and older and tier 1 of the Phase 1B community partners including first responders, those in the utilities sector and educators.

In the nine-county district, 3,335 people have received both doses of vaccine, which represents 9.28 percent of the population in the district. An additional 6,729 residents have received their first dose of the vaccine.  

* Brewer provides update from Nebraska Legislature

(Posted 4 p.m. Feb. 25)

Nebraska 43rd District State Sen. Tom Brewer visited with KBRB’s Graig Kinzie Thursday on a variety of topics, from redistricting to the budget to the construction of a new corrections facility and the recent loss of power in Nebraska due to the state’s participation in the Southwest Power Pool.

Part 1

Part 2

* Ainsworth wins Mock Trial regional championship

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

The Ainsworth Mock Trial team advanced to the Nebraska State Mock Trial Championships, defeating Valentine Wednesday in the regional final.

Ainsworth portrayed the prosecution in the State of Nebraska v. Chris Hall. Hall was charged with possession of a controlled substance. The charge stemmed from an eye-witness report from another student, who was in the running with Hall for the senior class valedictorian and the full-tuition college scholarship that accompanies the award. A small vial of methamphetamine was found in Hall’s bag by a school resource officer after the competing student reported Hall to the school principal.

The Valentine team defended Hall during Wednesday’s regional final.

Alyssa Erthum was presented the outstanding attorney award by the Valentine team upon the trial’s conclusion, and Dakota Stutzman was voted the outstanding witness.

Ainsworth team members are attorneys Erthum, Cody Kronhofman, Haley Schroedl and Levi Goshorn, and witnesses Stutzman, Libby Smith, Brandt Murphy and Gracie Petty.

The team is coached by Katie McClure and Graig Kinzie, with assistance from Brown County Attorney Andy Taylor and former coach Mary Rau.

Ainsworth is one of 12 state qualifiers and will compete in virtual trials March 1-3 against other teams from across the state. There is no differentiation between school size.

This year’s competitions are all being conducted virtually instead of in courtrooms across the state due to the pandemic.

* Sheriff’s department receives $50,000 USDA grant

(Posted 1:45 p.m. Feb. 24)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department was awarded a $50,000 USDA Rural Development grant to help upgrade technology in the sheriff’s department office and in its fleet of vehicles.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “I am happy to announce the Brown County Sheriff’s Department received a federal grant from the USDA. It will allow them to acquire new mobile communications equipment and continue keeping their community safe.”

The investments from USDA Rural Development will allow the sheriff’s department to purchase a fully integrated records management system, computer aided dispatch system, mobile data terminals and electronic citations.

Sheriff Bruce Papstein said the total project will cost approximately $67,000, with the sheriff’s department using 911 funds to provide the local match required to receive the grant funding.

Papstein said the grant money will provide significant upgrades to the department’s technology, including the installation of a records management system for the office and computer aided dispatching systems in each patrol vehicle.

“The CAD system in each vehicle will allow deputies to issue citations, incident reports and accident reports from their vehicle and send them directly to the county attorney,” Papstein said. “Everything is kept on one system. We will be able to search past incident reports and eliminate papers files.”

Papstein said the system will speed up investigation times, allowing deputies to search for past incident reports and be able to quickly identify when the sheriff’s department had contact with an individual on a previous complaint.

The sheriff said the department has been scanning logs from the past two years into its computer system, and the new software will allow those logs to be searched digitally instead of deputies having to search through paper records.

He said, as additional departments around the area integrate similar systems, those departments will be able to share information with each other directly through the computerized system.

* Ainsworth finishes second in home speech invitational

(Posted 1:30 p.m. Feb. 23)

The Ainsworth speech team hosted its annual invitational meet Saturday. Ainsworth finished second among the seven teams competing.

Ainsworth results Saturday were:

Varsity

Informative: Ben Flynn – 1st and Eden Raymond – 5th

OID: Cody Kronhofman, Maren Arens, Dakota Stutzman, and Eden Raymond – 2nd and Josie Ganser, Logan Hafer, Brandt Murphy, Cody Scott, and Elli Welke – 5th

Humorous Prose: Brandt Murphy – 5th

Poetry: Alyssa Erthum – 3rd and Ellie Welke – 5th

Extemporaneous: Libby Wilkins – 1st and Josie Ganser – 2nd

Persuasive: Alyssa Erthum – 1st and Logan Hafer – 2nd

Serious Prose: Dakota Stutzman – 1st 

Entertainment: Allison Taylor – 5th and Maren Arens – 6th

Novice

Serious Prose: Taylor Allen – 1st

Persuasive: Sophie Wilson – 1st and Cole Bodeman – 3rd

Humorous Prose: Cameryn Goochey – 2nd

Informative: Makenna Pierce – 2nd

Entertainment: Cole Bodeman – 2nd

Duet: Taylor Allen & Katherine Kerrigan – 2nd and Maia Flynn & Cameryn Goochey – 4th

* NCDHD confirms 20 COVID-19 cases since Thursday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 23)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 20 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were seven in Cherry County, five in Holt County, and one new case was reported in both Brown County and Rock County. NCDHD still encourages district residents to wear a mask in public places or where social distancing is difficult and practice social distancing while out in public.

There have been 49 COVID-19 cases confirmed in the nine-county district in the past two weeks, and 4,240 cases overall. Of those, 2,973 people have recovered and 72 have died due to complications from the virus.

COVID-19 testing is now being administered from 1 until 3 p.m. on Mondays at the Rock County Fairgrounds. Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required.

The O’Neill second dose clinic scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19, was rescheduled for this Friday, Feb. 26, with appointment times remaining the same. 

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

In the district, 6,490 people have received their first dose of vaccine, and another 2,753 people have received both doses. 

More than 52,844 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered last week in Nebraska. As of Monday, more than 344,165 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 Monday 107,807 Nebraskans have completed vaccination which represents 7.3% of Nebraskans aged 16 years of age and older. 

This week, Nebraska is scheduled to receive 18,720 Pfizer and 18,400 Moderna primary doses.

DHHS has a website available so Nebraskans can register and get notified when COVID-19 vaccinations begin in their area.

As of Monday, 211,237 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. Any information entered is strictly confidential and used solely for this purpose. Friends, family and caregivers are encouraged to assist others with vaccine sign-up if needed. The DHHS Information line is available to assist with signup by calling 833-998-2275. People may also visit their local senior center or public library for assistance in registering. 

Local health departments and retail pharmacy partners are offering vaccines for Nebraskans 65 and older. Vaccination will expand to other 1B priority groups as supplies allow. Other groups include those working in critical industries including: first responders, educators and daycare providers, those in the utilities and transportation sectors, corrections staff, and those working in food processing and at grocery stores.

A total of 135 sites across Nebraska receive vaccine shipments.

Community clinics with scheduled appointments are the primary way vaccine doses are given while vaccine supplies remain limited in order to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics are staggering appointments to observe social distancing and are providing space for monitoring after vaccination.

Mild side effects like a sore arm and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms with COVID-19 vaccines. While many people will have no symptoms, for others there can be headaches, chills or a fever. These side effects are normal and a sign your body is building protection, and you should feel better within a few days.

Those receiving their first dose are reminded to keep their vaccination record card in a safe place and take it to their second dose appointment.

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Two doses are needed to reach full effectiveness against COVID-19, and the same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

* State vaccine portal reaches 200,000 registrations

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 22)

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 Vaccination portal reached and exceeded the milestone of 200,000 Nebraskans registered for the COVID-19 vaccine as of Thursday evening.

“This is a significant moment in Nebraska’s effort to mitigate COVID-19 and ensure access to the vaccine,” said DHHS Chief Information Officer Lori Snyder. “It means the systems we have put in place are reaching Nebraskans and making the process of getting the vaccine as easy and equitable as possible for residents.”

Launched the last week of January, www.vaccinate.ne.gov is the state’s official COVID-19 vaccine registration portal.  Those who have registered for vaccination with their local health department do not need to register a second time using the state site, as information will be transferred between local health departments and DHHS.

Nebraska is updating its Vaccine Phasing guidance to provide further information and expectations as to when the general population will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Health departments are currently in Phase 1B, vaccinating those over 65 years old or working in critical infrastructure. Comorbidity categories are not included in Phase 1B. As Phase 1B continues, Nebraska is finalizing plans to vaccinate the general population.

* Just 9 COVID cases confirmed since Monday by NCDHD

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 19)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of nine new COVID-19 cases in the district since Monday. Among the new cases were two in Cherry County, two in Holt County and one new case was confirmed in Brown County.

NCDHD reported 245 people recovered from the virus during the past week. Among the recoveries were 38 people in Holt County, 34 in Cherry County, 16 in Brown County, 13 in Boyd County, eight in Rock County and five people recovered from the virus in Keya Paha County.  

A total of 44 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the past two weeks, and 4,225 confirmed cases have been reported overall in the nine counties covered by the North Central District Health Department. Of those, 2,973 people have recovered and 72 deaths have been attributed to the virus.

NCDHD reported planned shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine for vaccination clinics will not be arriving in the district as scheduled due to sub-zero weather conditions and power outages. Affected COVID-19 vaccine clinics have been or will be rescheduled to a later date. Appointment times and locations will remain the same on the new clinic dates unless otherwise communicated. NCDHD expects that vaccine shipping delays may impact vaccine clinics into next week. Clinics have been rescheduled in O’Neill, Pierce, Bloomfield and Neligh.

Due to the number of clinics and appointments scheduled, NCDHD relies on an automated service for notifying those who are scheduled for appointments. District residents with appointments for upcoming clinics should expect an automated phone call from 402-336-2406 to the contact information provided through the registration process detailing clinic status information or further instructions. If you receive an automated call from NCDHD and your same appointment time will not work for you on the rescheduled date, call NCDHD at 402-336-2406. Otherwise, no call back is needed.

District residents are asked to check local media sources for the most up-to-date information available. 

NCDHD is focusing vaccinations on those 65 years and older and tier 1 of the 1B community partners including first responders, those in the utilities sector, and educators.

In the district, 6,173 people have received the first dose of vaccine, and 2,484 people have received both doses. Just shy of 7 percent of the district’s population 16 years and older have received both doses.

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Thursday provided an update on coronavirus vaccination efforts in Nebraska. The state is currently in Phase 1B of its vaccination plan, with the majority of vaccines being administered to Nebraskans age 65 and older.

“Age is the single biggest factor in determining who is most likely to be severely impacted by the coronavirus,” Ricketts said. “That’s why we’ve been focusing on vaccinating Nebraskans in the 65+ age category. Our local health departments are focusing at least 90% of their efforts on this age group right now. As we look forward to vaccinating the general population, we’ll continue to prioritize vaccinations based on age.”

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Incident Commander Angie Ling reported on the state’s recent and upcoming vaccine allocations. 

“Starting next week, we’ll be counting the extra doses in the Pfizer vial,” Ling said. “Each vial will now count as having six doses instead of five doses. Our Pfizer allocation for next week will increase to 18,720 primary doses, and our Moderna allocation will increase to 18,400 primary doses. We’re adjusting our second dose ordering schedule. Instead of having these doses arrive 7-10 days before we can use them, we’ll have them arrive within the window of time when we can use them.”

Ling said the majority of vaccines have not arrived to Nebraska this week due to issues at distribution sites and inclement weather. 

“We did receive two shipments of Pfizer vaccine on Monday, and these doses will be used in our scheduled clinics,” Ling said. “The supply issues are occurring nationwide; they’re not unique to Nebraska. Every effort will be made to catch up as soon as possible, while safely delivering the vaccines.”

DHHS Deputy Director of Public Health Felicia Quintana-Zinn shared an update to the state’s vaccination plan. Once Phase 1B has been completed, the state will prioritize Nebraskans ages 50-64 for vaccination.

“Nebraska is updating its Vaccine Phasing guidance to provide further information and expectations as to when the general population will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Quintana-Zinn said.

Health departments are currently in Phase 1B, vaccinating those over 65 years old or working in critical infrastructure.  Comorbidity categories are not included in Phase 1B. As Phase 1B continues, Nebraska is finalizing plans to vaccinate the general population. 

With the increasing amount of vaccine supply, Nebraska is expecting to be able to move to the general population in April or May.

Preliminary Nebraska residents’ mortality data shows that COVID-19 caused or was a main contributing factor in 1,801 Nebraskan deaths, with approximately 97% of those deaths occurring in those over 50 years of age.

After Phase 1B is complete, Nebraska will begin to vaccinate the general population. 

“To continue to ensure that our population is protected, we’ll prioritize 50- to 64-year-olds prior to vaccinating the remainder of the population, those 16- to 49 years old,” Quintana-Zinn said.

* Hearing held on livestock facility setbacks, action tabled

(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 18)

Following a public hearing Wednesday, the Brown County Planning Commission opted to table making any recommendations to the Brown County Commissioners on a new comprehensive plan for the county and amendments to the county’s zoning regulations.

Zoning Administrator Tom Jones said Brown County’s original comprehensive plan and zoning regulations were written in 1992.

“It needed to be redone,” Jones said. “Zoning regulations have been amended over the years, but there is nothing in those regulations on wind turbines or solar panels, and the way agriculture is changing needs to be accounted for.”

Jones said the firm Hanna Keelan of Lincoln worked with the Planning Commission to create an updated comprehensive plan, and the amendments to the county’s zoning regulations would be based off what a study conducted by the company found and what was included in the comprehensive plan.

“Setbacks on livestock facilities will be the hot topic,” Jones said.

The zoning administrator said the Planning Commission took the topic of setbacks very seriously.

“This is an agricultural county,” Jones said. “We don’t want to cripple our ag economy, but we also don’t want to turn our county into a place where people don’t want to live. We understand what agriculture means to this county, and you have the right to do what you want to with your land, as long as it is not detrimental to your neighbor.”

Jones said the main amendments to the county’s zoning regulations would be recommendations for some sort of setback requirements for livestock facilities requiring a special-use permit, though he said the distances for any setbacks were not set in stone. He said the commission would likely recommend the county begin utilizing an industry standard animal unit system when permitting facilities.

Other items that would be addressed in the amendments to zoning regulations would be setbacks and a decommissioning plan for wind towers, and a requirement that easements be filed before an applicant can move forward with a special-use permit.

Jones said the updated regulations would also address perpetual conservation easements

“We don’t think anything should be perpetual,” Jones said.

He said an easement can’t reduce the land’s ability for production or natural allowed uses.

The commission then opened a public hearing on both the comprehensive plan and the proposed amendments to the county’s zoning regulations.

No one asked to speak regarding the new comprehensive plan, but several residents provided their opinions on livestock facility setbacks to the Planning Commission.

Marsha King, Jack King Sr., Jack King Jr. and Colt King each urged the Planning Commission to implement stringent setbacks for livestock facilities, and to use property lines and not dwellings when measuring the distance for those setbacks.

“Setbacks are needed, and not just a half-mile,” Jack King Jr. said. “Don’t ruin people who have made a life here for 100 years. They need to be 4 miles from the property line.”

King Jr. said Brown County is a cattle county, and he had nothing against anyone who wanted to build a cattle feeding operation.

“Pigs, sheep, chickens – no way,” King Jr. said.

Marsha King urged the commission to incorporate setbacks, and to think of the families living in the county, not the corporations who want to build confinement operations.

Tom Bejot, a part owner in Bejot Feedlot west of Ainsworth, said the family’s current feed yard could likely not be expanded with setback requirements.

“We try to do the best job we can do and not cause problems,” Bejot said. “We are starting another generation, and they might want to expand.”

Bejot said, if his family were to buy ground and build another feed yard in a different area, would the Planning Commission protect the facility with setbacks that kept people from building homes close to the facility so its future expansion could not be blocked by another property owner.

Jones said the recommended regulations would be reciprocal.

“No one would be able to come in and build a house within that setback area of your lot unless you would give them a waiver,” Jones said.

Bejot said if remote areas of the county become the only places where livestock operations can be developed, the county needed to be prepared to have substantial additional road maintenance costs.

Troy Peters told the commission he believed setbacks were important.

“For people who have lived here all their lives, it is not fair for a hog operation to move in,” Peters said. “That is huge when Tom (Jones) said we don’t want to make this a place where people don’t want to live.”

Peters said livestock operations now are all big corporations.

“It is the big boys now, the corporations,” Peters said. “It is not family operations. That is what I have the issue with regarding animal feeding.”

Kim Snyder said setbacks were a difficult, contentious subject, but she was glad to see the issue being addressed.

“Keep the people who made this county what it is in mind,” Snyder said.

Former zoning administrator Dean Jochem said the Planning Commission was able to operate without setbacks for the 19 years he served as zoning administrator by examining each permit.

“I don’t think you have the right to control everyone around you,” Jochem said. “With these setbacks, you can buy 5 acres and build a house, then control what happens on the 2-1/2 miles around you. That doesn’t sound right. Buy your own setbacks.”

Jochem said people could control the land around them by purchasing it if they feel that strongly about what happens near them in the country.

Jochem said people can give themselves a buffer near their country homes by building their homes in the middle of their property and not right next to the property line.

“These are things we can do ourselves without expecting our neighbors to do it for us,” Jochem said. “I built a house on the corner of my property instead of in the middle, and I had a feedlot get built across the intersection. Whose fault is it that my house is close to that feedlot?”

Jochem said it bothered him that someone from outside the area could come in, buy 5 acres, build a house, and then control everyone around them.

Steve Bartak said he believed in setbacks so people interested in building a livestock facility know what the rules are when looking for a site.

“I would ask you to consider different setbacks based on the type of manure produced, liquid vs. solid,” Bartak said.

Jones said the county could not implement different setbacks based on the type of manure produced, but it could have different setbacks based on whether the livestock feeding operation is an open lot or whether it is in an environmentally controlled facility.

Following the comments from the public, Planning Commission member Brad Wilkins said setbacks put things on autopilot and take the decision on each project out of the hands of the Planning Commission and the Brown County Commissioners.

“For the last 19 years we have not had setbacks,” Wilkins said. “I believe each project should be looked at on its own merits. Arbitrary setbacks won’t serve us well. I think we can look at livestock siting matrix data. These projects become emotional and turn neighbor against neighbor. It shouldn’t be that way. We should evaluate each project.”

Wilkins said, if he wanted to build a house on the half-section of property he owns, the way these setbacks are written, he would have to get permission to do so from Rolling Stone Feed Yard.

“To hardwire this in creates real problems,” Wilkins said.

Brown County Commissioner Denny Bauer said, with setbacks, the current cattle feedlots in the county would not be able to expand in the future.

“I worry about the beef industry in this county if we stifle growth,” Bauer said.

The commissioners held a special meeting in conjunction with the hearing, so all three board members could attend.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus said he was in favor of the county creating setbacks.

“If these boards pick and choose, it becomes a popularity contest, and these boards take the heat,” Wiebelhaus said. “I think there needs to be some rules established.”

Wiebelhaus said it has not been cattle feedlot operations that have created the issues during the last 11 years.

Planning Commissioner Mark Miles said his family has a feedlot, and he is the fifth generation to be a part of that feedlot.

Miles said he took issue with people claiming young people don’t want to move back to this area because of animal feeding operations.

“I think that is false, and we need to stop it,” Miles said of using young people moving back as an argument against livestock feeding operations.

“We can all say we have been here a long time,” Miles said. “The margins are different now. You have to have a larger facility to make it work. There are families with facilities in this county, not just corporations.”

Miles said the Planning Commission could not create setbacks by species, but he said the commission is allowed to create different setbacks for environmentally controlled housing vs. open lot housing for the animals.

Bauer asked the Planning Commission to consider creating setbacks on environmentally controlled facilities but not on open lots. Wiebelhaus said that was an idea he could get behind and support.

Following the discussion, the Planning Commission, by a 4-2 vote with members Miles, Wilkins, Jim Carley and Linda O’Hare voting in favor and members Pat Schumacher and Steve Bejot voting against, tabled for 60 days making a recommendation to the Brown County Commissioners on the comprehensive plan, and voted unanimously to table action for 60 days on the amendments to the zoning regulations.

Wilkins said he would like to gather more information on both items.

Schumacher said the purpose of Wednesday’s public hearing was not to make a decision right away, but to gather information from the public.

The Planning Commission will schedule a special meeting within the next 60 days to vote on recommendations to make to the Brown County Commissioners, who will then hold an additional public hearing on the comprehensive plan and zoning regulation amendments before making a final decision on both items.

* COVID infections slowing in Nebraska

(Posted 5:45 a.m. Feb. 18)

The statewide total of COVID-19 cases is 197,746 as of Tuesday. There were 32 COVID-19-related deaths in Nebraska reported in the past seven days, for a total of 2,018. To date, a total of 142,335 Nebraskans testing positive for COVID-19 have recovered.

COVID-19 hospitalizations continued to decline in the past week, with Nebraska hospitals caring for an average of 200 COVID-19 patients per day over the past seven days. Averages in prior weeks were 265, 322, and 402 COVID-19 patients.

The daily average of new positive cases in the past week currently stands at 231, compared to 367 daily cases last week, and 548 and 567 cases a day in recent weeks. 

Dr. Gary Anthone, Chief Medical Officer and Director of Public Health for DHHS, said, “Nebraskans made good progress in helping limit the spread of COVID-19 in the past few months, which has helped reduce the pressure on our health care community. While our vaccination effort moves forward and more Nebraskans are protected each week, limiting opportunities for the virus to spread is still critical in our everyday lives. Wearing a mask, washing hands, and staying home when you’re sick remain our best defenses against COVID-19.”  

All Nebraska counties are now vaccinating Phase 1B priority groups. Local health departments are offering COVID-19 vaccines for Nebraskans 65 and older, and vaccination will expand to other 1B priority groups as supplies allow. Other groups include those 18 and older who are at high-risk for severe COVID-19, and those working in critical industries including: first responders, educators and daycare providers, those in the utilities and transportation sectors, corrections staff, and those working in food processing and at grocery stores.

Federal officials haven’t yet released new allocations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in Nebraska.

This week, Nebraska is receiving 30,100 first doses, including 11,700 Pfizer and 18,400 Moderna doses, and second dose shipments scheduled total 29,350. A total of 125 sites across Nebraska receive vaccine shipments.

Nebraska’s 19 local health departments are coordinating vaccination for Phase 1 priority groups.

Community clinics with scheduled appointments are the primary way vaccine doses are being given to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics will stagger appointments in order to observe social distancing and provide space for monitoring after vaccination.

Mild side effects like a sore arm and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms with COVID-19 vaccines. While many people will have no symptoms, others may experience headaches, chills or a fever. These side effects are normal and a sign your body is building protection, and you should be feeling better within a few days.

Nebraskans are reminded a second vaccine dose is needed to complete vaccination, which research shows provides the best protection against COVID-19 symptoms and potential complications.

As of Tuesday, more than 303,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given to those in Phase 1 priority groups. More than 96,800 Nebraskans 16 or older, about 6.5 percent of the population, have completed vaccination. 

Nebraskans can register online to be notified when COVID-19 vaccination is available in their area. Available at vaccinate.ne.gov, more than 197,000 registrations have been received so far.

* New shelter installed at Merritt’s Cedar Bay

(Posted 10:45 a.m. Feb. 17)

Visitors to Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area have a new place to gather the shade.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently installed a new 988-square-foot shelter at the Cedar Bay area.

The $100,000 cost of the project was equally divided between the Game and Parks Capital Maintenance Fund and a grant from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Cedar Bay, which features 46 campsites, is one of eight campgrounds at the 2,900-acre reservoir.

The new shelter is the second significant improvement at the Sandhills attraction during the past two years. Last summer, the recreation area received a new concrete shower house at the Willow Cove Campground.

Merritt Reservoir is 26 miles southeast of Valentine on Nebraska Highway 97.

* Rolling blackouts will again be implemented Wednesday

(Posted 9 a.m. Feb. 17)

The Nebraska Public Power District has announced that rolling blackouts will again be conducted throughout Nebraska as the utility has moved to an Energy Emergency Level 3.

Electrical service at various locations will be interrupted for 45 minutes or longer until further notice as the Southwest Power Pool deals with a peak in demand.

Customers are urged to reduce their power consumption this morning in an effort to decrease demand.

* More than 92,000 Nebraskans have completed vaccination

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

More than 55,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered last week in Nebraska. As of Monday, more than 293,300 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.

As of Monday, 92,373 Nebraskans have completed vaccination, which represents 6.2% of Nebraskans aged 16 or older.  

This week, Nebraska is scheduled to receive 30,100 first doses, including 11,700 Pfizer and 18,400 Moderna doses.

A total of 29,350 second dose shipments are expected, which includes 5,850 Pfizer doses released from the federal program for long-term care vaccinations.

DHHS has a website available to help Nebraskans register to be notified when COVID-19 vaccination begins in their area. Available at vaccinate.ne.gov, more than 193,700 registrations have been received so far.

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. Any information entered is strictly confidential and used solely for this purpose. Friends, family and caregivers are encouraged to assist others with vaccine sign-up if needed, or people may visit their local senior center or library for assistance in signing up online.

All Nebraska counties are vaccinating Phase 1B priority groups.

Local health departments and retail pharmacy partners are offering vaccine for Nebraskans 65 and older. Vaccination will expand to other 1B priority groups as supplies allow. Other groups include those 18 and older who are at high-risk for severe COVID-19, and those working in critical industries including: first responders, educators and daycare providers, those in the utilities and transportation sectors, corrections staff, and those working in food processing and at grocery stores.

DHHS is allocating doses via an existing vaccine network that includes local health departments, federally-qualified health centers, community-based clinics, and tribal health care centers across the state. A total of 125 sites across Nebraska receive vaccine shipments.

Nebraska’s 19 local health departments are coordinating vaccination for Phase 1 priority groups.

Community clinics with scheduled appointments are the primary way vaccine doses are given while vaccine supplies remain limited in order to help ensure all doses can be used in the required timeframe. Community clinics are staggering appointments to observe social distancing and are providing space for monitoring after vaccination.

Mild side effects like a sore arm and fatigue are some of the most common symptoms with COVID-19 vaccines. While many people will have no symptoms, for others there can be headaches, chills or a fever. These side effects are normal and a sign your body is building protection, and you should be feeling better within a few days.

Those receiving their first dose are reminded to keep their vaccination record card in a safe place and take it to their second dose appointment.

The Pfizer vaccine was 95% effective and the Moderna vaccine 94% effective in phase three clinical trials. Comparatively, the flu vaccine is generally 40 to 60% effective. Two doses are needed to reach full effectiveness against COVID-19, and the same brand of vaccine must be administered for both doses.

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available to the public and it’s expected to be late spring before mass vaccination begins.

* Area airports receive grant funding through COVID relief

(Posted 3:15 p.m. Feb. 16)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation received guidance from the Federal Aviation Administration regarding a recent allocation of the $2 billion made available under the FAA’s Airport Coronavirus Response Grant Program.

The funding was approved by Congress in late December as part of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriation Act. Nebraska airports will receive $12.5 million in grant allocations from the act.

The Ainsworth Regional Airport received $13,000 in grant funding. The O’Neill and Valentine airports also received $13,000 in funding.

The Rock County Airport and the Stuart-Atkinson Municipal Airport each picked up $9,000 in grant funding. A total of 72 airports in Nebraska received funding.

The funds will provide economic relief to Nebraska airports affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAA will make grants to all airports that are part of the national airport system, including all commercial service airports, all reliever airports, and some public-owned general aviation airports.

* NPPD President provides update on planned blackouts

(Posted 1 p.m. Feb. 16)

Nebraska Public Power District President Tom Kent on Tuesday provided an update on how NPPD plans to implement targeted power outages to help balance an overloaded power grid.

* Power disrupted in Bassett, Long Pine

(Posted 9:15 a.m. Feb. 16)

Power service was interrupted Tuesday morning for KBR Rural Public Power and NPPD customers in the Bassett and Long Pine areas.

Power outages may continue unannounced through the day today as the Southwest Power Pool tries to cut back demand to match capacity.

* NPPD reports power will be interrupted Tuesday

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

The Nebraska Public Power District announced Tuesday morning, in an effort to maintain system reliability, NPPD has been informed by the Southwest Power Pool that emergency coordinated interruptions of service will be required Tuesday.

The 30-minute interruptions of service will occur in real-time, so NPPD will have little, if any, advance notice of where the power interruptions will take place.

The Southwest Power Pool has declared an Energy Emergency Alert Level 3 effective immediately for the entire 14-state balancing authority area.

System-wide generating capacity has dropped below the current load of approximately 42 gigawatts due to extremely low temperatures and inadequate supplies of natural gas.

The Southwest Power Pool will work with member utilities to implement controlled interruptions of electric service throughout the region.

This is done as a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole. Individuals in the service territory should take steps to conserve energy use and follow their local utilities’ instructions regarding conservation, local conditions and the potential for outages to their homes and businesses.

The Southwest Power Pool is currently forecasting a morning peak of 44.6 gigawatts of power consumption at 9 a.m. CST

* Just 12 COVID-19 cases reported by NCDHD since Thursday

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

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 12 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Thursday. Among the new cases were three in Holt County, and one new case was reported in both Keya Paha and Cherry counties. There were no new cases reported in Brown, Rock and Boyd counties.

There have been 48 COVID-19 cases confirmed in the nine-county district in the past 14 days.

Those interested in receiving COVID-19 vaccines may sign up online at www.ncdhd.gov.

The NCDHD is focusing on those 65 and older and in tier 1 of the Phase 1B. This includes first responders, utilities, homeless shelter, corrections staff, and educators.

A total of 7,952 vaccinations have been administered in the district, with 5,722 first doses and 2,230 people receiving both doses of the vaccine.

Those who need assistance completing the online survey may visit their local library or senior center.

NCDHD staff reiterate to the district that public health preventative measures have not changed even though the state has moved into the DHM “Green” phasing. NCDHD still encourages district residents to continue to wear a mask in public places or where social distancing is difficult as well as practice social distancing while out in public.

* NCDHD confirms 21 COVID-19 cases since Monday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Feb. 12)

The North Central District Health Department was made aware of 21 new COVID-19 cases in the district since last reporting Monday. Among the new cases were six in Holt County and one in Keya Paha County. There were no new confirmed cases in Brown, Rock, Cherry and Boyd counties.

NCDHD confirmed 182 people recovered from the virus in the past week. Among the recoveries were 24 people in Holt County, 16 in Boyd County, 10 in Brown County, nine in Cherry County, seven in Rock County, and two people recovered from the virus in Keya Paha County.

NCDHD received word that three people died in the district during the past week. They included a man in Holt County and a man and a woman in Knox County.

There have been  71 COVID-19 cases reported in the past two weeks, and 4,204 total cases in the district. Of those 2,715 people have recovered and there have been 72 deaths attributed to the virus in the nine counties covered by the NCDHD.

The Test Nebraska COVID-19 testing clinic date has changed at the Rock County Fairgrounds, and tests will be conducted from 1 until 3 p.m. on Mondays at the fairgrounds.

Pre-registration for testing at www.testnebraska.com is highly encouraged, but not required.

The North Central District Health Department reminds those in the district of the Nebraska COVID-19 vaccine registry, located at www.ncdhd.ne.gov. Anyone is welcome to register at this time. NCDHD is focusing on 65+ and tier 1 of the 1B community partners. This includes first responders, utilities, homeless shelter, corrections staff, and educators.

7,342 vaccinations administered

5,366 1st dose in series administered

1,976 2nd dose in series administered

5.5% of the population 16 and older completing vaccination in the district

Those who need assistance filling out the online registration may visit their local library or senior center. 

NCDHD would like to reiterate to the district that public health preventative measures have not changed though the state has moved into the DHM “Green” phasing. NCDHD still encourages district residents to continue to wear a mask in public places or where social distancing is difficult as well as practicing social distancing while out in public.

* Board asked to allow junior high dual sports participation 

(Posted 2:45 p.m. Feb. 11)

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Thursday discussed a request to allow junior high students to participate in more than one sport during seventh and eighth grade.

Clint Painter thanked the board for the opportunity to discuss the issue, and said his sixth-grade daughter would like to play volleyball and run cross country in the fall as a seventh-grader and asked him to see if the board would allow that to happen.

Painter said he talked to his brother, who coaches in the Pierce School District. That district lets junior high students participate in more than one sport at the same time. He said he also talked to an Ainsworth graduate now living in Atkinson, whose daughter was allowed to play volleyball and run cross country in middle school.

“That actually led her to run cross country in high school, and she had a good year,” Painter said. He said, if doing both would not have been an option, she likely would have been on the volleyball team instead of qualifying for state cross country.

Elementary Principal Curtis Childers said O’Neill allows junior high students to play more than one sport. There, the team sport took the priority, then the athlete completed a workout on their own for the individual sport and could then compete in cross country meets.

“About 25 percent of the football kids run the cross country meets in middle school in O’Neill,” Childers said. “They had two high school state cross country qualifiers that would have played football if they had not been given that opportunity in middle school.”

Secondary Principal Steve Dike said he would like to see the district allow students to dip their toes in the water of more than one activity if they are interested.

“If you lose them in seventh grade in cross country, you don’t usually get them back if the other sport doesn’t work out for them,” Dike said.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said the issue mainly boils down to sitting down and working out the details.

“We want to make sure the junior high coaches can work with each other,” Hafer said. “We don’t want one program to be the one that has to make all the changes. They all have to work together to make it work.”

Hafer said the change would be for the junior high level only, as the Nebraska School Activities Association does not allow dual participation during the same season at the high school level.

Board member Brad Wilkins said he would like to see junior high students have that opportunity if they are interested in more than one sport.

Board member Jessica Pozehl said the change would also allow girls who may be interested also try junior high wrestling at the same time as basketball since girls high school wrestling was now an NSAA sanctioned sport.

Hafer said the district would look into the issue further and include it on a future agenda for potential approval.

In other business Thursday, the board approved the purchase of new reading curriculum from Amplify after receiving a recommendation from the curriculum committee.

Hafer said the new reading curriculum was the culmination of a months-long effort by the principals and staff. The curriculum committee was presented three curriculum options on Jan. 27, and the Amplify quote was the top choice for 80 percent of the group and was the second option for the remaining members.

“This was pretty clearly the top pick,” Childers said.

Childers said, through negotiation, Amplify agreed to reduce its asking price from over $150,000 down to the proposed quote of $122,363.

Board member Scott Erthum said the Amplify proposal checked all the boxes the district needed.

The board approved the $122,363 reading curriculum purchase, which will be paid for through stimulus funding received through the CARES Act and the second round of COVID relief funding.

Hafer said the district received $67,692 in the first round of CARES Act stimulus funding, and would receive another $237,407 in funding during the second round. He recommended, in addition to the reading curriculum, the funds be used to update the district’s one-to-one laptop computers for the high school.

“It is cleaner for us to focus that funding on the reading series and the laptops,” Hafer said.

The board approved teaching contracts for special education for both Tasha Kruse and Rachel Williams for the 2021-22 school year. Hafer said Kruse was being hired to replace Teresa Halley, who had previously submitted her resignation effective at the end of the current school year.

Hafer said Williams was currently employed by the Educational Service Unit 17 but spends 100 percent of her day in the Ainsworth buildings. He said the district is hiring Williams, at her request. The district currently pays ESU 17 for Williams’ contract. Hiring her instead of contracting would give the district more future flexibility in the special education department and the district would realize a savings in having her on staff instead of contracted through ESU.

Tobin Buchanon of First National Capital Markets presented the board with a finance resolution to issue certificates of participation to pay for the upcoming window replacement, gym floor replacement and carpeting project.

Buchanon said since the items were considered equipment instead of a brick and mortar addition project, the certificates of participation functioned a little differently than the lease-purchase agreement the district used to finance the agriculture and industrial technology building addition project.

The certificates of participation function more as bonds. The district would receive a lower interest rate than the lease-purchase agreement. That rate is currently less than 1 percent at 0.75 percent interest over a seven-year term.

Buchanon recommended the district issue the certificates right away to lock in the low interest rate.

The district had previously agreed to the window and gym floor replacement project not to exceed $665,000. The board voted to approve the resolution as presented and issue the certificates of participation.

The board voted to proceed with declaring two sheds on school grounds as surplus and advertise to sell them by sealed bids. Hafer said he had been approached about the district selling the sheds.

Board member Mark Johnson said everything fits in the bus barn, and the district no longer had a need for the two sheds. The board approved declaring the sheds surplus equipment and advertising them for sealed bids.

The board appointed Frontier Diesel, First Class Auto, Ainsworth Motors and Joey Finley to serve as mechanics for district vehicle inspections.

The board approved annual items setting meeting dates for the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. from November through March and at 8 p.m. from April through October; approving the Ainsworth Star-Journal as its official publication for legal notice and KBRB for promotion of meetings; the West Plains Bank, First National Bank and Union Bank and Trust as depositories for district funding; and authorizations to the superintendent and district treasurer.

During his report, Childers said parent-teacher conferences would be held March 1 after being postponed Monday due to boiler issues in the building.

“We need to get them done before the fourth quarter starts, and March 1 looks like about the only date possible to schedule them without conflicts,” Childers said.

During his report, Hafer said questions were starting to surface about the district continuing to mandate masks in the buildings for students, staff and visitors since COVID cases are declining.

Hafer said the quarantine guidelines from the health department remain in place that would require students and staff without masks to quarantine should contact tracing find they were in close contact with someone who tested positive.

“We haven’t had any issues with the kids regarding the masks,” Hafer said. “Unless the quarantine rules change, these are still the guidelines we are working under.”

The superintendent said the district has been asked to prioritize its staff for COVID vaccinations in the coming weeks. He recommended the district continue the mask mandate at least through the end of the winter sports season.

Childers said the most difficult calls administration has had to make this year are having to have kids quarantine when they wore masks but another student didn’t.

Dike said the mask mandate has eliminated a lot of the contact tracing the district has to undertake when there is a positive case.

Erthum said it was easier now that students and staff are all in masks to have them stay in the masks for a while.

Board President Jim Arens said, once everyone has had the opportunity to be vaccinated, the district can revisit the issue, but he said the district’s staff and students would not be under a mask mandate by the start of the next school year in August.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education is scheduled for 7 p.m. March 8.

* City Council approves agreements for solar array

(Posted 7 a.m. Feb. 11)

The Ainsworth City Council on Wednesday signed agreements with a solar company and the Nebraska Public Power District to move forward with the construction of a solar array on the south side of East City Park.

The council approved a site lease agreement between the city and Solar Bundle One LLC, a subsidiary of solar power company GRNE of Lincoln, and a community solar project agreement with NPPD.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said, with the agreements in place, construction on the solar array would likely begin in March and would take two to three months to complete.

The site lease agreement with Solar Bundle One is for 20 years, and the project agreement with NPPD is for 25 years.

Catherine Kathol with NPPD said the GRNE proposal for the project had the most attractive pricing and the company has previous experience with similar solar projects in the state.

The power generated by the solar panels will actually cost less than NPPD’s base power rate, Kathol said.

Kathol said there will be roughly 500 shares available, and the average homeowner could purchase six shares, as each share represents approximately 150 kilowatt hours and the average home uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per month.

Kathol said there are no up-front costs for the city other than providing the site for the project, and the city has no maintenance costs as GRNE is responsible for any maintenance required on the solar array.

She said NPPD will set up open houses and help to advertise and sell the shares from the solar project. Those interested in receiving shares of the electricity produced by the solar array will receive a credit on the monthly power bill since the cost to produce the solar power is less expensive than NPPD’s base rate. Kathol said that should make the solar power shares more attractive to the public.

The council approved both agreements and authorized the mayor to sign on behalf of the city.
Following a public hearing Wednesday, the council approved a resolution for the city’s one- and six-year streets plan as presented by city streets superintendent Lloyd Smith.

The one-year streets plan includes concrete paving on First Street from Main to Pine Streets, Third Street from Maple to Oak streets, Harrington Street from First Street to Highway 20, Eighth Street from Maple to Ash streets, Elm Street from First to Sixth streets, Pine Street from First Street to Highway 20, and concrete paving on Seventh Avenue.

Concrete paving would require the city to create a paving district, which the council discussed with Smith Wednesday.

Councilman Brad Fiala said streets that have a lot of truck traffic, like First Street and Pine Street, would need concrete. Fiala said the city could opt to grind the current asphalt and do an overlay on some of the other streets.

The council discussed trying to time the project to coincide with the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s rehabilitation of Highway 20, which would save on mobilization costs.

The council agreed to discuss putting together a paving district and finding grant sources such as a Community Development Block Grant application to help offset a portion of the cost.

A paving district would also levy an assessment to property owners with frontage on the streets scheduled for improvement. If a paving district is created, more than half of the footage would have to be opted out by property owners for the paving district to fail.

The city’s six-year plan includes armor coating for several streets, and concrete paving for Maple Street from First Street to Highway 20.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved a recommendation from the LB 840 Loan Committee to provide a demolition grant to a business for up to 50 percent of the cost to demolish a structure on a property in the city, with the grant amount capped at $10,000.

Schroedl said an eligible business is acquiring the property and applying for demolition assistance. She said the grant funds could not be used for site acquisition costs but could assist with the cost to demolish structures on the property and infill to get the property leveled for future development.

North Central Development Center Executive Director Kristin Olson said it was encouraging to see the private sector step up and assist in demolition projects.

The council also approved two ABC funding requests recommended by the Ainsworth Betterment Committee. The first provides $30,000 into the new swimming pool account, which Schroedl said the ABC Committee had been making annually to build a fund to replace the city swimming pool. She said, with the $30,000 approved Wednesday, there is nearly $500,000 in the swimming pool fund.

The council also approved a $60,000 application for ABC funds from the North Central Development Center to demolish dilapidated structures in the city and ready sites for development.

The ABC Committee did include a condition with its recommendation for approval that the properties where the funds are utilized remain on the city’s property tax roll.

“This application would allow the NCDC to assist the city in clearing nuisance properties,” Olson said. “We hope to work with the fire department to burn some of the structures to save on the debris removal costs.”

Olson said property owners who have structures on the city’s nuisance property list have already contacted the NCDC about donating those properties.

“The property owners will have to provide some investment, as they have responsibility for helping to clean up those sites, so we should get $120,000 of work out of this,” Olson said of the $60,000 in grant funding.

Fiala said the Board of Health had identified a few nuisance properties that were located side by side, which could work well for development if the NCDC could acquire and clear both properties.

NCDC Board member Graig Kinzie said the NCDC would not maintain ownership of the properties, and any properties the NCDC agreed to acquire would have an ownership exit plan in place before the acquisition is completed.

The council unanimously approved the grant request.

The council also approved updated program guidelines for the city’s owner-occupied housing rehabilitation revolving loan program and a fair housing activity for the program. Schroedl said the updates to the program guidelines account for changes made at the state level to the program and allows the city to place more than $26,000 in funds remaining in the CDBG re-use loan program into the housing rehabilitation program and close the re-use loan account.

The council tabled a presentation on the city park and swimming pool study, as a representative from Miller and Associates was unable to attend Wednesday’s meeting.

The council approved Mayor Joel Klammer’s recommended reappointments of Doug Weiss and Shirley Crone to three-year terms on the city’s Board of Adjustment, the reappointments of Bruce Papstein and Cody Goochey to three-year terms on the Park Board, and the appointment of Rod Worrell to a six-year term on the Municipal Golf Course Foundation Account Committee.

During her report, Schroedl said she submitted a drawdown to FEMA in the amount of $519,250 for street repairs resulting from the 2019 floods.

Schroedl said the funding from FEMA helped to cover the cost of armor coating streets and replacing the asphalt on Harrington Street. The city was also able to recoup the costs for city staff and city equipment hours used to patch streets damaged during the flooding.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. March 10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      Mon-Sat – 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.
     Sunday – 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.