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* Nebraska jobless rate remains low in July

(Posted 10 a.m. Aug. 31)

The Nebraska Department of Labor announced Nebraska’s preliminary unemployment rate for July is 2.0 percent. The rate is up 0.1 percent from the June rate and is down 0.5 percentage points from the July 2021 rate of 2.5 percent. Nebraska’s July rate is the second lowest rate in the country.
Only Minnesota had a lower unemployment rate in July at 1.8 percent. Nebraska, New Hampshire and Utah each had a 2.0 percent rate in July to tie for the second lowest rate in the country. The highest unemployment rate in the nation was 4.5 percent in July shared by New Mexico and Alaska.
Brown County’s unemployment rate in July was 2.8 percent, above the state average. Blaine County had the highest unemployment rate in the area in July at 4.0 percent. Keya Paha County and Boyd County, both at 2.4 percent, also had July rates above the state average.
Rock County enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate in July at 1.6 percent. Cherry County and Holt County followed closely with rates of 1.7 percent in July.
Thurston County had the highest unemployment rate in the state in July at 5.2 percent. The lowest rate, at 1.2 percent, belonged to Wheeler County.
Over 1 million Nebraskans have been employed since August of 2020. Nonfarm employment, a count of filled jobs, was 1,033,296 in July, down 8,898 over the month and up 19,861 over the year. Private industries with the most growth month to month were leisure and hospitality (up 1,948), professional and business services (up 1,862), and manufacturing (up 584). Private industries with the most growth year to year were professional and business services (up 6,196); leisure and hospitality (up 5,294); and trade, transportation, and utilities (up 4,188).
“The manufacturing industry in Nebraska has been showing strong growth, adding 2,733 jobs over the year,” Commissioner of Labor John H. Albin said. “With employment at nearly 103,000, this is the largest employment number since January of 2003.”
The national unemployment rate for July is 3.5 percent, down 0.1 percent from the June rate and down 1.9 percentage points from the July 2021 rate of 5.4 percent.

* Burn bans remain in effect for KBR counties

(Posted 1:15 p.m. Aug. 30)

Due to dry conditions and warm temperatures, Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala reported Tuesday the burn ban in Brown County will remain in effect until conditions improve.

“We have started getting calls from people wanting to burn,” Fiala said. “I don’t see the burn bans being lifted anytime soon.”

Fiala reported Brown County remains extremely dry, and conditions are present that would cause fires to spread rapidly. The fire chief said he discussed the conditions with the fire chiefs in both Rock County and Keya Paha County, and burn bans will remain in effect for both those counties as well.

* City Council approves applying for CDBG paving grant

(Posted 1 p.m. Aug. 30)

During a special meeting Monday, the Ainsworth City Council voted to proceed with a grant application for a street improvement project on North Main Street to coincide with the renovation of Highway 7 in downtown Ainsworth.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the city would like to replace all water and sewer lines under Main Street all the way to the wastewater treatment plant when the Nebraska Department of Transportation renovates Highway 7 in Ainsworth.

While the state is replacing the Main Street pavement to Highway 20, the cost to update the Main Street water and sewer lines north of Highway 20 and then replace the street surface will be the sole responsibility of the city.

The Community Development Block Grant application to the Nebraska Department of Economic Development would potentially provide $433,000 in grant funding to the city to assist with replacing the street on North Main Street following the installation of new water and sewer lines.

Schroedl said the cost of the paving project on Main Street from Highway 20 north three blocks to Seventh Street is estimated at $659,904.

The grant, if the application is approved, would cover roughly two-thirds of the cost of the pavement.

While the application indicates the street would go back to an asphalt surface after the water and sewer work was completed, Councilman Brad Fiala asked about the potential of pouring concrete for the first block north from the Highway 20 intersection to the Ainsworth Library at the Fifth Street intersection. If the city could time the project to coincide with a concrete plant being in the city to pave the rest of the Highway 7 project downtown, Fiala said pouring concrete might make more sense for that first block north of Highway 20.

“Depending on where the mixing plant is, concrete might not be much more expensive,” Fiala said.

A representative from the Central Nebraska Economic Development District said the city could proceed with the current application that calls for asphalt, and if needed could amend the application after it is awarded if the council believes the costs would be attractive to place concrete on a portion of the project.

Following a public hearing, the council, with Councilman Vance Heyer absent, approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to sign an application for Community Development Block Grant funds.

In a related item, the council approved an analysis conducted as part of the CDBG application process that assesses the number of limited English proficiency speakers in the community and lays out a language assistance plan for documents related to the application. The survey estimated just 3 percent of the city’s population had limited English proficiency.

The council met with Jess Hurlbert from Olsson Associates regarding the design and lighting for the downtown portion of the NDOT’s Highway 7 renovation project in Ainsworth, scheduled for construction in 2024.

Hurlbert discussed decorative light pole options for the council to consider as well as the color for Main Street crosswalks.

Hurlbert said the renovation plan included 31 light poles between South Street and Highway 20, with 21 of the light poles located between First Street and Highway 20.

The council looked at several examples and selected a decorative light pole black in color for the 21 light poles between First Street and Highway 20, with the other 10 poles being standard design that will be funded by the NDOT.

On all 31 poles, the council approved adding banner brackets, festoons and flagpole holders. The city is responsible for the cost difference between the standard light pole and the upgraded decorative poles.

Schroedl said the standard light poles for the Highway 20 project cost $7,975 each, which was paid by the NDOT with the council responsible for the added costs of banner brackets, flag poles and festoon outlets.

Fiala said he would like to see the decorative light poles extend a block north of Highway 20 to the Ainsworth Public Library, though the cost of added lighting on that block would be the responsibility of the city.

“I would like to see us tie in the library block with that lighting,” Fiala said. “We only get one chance to do all of this. I would hate to miss out on making Main Street look really nice.”
Mayor Joel Klammer said the added cost for upgrading the lighting in those blocks would be about $50,000.

“For downtown beautification, we could potentially talk to the Brown County Foundation and the Ainsworth Betterment Committee for some help getting that done,” Klammer said.

Hurlbert also discussed options for the crosswalks and curbs. Following discussion, the council approved placing charcoal grey colored concrete on the crosswalks at the Main Street intersections of First, Second and Third streets as well as the Highway 20 intersection.

The council then approved sandblasting areas behind the curbs and bump-outs to provide a color contrast between the rest of the street and sidewalks.

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

* Keya Paha County sweeps KBRB Football Contest

(Posted 10:15 a.m. Aug. 30)

The annual KBRB Football Contest is underway, and two misses among the 13 games on the Week 1 card took home the top spot.

Jacque Richey of Springview missed two games on the high school side, but was perfect on all seven college games on the Week 1 card. Richey was the only contestant to miss two games on the Week 1 card and takes home the $40 first-place certificate.

Six contestants missed three games, which sent us to the Week 1 tiebreaker, Nebraska’s 31-28 loss to Northwestern. All six picked Nebraska to triumph, so were likely as disappointed as the Husker fans who made the journey to Dublin, Ireland for the game.

Since all six missed the winning team, the next criteria is closest to the actual score. Kurtis Mizner of Springview had the Huskers picked to win, 35-30, missing the total score by eight points. That was the closest of the six tiebreaker scores and earns Mizner the $10 second-place certificate and gave Keya Paha County a clean sweep of the Week 1 prizes.

Terry Allen of Ainsworth, Lois Kaup of Stuart, Donnie Tielke of Atkinson, and Crystal Stout and Hazel Chase of Springview also missed three games on the Week 1 card.

Winners may pick up their certificates from the KBRB Studios or make arrangements for the KBRB sports crew to drop off cards if unable to make it to Ainsworth.

Week 2 KBRB Football Contest cards are available now from Buckles Automotive, AKRS Equipment and Speedee Mart in Ainsworth; from Circle B Livestock and the Tri County Bank in Bassett; from West Plains Bank in Springview; from the Tri County Bank in Stuart; and from Speedee Mart and the Tri County Bank in Atkinson.

The deadline to submit football contest cards this year is 4 p.m. Thursday if dropping off at the studio or the cards must carry a Thursday postmark if mailed.

* Commissioners approve ballot question for care center

(Posted 7 a.m. Aug. 30)

After discussing a ballot question that would provide additional funding to the Sandhills Care Center for one year, the Brown County Commissioners during a special meeting Monday opted instead to place a question on the November General Election ballot asking voters if they want to approve a 1-cent property tax levy for the care center for a five-year period.

Following lengthy discussion during its meeting Aug. 16, the board indicated it preferred asking voters for the 1-cent levy for just one year. The city of Ainsworth, which jointly owns and operates the Sandhills Care Center with Brown County, opted during its August meeting to request 10 cents in levy for a period of five years on property inside the city limits.

Each entity is asking voters for close to $100,000 annually on the ballot questions to support ongoing operations at the care center. To raise that amount, the city had to ask voters for an additional 10-cent levy while the county, due to much higher total property value, only has to ask for 1 cent in additional levy.

Commissioner Denny Bauer Monday said he would still prefer to have the proposal to county voters be for one year, but he said he also did not want to confuse voters since the city approved asking for the additional levy for five years to support the care center’s operations.

Commissioner Buddy Small said he felt the commissioners have discussed the issue at length over the past several months.

“We had decided to go with one year and if the care center was doing well we may not need to do another one,” Small said. “If we went with five years and the nursing home doesn’t need the money, we could rescind the action later.”

Small said the voters should make the decision on whether they want to continue to support the care center.

“We will do what they decide,” Small said.

Bauer said he was to the point that if 1 cent in additional county levy was not enough to keep the facility going, then he probably wouldn’t support it further.

“I do look at the number of employees, their kids, having enough people in town to keep other professionals going,” Bauer said. “The nursing home has an impact on the hospital.”

County Clerk Travee Hobbs asked the board what it planned to do if it asked for a one-year tax levy and both the county and city levies were approved by voters.

“What happens after that one year, are we going to have to go back for another special election?” Hobbs asked. “It cost $3,000 for the last special election the city held, it would cost more for a county-wide special election.”

Bauer said the county would have to ask for another levy request if the board approved just a one-year request for November’s ballot.

Small said he would be agreeable to asking county voters for the 1-cent levy for five years instead of the one year the commissioners had previously discussed.

County Attorney Andy Taylor had prepared two resolutions for the commissioners to consider Monday, as the deadline to place a question on the November General Election ballot is Thursday, Sept. 1.

With Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus absent, the board voted 2-0 to ask county voters for a 1-cent levy to support Sandhills Care Center operations for a period of five years, matching the length of the city’s request.

In other business during Monday’s special meeting, the board received an update from budget preparer Caleb Johnson indicating the county had more room in its budget to stay under the 2 percent allowable growth and avoid having to have a public hearing following a new law passed by the Legislature in 2022 requiring taxing entities to hold a public hearing to explain tax increases above 2 percent.

Initially, the commissioners were told their tax asking could not increase by more than $61,355 or it would exceed that 2 percent threshold. Johnson wrote to the commissioners that valuations for the year had now been finalized, and with substantial growth in property valuation in the county, the commissioners now had $239,284 they could increase property tax asking if they chose to and would remain under the allowable increase.

Bauer and Small both indicated they had no desire to raise the county’s tax asking by the full allowable amount. Johnson indicated the county’s tax asking would be $69,712 more than the 2021-22 fiscal year based on the county’s recent budget workshop.

Total property valuation in the county increased from $845 million to more than $994 million. While some of that increase was attributable to new construction and other improvements, the vast majority of the substantial increase in property value came from increased valuation on existing agricultural property.

Small said the county did have some additional wiggle room in its budget that the commissioners did not think they would have when holding their budget workshop.

The board made several cuts to requested budgets during the recent budget workshop in an effort to stay under that 2 percent increase in tax asking.

Hobbs suggested the county increase its miscellaneous general fund budget a little, since that is the only line item the county can use to pay for unforeseen expenses. She said the county had dropped the miscellaneous general fund line item to $125,000 for the 2022-23 fiscal year. The commissioners agreed to add $25,000 to that line item.

The commissioners also agreed to add $30,000 back into the roads department budget after making several cuts there during the budget workshop.

Bauer said Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin had requested funds to perform armor coating on 15 miles of asphalt roads in the county. The board had cut that request to 12 miles.

With the $55,000 added back from previous cuts made, the preliminary budget numbers show the county may ask for around $125,000 in additional property tax for the 2022-23 budget. The budget will not be finalized until following a public hearing in September. Even with the additional tax dollars requested, the county’s property tax levy will likely decrease substantially due to the value of total property in the county jumping by almost $150 million.

Small said the commissioners had several potential large-ticket repair items at the Brown County Courthouse, including roof issues and foundation issues that were both leading to water getting into the building.

“We don’t know where the leak is coming from, and we can’t hardly get someone to even come look at it,” Small said. “The judge found a bat in his office recently, that’s not good. We have been dealing with that issue for a while.”

Small said the commissioners planned to use COVID relief funding the county received to address some of the issues with the courthouse building.

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

* More concrete being poured this week on Highway 20

(Posted 4 p.m. Aug. 29)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation provided an update on the Highway 20 construction project in Ainsworth. A&R Construction began placing concrete Monday from Main Street east to Oak Street in the center lane of the highway.

Tuesday, A&R Construction plans to begin working on concrete for phase two of the intersection with Main Street. The Department of Transportation will have a four-way stop implemented at the Highway 20 intersection with Main Street until the work is completed.

Sub-grade preparation for the center lane of Highway 20 from Ash Street to Pine street began Monday, with concrete paving for that stretch scheduled for Thursday. A total of 390 cubic yards of concrete will be poured Thursday.

Access to Road Runner will move from the west entrance to the east side of the business, and Pine Street access will be restricted to right turns only.

Concrete paving from Oak Street to Ash Street in the center lane will complete Phase II of the renovation project.

Drivers needing access to the Brown County Hospital from Highway 20 will need to use Harrington Street.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Aug. 29)

August 21

  • Responded to a report of a civil dispute on 3rd St in Ainsworth. Parties had already separated when officers arrived.
  • Responded to a report of vandalism on 4th St in Ainsworth.
  • Ainsworth Fire Department was called to a report of a gas meter struck on 2nd St. Gas meter was turned off and Black Hills Energy was contacted.
  • Brown County Ambulance transported a patient from rural Brown County to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Responded to a report of an assault on 4th St in Ainsworth. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital by the Brown County Ambulance. One individual was arrested and booked into the Brown County Jail. One individual had self admitted to the Brown County Hospital before officers arrived at the incident.

August 22

  • Responded to a 911 call in Long Pine as a welfare check. Individual was determined to be fine.
  • Transported an inmate to Cherry County on an Arrest hold.
  • Responded to a report of suspicious activity on Elm St in Ainsworth.

 August 23

  • Responded to a report of animal neglect in Long Pine.
  • Transported an inmate back from the Cherry County line as he was bonded out.

 August 24

  • Received a report of theft of fuel in rural eastern Brown County.
  • Assisted the Ainsworth Ministerial Association with a traveler getting a voucher for food and fuel.

 August 25

  • Received a report to be on the lookout for a missing juvenile from Holt County. Later in the day the juvenile was reportedly found.
  • Received a report of suspicious activity on Elm St in Ainsworth.
  • Received a report of terroristic threats in Ainsworth. This is an ongoing investigation.

 August 26

  • Responded to a request for civil standby at a residence on 1st St in Ainsworth.
  • Received a report of vandalism on Maple St in Ainsworth.
  • Responded to a request for assistance at Brown County Hospital with possible emergency protective custody.
  • Received a report of deer hit on Hwy 20 west of Ainsworth. There were no injuries and the vehicle did not need to be towed.
  • Responded to a request for investigation of assault at East City Park in Ainsworth.

 August 27

  • Brown County Ambulance responded to a request for ambulance service in Long Pine. The patient did not need to be transfered.
  • Responded to a report of suspicious activity on south Main St. An investigation complete and satisfactory explanation was given.
  • Individual released from Brown County Jail with Time Served.
  • Responded to a request for a welfare check on an individual on east 4th St. in Ainsworth.
  • Received a request for extra patrols on north Main St. due to suspicious activity.

Weekly Summary
*Burn Ban in Effect for All Fire Districts
15 – Incident Reports Were Taken
132 – Phone Calls Were Received
6 – 911 Emergency Calls Received
3 – Titles Were Inspected
4 – Paper Services Were Served
1 – Handgun Permits Applied For

* Highway 20 sewer manhole to be removed Thursday

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Aug. 24)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation reported Tuesday there will be one-lane traffic on Highway 20 Thursday evening.

According to the NDOT, a sanitary sewer manhole in the middle of the Highway 20 and Main Street intersection is being abandoned. The contractor plans to work to remove the manhole beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday in an effort to minimize impacts to traffic.

During that time, traffic will be maintained by flaggers who will guide motorists around the work area at that intersection. Work is anticipated to take between three hours and five hours to complete.

* Highway 20 center lane concrete to be poured Wednesday

(Posted 4:15 p.m. Aug. 22)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation provided an updated Monday on the Highway 20 construction project in Ainsworth. The NDOT reported A&R Construction is preparing the center lane for concrete from the west end of the project to Main Street.

A&R Construction plans to pour 675 cubic yards of concrete Wednesday from the west end of the project to Main Street. All intersections in the area will be right turns only, with no left-turn traffic or pedestrian crossings.

NDOT reported the intersections and drives from Harrington Street east to the east end of the project should open to traffic later this week.

Those needing access to the Brown County Hospital from Highway 20 are asked to use Harrington Street.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

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

August 14

  • Investigated a report of vandalism. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Ainsworth resident contacted regarding a City Ordinance Violation.
  • Welfare check on a motorist sitting on Hwy 7. Tow truck already en route.
  • Investigated a report of Hit & Run on the USPS outside mail drop box.
  • Removed stray dog from Ainsworth residence.
  • Responded to a report of a smoking pickup in Ainsworth. Was determined to be overheating and not a fire.
  • Received report of assault on Ainsworth resident. Individual was referred to Rock County where the incident took place.
  • Responded to a report of an intoxicated driver in Johnstown. Driver was located safe at home in Keya Paha Co.
  • Responded to a report of an individual in dark clothing walking on Hwy 7. Individual was transported into town and advised not to walk on the highway in the dark.
  • Received a report of water overflowing the Kiddie pool at East City Park. Manager was contacted and water was turned off.

August 15

  • Responded to a report of something smoldering on Hwy 20 East of Ainsworth. At the time the officer responded nothing was smoldering.
  • Previous City Ordinance Violation was found to be corrected upon follow-up.
  • Several Ainsworth residents and businesses contacted regarding City Ordinance Violations.
  • Forwarded a report of a speeding driver heading into Rock County to Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
  • Responded to a two vehicle accident without injury near Ainsworth Community Schools.

 August 16

  • Received a report of baby pigs out on Hwy 20 near Johnstown. Owner was contacted and the piglets taken care of.
  • Provided traffic control for cattle crossing on 888th Road.

 August 17

  • Received a report of an Ainsworth resident disturbing the peace. Resident was contacted and asked to stop yelling at people on the street.
  • Responded to Civil matter at Ainsworth residence.
  • In cooperation with the Keya Paha County Sheriff’s office a search warrant was executed. 2 individuals were taken into custody.  This is an ongoing investigation.

 August 18

  • 1 male individual booked into the Brown County jail for arrest on a warrant.
  • Provided standby for fire alarm tests at Ainsworth Community Schools.
  • Received a report of a scam text message. Caller advised to report to Attorney General Fraud Line 1-800-727-6432.
  • Responded to a report of dogs in distress on Osborne St. Unable to locate the dogs.
  • Responded to a report of 1 vehicle accident without injury on Hwy 20 in a construction zone. No damage reported to the construction area nor the vehicle.
  • Received a report of civil disturbance. Both individuals contacted and advised to stay clear of each other.
  • Assisted an individual with a report of identity theft. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Ainsworth business contacted regarding a City Ordinance Violation. Violation was corrected.
  • Responded to a fall alert for an Ainsworth resident. Resident was found fine outside visiting her neighbor and was an accidental alert.
  • Received a report of cattle out near the Hwy 183 & 20 Jct. Owner was contacted.
  • Responded to a report of a possible intoxicated driver on Hwy 20. Unable to locate the vehicle.

 August 19

  • Received a report of a cow out at the Hwy 183/20 Jct. Owner was contacted.
  • Received a report of a UTV accident with minor injury in eastern Brown County. Reporting party transported the individual to the Brown County Hospital. 
  • Received a report of a vehicle swerving in the eastbound lane on Hwy 20. Officers unable to locate.
  • Responded to a report of possible stolen electronics at the Ainsworth Community Schools. This is an ongoing investigation
  • Responded to a report of a stray dog in Ainsworth. Dog was transported to Ainsworth Vet Clinic.
  • Responded to a report of dogs barking on Walnut St. Officers in the area did not find barking dogs.

 August 20

  • Responded to a civil disturbance in rural Brown County.
  • Brown County Ambulance responded to a call for service on Hwy 7 & Elsmere Road. No ambulance transport was needed but the individual was transported to Brown County Hospital by Deputy for minor injuries.
  • Received a report of Sheep out on Hwy 20 East of Ainsworth. Owner was contacted.
  • Received a report of stolen property in Ainsworth. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Received a report of cattle out on Norden Ave north of Johnstown. Owner was contacted.
  • Received a report of a Charolais bull out on Hwy 183 south of Bassett near Rose. Information taken and given to Rock County Sheriff’s Office.
  • Received a report of cattle out on 888th Ave near Hwy 183. Owner was contacted.
  • Brown County Ambulance transported a patient to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Received a report from a motorist that they had a generator fall off their trailer which could cause an accident.
  • An individual called to report finding the generator on the side of Hwy 7 and the owner was notified.
  • Responded to a report of an intoxicated pedestrian in Ainsworth. Officer unable to locate the individual.
  • Provided backup to the NE State Patrol executing a traffic stop on Hwy 20.

Weekly Summary:

*Burn Ban in Effect for All Fire Districts
19 – Incident Reports Were Taken
132 – Phone Calls Were Received
14 – 911 Emergency Calls Received
08 – Titles Were Inspected
01 – Paper Services Were Served
01 – Handgun Permits Applied For

* Commissioners approve care center ballot question

(Posted 10:30 a.m. Aug. 18)

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Brown County Commissioners voted to place a question on the General Election ballot in November asking voters for 1 cent of property tax levy to support the operations of the Sandhills Care Center.

While the Ainsworth City Council voted last week to ask voters for a 10-cent property levy for a period of five years to support the care center’s operations, the commissioners Tuesday opted for the 1-cent levy for just one year.

One cent of levy on all property in the county will raise just shy of $100,000, while it will take a 10-cent levy to raise the same amount on property inside the city limits. With the city and county sharing ownership of the facility, each entity is responsible for raising half of the anticipated amount needed to assist the care center’s operations.

The city and county each agreed to provide $80,000 in annual funding for the Sandhills Care Center when the entities agreed to resurrect the nursing home in the community after it had been closed by the former private company that operated the facility.

That $80,000 funding commitment from both the city and the county was agreed to for a period of five years, which has now expired. The ballot questions from each entity in November will ask voters to approve close to $100,000 from the city and $100,000 from the county to support operations, but the $80,000 in funding each entity had been taking from its general fund will no longer occur. A vote in favor of the proposals would provide the care center with $40,000 in added support from what had previously been provided by the city and county.

If approved by voters, the 10-cent city levy and 1-cent county levy would fall outside the general fund levies for both entities.

With the commissioners approving a ballot question asking voters to approve 1 cent in levy for one year, the board will act on a resolution with the official ballot language during a special meeting Aug. 29.

In other business Tuesday, the commissioners approved an interlocal agreement with Rock County for maintenance of a shared county road, with each county sharing in material costs and each county agreeing to maintain the entirety of the road for six months.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin reviewed the job performance of roads department employee Nakoa Fletcher with the commissioners. Following the review, the board approved a $1 per hour raise for Fletcher.

Following a workshop with budget preparer Caleb Johnson, the board on Tuesday approved a resolution providing the tax allocation for miscellaneous taxing districts in the county and approved a resolution increasing the county’s restricted funds by 1 percent. The board also approved a resolution authorizing petty cash funds for various departments.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing and adopt the 2022-23 fiscal year budget during a meeting in September.

* Rock County approves $55,000 gravel purchase

(Posted 2:45 p.m. Aug. 17)

The Rock County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of $55,000 of gravel for the roads department. The commissioners voted to fund the purchase from the county’s inheritance tax, with the funds being paid back to the inheritance tax account when available.

In another roads item Tuesday, Ed Hall discussed issues with a county road north of Bassett. The board did not take official action on the matter.

Sheriff Jim Anderson reported Deputy Gardner has completed all law enforcement classes, and asked that the deputy’s salary be raised to 80 percent of the sheriff’s salary. The board approved raising the deputy’s salary to 80 percent of the sheriff’s pay. By state statute, a deputy cannot earn more than 80 percent of the elected official’s salary. Anderson reported another officer has been hired for the department and would begin law enforcement training Aug. 28.

The commissioners approved a budget item, Resolution 2022-11, allowing a 1 percent increase in the county’s restricted funds, and approved a resolution reauthorizing petty cash funds. An additional resolution was approved for the tax allocation of miscellaneous districts, and the board voted to adjust the road bond fund line item in the county budget to reflect payments made by the treasurer from that fund.

Clerk Daunitta Buoy reported the county is having a difficult time renewing its federal SAM number to receive federal grant payments. The county at one point apparently had more than one number, and the federal site is backlogged with entities having issues getting their SAM numbers renewed. Buoy said she would contact NACO about applying for one new number for the county to be able to receive grant funding.

Buoy also discussed legislation with the commissioners requiring the county’s ballot box to be handicap accessible by the November General Election.

The next meeting of the Rock County Commissioners is scheduled for 9 a.m. Sept. 6.

* District governor addresses Lions Club Board Monday

(Posted 2:15 p.m. Aug. 16)

During its meeting Monday, the Ainsworth Lions Club Board welcomed District Governor Jeannie Grandzinger.

Grandzinger told the club there are leadership openings for 1st and 2nd Vice-District Governor and for a zone chairperson for the north central Nebraska region. She also provided updates on the Lions Club Foundation, which has awarded the Ainsworth Lions Club grants twice in the past 10 years. The local Lions Club received $10,000 from the foundation in 2012 to assist with wildfire relief efforts, and the club received $10,000 in 2019 to assist with local flood relief efforts.

The club was informed that Evan Evans had made two wooden plaques for the recognition of Lion of the Year and Melvin Jones Fellowship recipients. The plaques have been placed on the wall in the meeting room at Canyon Creek, along with the original Ainsworth Lions Club Charter dated in 1953. In addition, Maryanne Allen donated Jerry Allen’s Lions Club shirt and numerous Lions Club pins in memory of his 65 years as a member of the Ainsworth Lions Club.  Evans placed the shirt, with the pins attached, in a glass enclosed frame for display along with the plaques. The board approved reimbursing Evans for his expenses on the display items.

Dave Spann announced the Lions Club Bob Kulek Memorial Shelter at East City Park had been painted by Park Superintendent J.C. Clopton and summer employees.

Connie Lentz has planned an Adopt-A- Highway roadside cleanup on Highway 20 for 10 a.m. Saturday, October 8.   

Jim Arens, chair of the county fair concessions project, will send out a work schedule for the three-day event Sept 3-5. Members are asked to contact him if shift preference is different than last year.

Jerry Ehlers will send an e-mail worksheet seeking volunteers for the ticket takers at home Ainsworth Bulldog football games.

Membership awards were presented to Larry Rice for 55 years and to Jim Arens for 25 years. 

Connie Lentz reported ESU 17 health screenings will start Sept. 14.  The Lions Club provides the camera for sight screening operated by Connie and Bill Lentz.

President Dale Hafer addressed the club regarding a change in the evening meeting time for the rest of the year.  The board approved that future evening meetings begin at 5:30 p.m.

Nebraska Lions Foundation is conducting a raffle to raise funds for the foundation.  Ehlers will provide information to club members via e-mail. The winners of the District 38-I Individual Assistance Fund have been announced, with the Ainsworth Lions Club being the recipient of two winning tickets in the amount of $175. The board approved donating the $175 to the Ainsworth Food Pantry.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Lions Club is scheduled for noon Sept. 19.

* Brown County Commissioners agenda

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

Brown County Commissioners
Meeting 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16
Brown County Courthouse
Agenda

5:15 p.m.                Roll Call.

                                    Kenneth Turpin – Road Department Update

                                    Review Job Performance evaluation for Nakoa Fletcher and merit raise – Turpin

                                    Interlocal agreement between Brown & Rock County for shared road maintenance – Turpin

                                    Review Care Center Funding/election question

                                    Letter to Middle Niobrara Natural Resource District – Small

                                    County burial application for Elizabeth Pike

                                    Approve Claims

                                    Public Comment

                                    Budget Workshop

                                    Miscellaneous District Resolution – Hobbs

                                    1% Increase Restricted Funds Resolution – Hobbs

                                    Petty Cash Resolution – Hobbs

* MNNRD reps discuss added irrigated acre availability

(Posted 8:45 a.m. Aug. 15)

Representatives from the Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District visited with KBRB’s Graig Kinzie to discuss the recent decision by the MNNRD Board of Directors to open up 3,000 acres of new groundwater irrigation permits.
To hear the conversation, click on the audio clip below.

* Harthoorn, Alder graduate from UN-L

(Posted 7 a.m. Aug. 15)

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln conferred 632 degrees during a combined graduate and undergraduate commencement ceremony Friday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The 626 graduates are from 34 countries, 39 states and more than 70 Nebraska communities.

Area graduates from the summer term at UN-L include:

Ainsworth
Austin Harthoorn, Graduate Studies, Master of Science.

Stuart
Peyton Di-Ann Alder, College of Arts and Sciences, Bachelor of Science with highest distinction.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

(Posted 6:45 a.m. Aug. 15)

August 7

  • During a traffic stop on Highway 20, near mile marker 243, a Washington licensed driver was issued a citation for speeding 16-20 mph over the posted speed limit.
  • Received reports of suspected dog neglect in Ainsworth and Johnstown. Both residences were checked on and owners were contacted.  No citations were issued at this time.
  • Responded to a traffic complaint involving a vehicle following too closely and exceeding speed limits on 1st St in Ainsworth. The driver of the vehicle was stopped and received a verbal warning for no registration.

August 8

  • Responded to a one vehicle accident near 432nd Ave and 875th Rd intersection. No injuries were reported, but the vehicle was unable to drive away from the scene.
  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a 911 call at a business in Ainsworth. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Provided a civil standby for an individual to collect their belongings.
  • Responded to a complaint of non-street legal dirt bikes that were operated on unauthorized property and city streets. No contact was able to be made at this time with the drivers.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred a flight crew from the Airport to the hospital to pick up a patient.

 August 9

  • Booked an inmate into the Brown County Jail after they received a 30 day commitment for Driving under the Influence, 2nd offense. Another individual was sentenced to the Nebraska Department of Corrections in Lincoln and was transferred there by the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

 August 10

  • Received a report of a fraudulent check being cashed. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • The South Pine Fire Department responded to a baler fire in their district.
  • Responded to a request for a welfare check on an Ainsworth individual. The individual was located and reported safe at this time.

 August 11

  • Responded to a two vehicle accident on Hwy 20 near mile marker 244. No injuries were reported and both vehicles had minor cosmetic damage.
  • Provided civil standby at an Ainsworth business for a possible disturbance.
  • Received a theft report involving approximately 800 gallons of diesel that was stolen from a rural Brown County farm. This is an ongoing investigation.

 August 12

  • Responded to a request for a civil standby for a property dispute in Ainsworth.

 August 13

  • Responded to a traffic complaint of a Nebraska plated vehicle driving erratically on Highway 7, near mile marker 25. Deputies made contact with the vehicle and no citations were issued at this time.

Weekly Summary

*Burn Ban in Effect for All Fire Districts

13 – Incident Reports Were Taken

105 – Phone Calls Were Received

 6– 911 Emergency Calls Received

7 – Titles Were Inspected

8 – Paper Services Were Served

0 – Handgun Permits Applied For

* Sheriff’s department seeks information on saddle theft

(Posted 3:15 p.m. Aug. 11)

The Brown County Sheriff’s Department is seeking the public’s help in retrieving a saddle stolen from an Ainsworth residence.

According to the sheriff’s department, sometime on Friday, Aug. 5, a saddle was stolen from the garage of 253 N. Wilson St. The 14-inch Heart of Texas saddle had brown or black stitching at the swells. Stirrups are black and had blue turquoise inlays with small jewels. The seat of the saddle was brown rough out.

The saddle was valued at $750 to $850. A two-colored brown saddle pad was also stolen from the garage of the residence.

Anyone with information on who is responsible for this theft is asked to contact the Brown County Sheriff’s Department at 402-387-1440 or Crime Stoppers at 402-382-3121. Information leading to the recovery of the saddle could result in a cash reward.

* KBRB’s Vonheeder named Salesperson of the Year

(Posted 9 a.m. Aug. 11)

KBRB’s Angie Vonheeder was named the 2022 Dick Chapin Nebraska Radio Salesperson of the Year by the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Wednesday during the NBA’s annual convention in the Embassy Suites at Lincoln.

One of three finalists named previously, Vonheeder on Wednesday received the Nebraska Radio Salesperson of the Year Award over two radio sales representatives from large radio company NRG Media out of Kearney and Omaha.

KBRB congratulates our very own Angie Vonheeder on the state award! In the photo above, Vonheeder was announced the winner and received the Dick Chapin Award from Nebraska Broadcasters Association President Jim Timm.

* Concrete in center lane of Highway 20 to be poured Friday

(Posted 7 a.m. Aug. 11)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation reported A&R Construction plans to begin placing concrete Friday on the center lane of Highway 20 in Ainsworth.

Sidewalk work continues on the south side of the highway, and the storm sewer contractor continues installation of the connecting pipes for the second phase of construction.

Osborne Street will be closed Friday and Wilson Street will be opened for crossing and left-turning traffic.

People needing access to the Brown County Hospital from Highway 20 are asked to use Richardson Drive.

* LB 840 renewed; council approves care center ballot language

(Posted 7 a.m. Aug. 11)

Tuesday’s special election saw an overwhelming percentage of city of Ainsworth voters casting a ballot in favor of renewing the LB 840 one-half cent sales tax for another 15 years.

While overall turnout of registered voters in the city was just over 18 percent, of the 185 votes cast, 168 were in favor with just 17 against. Almost 90 percent of the votes cast were in favor of renewing the economic development program.

The Ainsworth City Council Wednesday heard a six-month report from the LB 840 Citizen Advisory Review Committee. CARC member Marcus Fairhead said the committee was pleased with the support the LB 840 program received from voters, and the committee will now work on its policies and procedures to make sure they are accurate for 2023 when the program officially renews for another 15 years. All new items included in the plan will be covered by the committee in its internal policies.

Fairhead reported all loans that have been made from the LB 840 program are current on their payback schedules, and the committee welcomed new members Jennifer Schuett and Lacey Marbry recently.

The council Wednesday spent a lengthy amount of time discussing ballot language that would appear on the November General Election ballot asking voters to approve an additional property tax levy to support the operations of the Sandhills Care Center.

Brad Slaughter with Piper Sandler & Co. discussed options for the council to consider. Discussion Wednesday centered on whether to place another question on the ballot asking city voters to allow the city to take out bonds to cover expenses in the short term until the additional property tax would be collected in 2024.

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the council needed to consider how it would be able to provide funding to the care center from now until additional property taxes would be collected, as the city did not have room in its general fund to cover 50 percent of losses if the care center continued at its recent pace.

Slaughter said a 10-cent levy would generate about $93,000 in property tax based on the city’s current valuation of approximately $93 million. A bond on top of that could be requested in the short term to allow the city to meet the facility’s financial needs until the levy is collected, if it is approved by voters.

Audience member Graig Kinzie asked Slaughter, instead of adding a third ballot question in November that would likely only confuse voters, could the ballot question read that the $100,000 in additional levy collected would go to support the care center’s operations and/or repay debt incurred by the city to support the care center’s operations. Kinzie said that would remove much of the confusion but give the city the ability to service any short-term debt incurred to support the facility with the long-term levy funds.

Following the discussion, council members Brad Fiala and Vance Heyer indicated they did not believe bond funds would be needed if voters approve the additional tax levy.

“This gives people the chance to vote and tell us if this is something they want,” Heyer said. “About $200,000 is historically realistic on what it will take. If this was a countywide 2-cent levy and one ballot issue, it would have a much better chance.”

Heyer said that was the initial plan when the council met with the Brown County Commissioners in April. However, after that meeting, the commissioners’ position became that each entity provide 50 percent of the funding which meant two ballot questions and a much larger levy ask from city of Ainsworth voters.

One cent of levy countywide generates close to $100,000 based on the county’s total valuation, while one cent of levy on property inside the city limits of Ainsworth generates less than $10,000 in property tax.

Councilman Schyler Schenk said he may be more optimistic than he should be, but with the nearest facility west of the Sandhills Care Center being almost 150 miles away, he said he believed the facility would probably be able to survive.

The council voted to approve a resolution calling for a proposition on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot asking city voters to allow the city to exceed its maximum levy by an additional 10 cents for a period of five years to support ongoing operations of the Sandhills Care Center and payback potential bonded indebtedness, but opted to table any action on asking voters for short-term bond funding on a separate ballot question.

In other business Wednesday, following months of discussion, the council approved the first reading of City Ordinance 1551 that would allow residents of the city to raise up to six laying hens while requiring residents to obtain a permit for the hens from the city and follow guidelines for confinement and cleanliness.

Mayor Joel Klammer recommended the council have all three readings of the ordinance for three consecutive meetings before it is adopted instead of forgoing the three readings.

Fiala asked who would be responsible for enforcing the six-hen limit and ensuring that confinement and sanitary regulations are followed.

Schroedl said the city would likely wait to hear a complaint then turn the information over to the sheriff’s department to investigate. Schroedl said residents will apply for a permit for hens through the city office, and Bill Carr would handle inspections for the city.

Residents of the city will soon receive new totes for their garbage, as the council Wednesday approved a seven-year lease purchase agreement for a new side-loading garbage truck and bins at a total cost of $483,253.

After indicating during the July council meeting that staff was concerned the box on the new truck might not have been aligned properly, an inspection by the company selling the truck as well as an inspection by Frontier Diesel staff found no issues.

“It just drives a little differently than we are used to,” Schroedl said. “It is a larger truck. I think we should move forward and get the totes circulated.”

When the new totes are distributed and the new truck is put into service, all garbage will be picked up streetside. There will be no more alley pickup other than on the east and west sides of Main Street in downtown Ainsworth.

Schroedl said, now that the lease-purchase agreement had been approved, the city would begin advertising for a garbage truck driver.

The council approved renewing its liability, workman’s compensation and property insurance through the League Association of Risk Management for a cost of $108,583. That total includes a 5 percent discount for approving a three-year contract with LARM for the coverage along with a 180-day notice if the city plans to go out for bids on the insurance in the future.

The council also approved the preliminary draft of the revised municipal code book. Schroedl said the code book was last revised in 2007, so having a company add ordinances passed since then and revise the code book was needed.

City Attorney Rod Palmer asked why the city’s zoning ordinances were not included in the revised code book. Schroedl said the city would have to find a third party to revise and update the city’s zoning ordinances, as the company that revises the ordinance books does not handle the zoning portion of city code books.

During her report, Schroedl said Aug. 16 is the final day the Ainsworth Swimming Pool will be open for the season. She said season pass revenue was up for the year, while attendance at the pool was probably down slightly from last year. She said the city did not incur any major repair costs at the pool this year.

Schroedl reported she was working with the Central Nebraska Economic Development District on potential grant funds for the infrastructure projects during the Highway 7 improvement project. She said she was also working with engineering firm Olsson Associates on design plans for water and sewer replacement projects during the Highway 7 renovation as well as lighting options to present to the council.

The next regular meeting of the Ainsworth City Council is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 14. That meeting will include the city’s annual budget hearing and property tax request.

* Backpack Program available for families in need

(Posted 9:15 a.m. Aug. 9)

The Backpack Program at Ainsworth Community Schools is designed to help families stretch their food supply over the weekends when students are not participating in the school lunch program.

To apply for the backpack program, an adult in the home must indicate they want the students in their family to participate.

An application is available on the school’s web site, or a paper copy of the application is available in the school office.

Each Friday, at the end of the school day, one student from each family will receive a plastic bag containing food and a grocery store voucher. A new bag will be filled and delivered the following Friday. If the last day of the school week is a day other than Friday, the bag will be sent home that day.

The first backpacks will be sent home with students on Friday, August 19. The application form will remain available until all available spots in the program are filled.

* Sandhills Care Center sees financial rebound in July

(Posted 9 a.m. Aug. 9)

After numerous months of running in the red, the Sandhills Care Center experienced a financial rebound in July, with the facility seeing a net margin of $102,799 for the month.

With as many as 23 residents in July, the care center generated $307,924 in revenue with expenses of $205,124. Though still elevated, the $79,265 paid in agency nursing for July was $60,000 less than in previous months.

Administrator Penny Jacobs told the Board of Directors Monday agency expenses should continue to decline, though until the facility finds an in-house director of nursing it will keep having at least some agency expense.

Board member Dr. Mel Campbell said the director of nursing in all medical facilities is a difficult position to fill, as it is one of the most thankless jobs in medicine.

“It is a very difficult job,” Campbell said.

Jacobs said the director of nursing is responsible for making sure the facility is following all regulations, and there are a lot of new regulations that are going into effect. The DON is responsible for making sure all required nursing shifts are staffed, and if those shifts are not staffed it is the director’s responsibility to provide that coverage.

Jacobs told the board agencies are now reaching out hoping to find work for their contracted nurses, LPNs and CNAs. Jacobs said it has been nice to tell those agencies the facility doesn’t need additional agency help.

Jacobs reported the July census got up to 23 residents at one point, but there are currently 20 residents in the care center. She said, since the July meeting, the care center admitted five residents. Two residents passed away, two were discharged back home and one resident is currently hospitalized but should return to the facility from the hospital.

“We just received another active referral from Valentine who is currently in the hospital there and will either be a private-pay resident or on Medicare,” Jacobs said.

She said there were four residents in July who received Medicare assistance, which pays between two and three times more per day than Medicaid.

Jacobs said the facility still needs a director of nursing, a business manager, one or two dietary staff and one or two CNAs once school restarts.

Board member Shawn Fernau reported the newly formed publicity committee has been working on facility activities like a recent fishing trip for residents. He said the group would continue to work to promote the facility and its importance.

In an action item Monday, the board approved a 15 percent salary increase for Jacobs. Board member Tom Jones said the board held a performance review with Jacobs during July. He said, after the board provided 30 percent wage increases for all nursing staff, it determined a 15 percent increase for the administrator was appropriate. Jones said the board would conduct another performance review in three months.

Campbell said the administrator’s salary is still significantly below the salaries of administrators in facilities of similar size.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors was moved from the normal second Monday of September due to Jacobs being gone for a conference. The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 16.

* School Board hears update on emergency plan

(Posted 7 a.m. Aug. 9)

Representatives from the safety committee updated the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education Monday on the draft of the district’s Emergency Operations Plan the committee has been working on since June of 2021.

School Counselor Lisa Schlueter, who serves on the committee, told the board the state is moving to emergency operations plans that address weather events and natural disasters, as well as other threats to the school.

Schlueter said the committee has been meeting monthly, and includes representatives from Brown County Emergency Management, fire and rescue, and the sheriff’s department.

“The Emergency Operations Plan focuses on four areas – prevention, preparedness, response and recover,” Schlueter said. “The plan lays out how we respond to threats and hazards, and outlines everyone’s responsibilities.”

Superintendent Dale Hafer said school safety has been on the forefront of people’s minds.

“We have a solid foundation, and we are engaging in additional emergency operations planning,” Hafer said. “The bottom line is, when we make any adjustments to the plan, we have you approve it and we collaborate with county personnel.”

Elementary Principal Ben Wright, another member of the committee, said he recently took part in 40 hours of additional training on emergency preparedness.

“We are way ahead of where a lot of districts are with our plan,” Wright said. “This group has put in a lot of work. We need to be prepared for anything.”

Schlueter said, in any emergency, the goal of the plan is to protect life, prevent injury, protect property and prepare the school for emergency evacuations or extended stays.

The board approved the draft Emergency Operations Plan, which Hafer said is a working document and will be continually updated.

In other business Monday, the board approved a payment of $15,032 to Walton Construction using depreciation funds for concrete work on the south side of the school building. Hafer said this was the fourth concrete project undertaken during the past two summers.

“Benny Burdick completed the first three projects,” Hafer said. “Bob Walton honored his bid from last summer for the fourth project. During the project, we ran into some additional curb work as well as an area with a lot of mud where they had to haul significant dirt.”

Hafer said the district budgeted for the concrete project using depreciation funds.

In a related item, the board approved a recommendation from Hafer to move $150,000 from the district’s general fund to its depreciation fund to be used toward future concrete, roofing or other facility maintenance projects.

Hafer said moving money from the district’s general fund to the depreciation fund is done in August each year, and the board had moved a similar amount the past two years. He said, while there were more projects completed during the past year, he believed the $150,000 would be sufficient to handle any projects next year.

In setting a budget workshop for 8 p.m. Aug. 25, Hafer said the district was in good financial shape and would likely be able to maintain current programs and efforts without increasing the district’s tax request. By not increasing the actual tax dollars requested, coupled with a substantial increase in valuation in the county, Hafer said the district’s property tax levy should drop again significantly.

“We are not about holding our levy just to go get more tax dollars when valuations go up,” Hafer said. “There should not be any extra burden to taxpayers with next year’s budget.”

The district’s 2022-23 budget hearing and property tax request are set for 8 p.m. Sept. 12, followed by the board’s regular meeting.

The board Monday approved its annual contributing partnership with the North Central Development Center in the amount of $10,000. Hafer said the contribution has been in place for several years to help support economic development efforts.

Board member Brad Wilkins, who serves as the school’s representative on the NCDC Board of Directors, said the goals of the school align with the goals of the economic development group. He said the group has been working on housing and assisting with the daycare project, two immediate needs for the district’s employees.

NCDC Director Kristin Olson thanked the district for being a contributing partner. She said the NCDC is gearing up for potential housing projects, as the state has allocated a large amount of funding to the rural workforce housing program.

“Housing is something we are really trying to address,” Olson said. “There may also be some ARPA funds that could help with security projects, so we could help you with some applications there. There are also some playground grants available that would cover 65 percent of the cost of playground upgrades.”

The board also approved the second reading of policy updates as recommended by the Nebraska Association of School Boards based off legislation passed in 2022. There will be a third reading of the policy updates before they take effect.

The board approved an option enrollment request from Tailer Rogers to allow her kindergarten student to option in to the Ainsworth district from the Keya Paha County district.

A second option enrollment request, from Brenda Konkoleski to allow her kindergarten student to option out of the Ainsworth district and in to the Keya Paha County district, also received board approval. Hafer said Konkoleski works in Keya Paha County but lives in the Ainsworth district.

During his report, Hafer said the district had hired Stephen Pierce and Mindy Van Sickle as para professionals, but was still searching for an ELL para as the district now has about 30 ELL students.

Elementary Principal Ben Wright told the board kindergarten roundup was held Monday, with a total of 26 projected students in the kindergarten class.

“The kids were really excited, it was good to see,” Wright said. “A lot of families showed up, and there are a lot of newer parents. Having them come in today, they should remember some of the things when class starts Friday.”

Wright said, having kindergarten roundup just ahead of classes starting instead of holding it the prior spring, should help make the kindergarten students more comfortable when they come in for their first day of school.

Activities Director Scott Steinhauser reported there were preliminarily 30 athletes participating in football, 18 in volleyball, four in girls golf, and eight in cross country including five girls and three boys.

Thirty of the 55 total boys in the four high school classes are currently out for football, the largest number of players in several years. Steinhauser said the new wind screen purchased by the Booster Club has been secured to the back of the bleachers at the East City Park football field. He said several people went through training on the new video board in McAndrew Gymnasium.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education will be a budget hearing and property tax request at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, followed by its regular meeting.

* Alder graduates from UN-L Honors Program

(Posted 7 a.m. Aug. 9)

Seven graduating seniors have completed the requirements of the University Honors Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.

To graduate from the Honors Program, students must maintain at least a 3.5 grade-point average, complete a culminating senior project or research thesis, and fulfill other curricular requirements. The August graduates join 242 students who graduated from the Honors Program in May — the largest class in the program’s 36-year history.

Among the students graduating from the Honors Program is Peyton Alder of Stuart, from the College of Arts and Sciences.

* Portions of area parks to close after Labor Day

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

Access to certain areas of parks in north central Nebraska and the Panhandle will be temporarily closed to make way for improvements.

Mike Morava, regional superintendent for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said each of the projects is being started early enough in the fall to be finished before visitation peaks next year.

Portions of three area state parks and recreation areas will be closed after Labor Day.

Keller Park State Recreation Area near Ainsworth — The campground will be closed from Sept. 6 through May 2023 as workers upgrade the electrical service to the campsites. Following the upgrade, all 24 electrical sites at Keller will have 50-amp service.

Smith Falls State Park near Valentine — Access to Nebraska’s tallest waterfall, Smith Falls, will be closed Sept. 6 through May 2023 as workers replace the aging wooden walkway that leads to it. The 500-foot walkway will be replaced with durable composite decking on a steel frame.

Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area near Valentine — The Cedar Bay Campground will close Sept. 6 through May 2023 for an electrical upgrade. When complete, all 37 electrical sites at the campground will have 50-amp service. The park’s seven other campgrounds will be available during the project.

* BKR 4-H holds inaugural livestock sale Friday

(Posted 12:45 p.m. Aug. 8)

Friday marked the inaugural BKR 4-H youth livestock auction, held during the Rock County Fair.

4-H youth from Brown, Rock and Keya Paha counties either sold the animals they raised or received a premium from area businesses and other buyers if they planned to take their animals on to the Nebraska State Fair to show.

The results of the sale:

Konnor Shifflet – Grand Champion Market Steer sold for a $4,000 premium to Rock County Agronomy.

Olivia Beel – Reserve Champion Market Steer sold for a $3,000 premium and a $1,820 base price to H&R Block of Valentine.

Ariat Albrecht – Grand Champion Market Heifer sold for a $2,000 premium and $1,738 base price to May’s Repair and Manufacturing.

Kaden Shifflet – Grand Champion Market Wether (goat) sold for a $750 premium and $182 base price to Husker Meats.

Kyleigh Shifflet – Reserve Champion Market Wether sold for a $1,000 premium and $156 base price to Western Select Genetics.

Atwood Albrecht – Grand Champion Market Doe (goat) solid for a $500 premium to A&B Cattle.

Caden Ferris – Grand Champion Market Barrow sold for a $1,700 premium and $184 base price to Recidio Consulting.

Olivia Beel – Grand Champion Market Gilt sold for a $5,000 premium and $184 base price to Rock County Agronomy.

Newton Smidt – Charolais Breeding Heifer Champion Pen of 3 sold for a $2,250 premium to Bassett Livestock.

Emma Smidt – Charolais Breeding Heifer Champion Pen of 3 sold for a $1,750 premium to the Tri County Bank.

Caden Ferris – Breeding Heifer Reserve Champion Pen of 3 sold for a $300 premium to Bassett Livestock.

Kaden Shifflet – Grand Champion Breeding Beef Female solid for an $800 premium to the Shifflet Ranch.

Konnor Shifflet – Reserve Champion Breeding Beef Female sold for a $900 premium to Central Valley Ag.

Ariat Albrecht – Grand Champion Breeding Doe (goat) sold for a $300 premium to the Smith Angus Ranch.

Clayton Ferris – Market Gilt sold for a $1,500 premium and $184 base price to Husker Meats.

Eli Beel – Market Gilt sold for a $2,500 premium to Bassett Livestock.

Atwood Albrecht – Market Steer sold for a $3,500 premium and $1,915 base price to KBRB Radio.

Emma Smidt – Market Steer sold for a $1,000 premium to Roger Wilson.

Newton Smidt – Angus Breeding Heifer sold for a $600 premium to the Bowen Ranch.

Kyleigh Shifflet – A Market Wether (goat) sold for a $400 premium and $199 base price to the Shifflet Ranch.

Eli Beel – A Bucket Calf sold for a $1,250 premium to the Smith Angus Ranch.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

(Posted 5 p.m. Aug. 7)

July 31

  • Responded to a disturbance near 4th St and Ash St in Ainsworth. One male subject was released to family custody and transferred to an addiction treatment center.
  • Responded to Johnstown for an animal neglect complaint. Two horses were found to be in good care, with food and water.  No citations were issued.

August 1

  • The Brown County Ambulance and the Sheriff’s Office responded to a request for a welfare check in Long Pine. The individual was taken into emergency adult protective custody and transported to the Brown County Hospital.
  • The Ainsworth Fire Department responded to a report of electric lines sparking near the 800 block of 2nd St. The department monitored the scene until the power company arrived, no fire occurred.
  • Responded to a traffic complaint of a reckless driving vehicle on Highway 20, near mile marker 240. Deputies made contact with the vehicle and one Nebraska male driver was issued a citation for driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while revoked, then booked into the Brown County Jail.

August 2

  • Responded to a report of a juvenile firing a gun inside Ainsworth city limits. Deputies were unable to locate the juvenile.
  • Released an inmate from the Brown County Jail after they posted bond.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred an individual from a facility in Ainsworth to the Rock County Hospital.

August 3

  • Provided traffic control for a funeral procession.
  • Released an inmate from the Brown County Jail after they received a time served sentence.
  • During a traffic stop on Highway 20, near mile marker 241, a citation was issued for speeding 79 in a 65 mph zone.

August 4

  • Responded to a loose dog complaint near South Main St in Ainsworth. The dog was taken to the Ainsworth Vet Clinic.
  • The Sheriff’s Office and the Brown County Ambulance responded to a motorcycle accident on Highway 20 near mile marker 231. No injuries were reported, and the driver and vehicle were able to drive away from the scene.
  • Ainsworth, Long Pine, and Johnstown fire departments were paged for mutual aid assistance to Cherry County. After heavy rains all departments were able to return back to Brown County.

August 5

  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred a flight crew from the Airport to the Brown County Hospital to pick up a patient.
  • Responded to a domestic disturbance in Ainsworth. Both parties were separated.
  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a medical alert activation in Ainsworth. The alarm was falsely activated and no transport was needed.
  • Ainsworth and Johnstown Fire Departments responded to a report of a grass fire 6 miles west of Ainsworth.

August 6

  • During a traffic stop on Highway 7, near mile marker 42, a citation was issued to a Colorado male driver of the vehicle for possession of marijuana, no operator’s license, and speeding 11-15 mph over the posted speed limit. Passengers in the vehicle were issued citations for possession of controlled substances, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia.
  • During a traffic stop on Highway 7, near mile marker 41, a citation was issued to a SD driver and passenger for possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, and drug paraphernalia.
  • During a traffic stop on Harrington St in Ainsworth, a citation was issued for speeding 16-20 mph over the posted speed limit to a Washington driver.

Weekly Summary:

Burn Ban in Effect for All Fire Districts

19 – Incident Reports Were Taken

4– Paper Services Were Served

148 – Phone Calls Were Received

10– 911 Emergency Calls Received

1– Titles Were Inspected –

2– Handgun Permits Applied For

* Arrest made in Thursday homicides at Laurel

(Posted noon Aug. 5)

The Nebraska State Patrol has arrested a suspect in connection with four homicides that occurred in Laurel early Thursday morning. The investigation included two scenes on Elm Street in Laurel. Each scene included a residence with a fire.

Once fire suppression efforts were complete at a residence at 503 Elm Street, State Patrol Crime Scene Investigators were able to examine the scene. Investigators located three deceased victims at that location, each with suspected gunshot wounds. The victims have been identified as Gene Twiford, 86, Janet Twiford, 85, and Dana Twiford, 55. All three were residents of the home.

One deceased victim was located at 209 Elm Street, also with suspected gunshot wounds. That victim has been identified as Michele Ebeling, 53. She was a resident at that home.

Physical evidence located at both scenes led investigators to identify a suspect as Jason Jones, 42, who is a resident of Laurel. Investigators developed information to believe that Jones was inside his home at 206 Elm Street in Laurel. The State Patrol SWAT Team was activated, and an arrest warrant was obtained for Jones. Following repeated attempts to have Jones exit the home voluntarily, the SWAT Team made entry into the home and located Jones in a bedroom, with severe burns.

Jones was flown to St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Lincoln for treatment of his burn injuries. He is in custody at the hospital.

The investigation remains ongoing. Several agencies have been involved in the response and investigation, including the volunteer fire departments of Laurel, Wayne, and Beldon, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Cedar County Attorney, the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, as well as the Laurel Police Department, Cedar County Sheriff’s Office, and the Nebraska State Patrol.

* State Patrol investigating 4 deaths at Laurel

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

The Nebraska State Patrol, working with several public safety partners, is investigating the deaths of four people, at two different scenes in Laurel.

The first incident occurred shortly after 3 a.m. Thursday, when an explosion was reported at a residence in the 200 block of Elm Street in Laurel. Local volunteer firefighters responded and located an individual inside the home. That victim was found to be deceased. At that point, the Laurel Police Department and Cedar County Sheriff’s Department responded and requested assistance from the Nebraska State Patrol.

As investigators were on scene at the first residence, a second fire was reported a few blocks away, at a residence in the 500 block of Elm Street. Fire crews and law enforcement responded immediately. Three individuals were located deceased inside the residence.

At this time there are no identified suspects, however, the Nebraska State Patrol is seeking the public’s assistance in locating a vehicle that was seen leaving Laurel shortly after the second fire. That vehicle is described as a silver sedan that was seen traveling westbound out of Laurel on Highway 20. According to a witness report, the vehicle may have picked up a passenger before leaving Laurel. Fire investigators believe that anyone inside either residence at the time of the fires may have suffered burns.

After fire suppression efforts were successful Thursday afternoon at the scene in the 500 block of Elm Street, investigators examined the crime scene and determined that gunfire is suspected to have played a part in the incidents at both homes. Fire investigators also believe that the fire in the 500 block of Elm Street may have started around the same time as the reported explosion in the 200 block of Elm Street. However, indications of that fire weren’t visible outside the home for hours. Both incidents are now believed to have occurred shortly after 3 a.m. Thursday.

Based on that time frame, the State Patrol is requesting anyone who may have seen anything out-of-the-ordinary at Laurel between midnight and 4 a.m. Thursday to report it immediately. Tips can be reported to 402-479-4921.

Additionally, based on the focused time frame of the fires, investigators now believe the previously sought silver sedan reported by a member of the public may have left Laurel much later after the incidents than previously thought.

Response has included the volunteer fire departments of Laurel, Wayne, and Beldon, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Cedar County Attorney, as well as the Laurel Police Department, Cedar County Sheriff’s Department, and the Nebraska State Patrol.

Anyone who sees out-of-the-ordinary activity should call 911 immediately. This is an active investigation. Additional details will be released when possible.

* Rock County voters will decide on electing surveyor

(Posted 12:30 p.m. Aug. 4)

Rock County voters will be asked whether they want to have the county surveyor position be an elected office, as the Rock County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a resolution placing the question on the General Election ballot in November.

The ballot question will ask Rock County voters, “Shall Rock County elect a county surveyor to carry out the responsibilities of the county surveyor as provided in Section 23-1901 of Nebraska State Statutes.”

In other business Tuesday, the board approved making repairs to the Rock County weed superintendent’s pickup using inheritance tax funding, with the county paying back the inheritance tax fund when additional funds are available.

The commissioners approved the 2021-22 Rock County Library inventory as presented.

In a final item, Denny Macomber with the state of Nebraska’s Chief Jail Standards Division reported the Rock County Jail was in full compliance with state standards when it was inspected June 29. The commissioners Tuesday performed their quarterly inspection of the jail.

The next meeting of the Rock County Commissioners is scheduled for 9 a.m. Aug. 16.

* Lightning sparks 2 fires Tuesday in Rock County

(Posted 10:15 a.m. Aug. 4)

Lightning from a thunderstorm Tuesday evening sparked two fires in Rock County, one of which burned into a creek canyon.

According to Bassett Fire Chief Jim Stout, two fires were started by lightning at approximately 9 p.m. Tuesday in northern Rock County, one on the Ritterbush Ranch and another on property owned by Kurt Leonard.

Stout said a total of 16 trucks from the Bassett, Newport and Springview Volunteer Fire departments responded. The fire on the Ritterbush Ranch burned into a canyon on Oak Creek.

Firefighters were on scene until 9 p.m. Wednesday, and the Single Engine Air Tanker made two aerial drops Wednesday to help suppress the canyon fire.

Stout said a total of about 10 acres burned on the Ritterbush Ranch, and about 40 acres burned on the Leonard property. No structures were damaged.

* Rural Fire District requests levy increase

(Posted 6:30 a.m. Aug. 3)

Representatives from the Brown County Rural Fire Protection District requested a 1-cent levy increase Tuesday from the Brown County Commissioners for the 2022-23 budget.

Rural fire district representative Jeep Cozad said, in addition to its operating budget, the rural fire district planned to build a new fire hall for the South Pine Department in the upcoming year.

“We have been at 2-1/2 cents in levy for the past two years,” Cozad said. “We are asking to go to 3-1/2 cents.”

Cozad said the city of Ainsworth also planned to provide 3-1/2 cents in levy. The two entities must have matching levies at least once every three years to receive MFO funding from the state.

Cozad said the rural fire district would plan to go back to 3 cents or 2-1/2 cents the following year.

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus asked how much cash reserve the rural fire district had in CDs and sinking funds.

The rural fire district has approximately $846,000 in cash reserves, but Cozad said they were planning to use some of those reserves to help construct the new building for the South Pine Department.

Commissioner Denny Bauer asked if the district could also use some of its cash reserves to support its operating budget for the upcoming year.

“I don’t know if you need three quarters of a million dollar cash reserve,” Bauer said.

Cozad agreed too large a cash reserve could pose a problem, but suggested the fire district did need to keep between $400,000 and $500,000 in reserve.

Fire district representative Doug Davis said the rural board cut budget requests from the individual rural departments by about $60,000 when formulating its budget.

“We have 119 firemen in the county,” Davis said. “We need to update some of our bunker gear, and it is very expensive. It costs about $3,500 for one set of gear.”

Wiebelhaus asked, with valuations increasing substantially across several sectors of property in the county, if anyone knew what 3-1/2 cents in levy would generate for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Cozad said the rural board based its 3-1/2-cent budget request based on the previous year’s valuation in an effort to generate approximately $280,000 in revenue.

Bauer said the commissioners could see how much levy would be needed to generate the $280,000 the fire department requested, since it could be less than 3-1/2 cents.

The board will allocate a final property tax levy to the rural fire district during its Aug. 16 budget workshop.

In other business Tuesday, Brown County Attorney Andy Taylor told the commissioners they needed to make a decision on the ballot language for the Sandhills Care Center property tax levy request soon.

“Both the city and the county need to start working on the ballot language,” Taylor said. “The latest we can submit a ballot issue is 60 days before the election. That is coming quickly the first of September.”

Taylor said details on the ballot language need to be worked out by both the Ainsworth City Council and the commissioners in the next couple weeks so he and City Attorney Rod Palmer would have enough time to prepare the ballot language.

“We did not change the interlocal agreement, so it will have to go on the ballot as two separate issues, one for the city and one for the county,” Taylor said.

Bauer said the commissioners should probably try and schedule a meeting with the City Council during its regular meeting next week to get things ironed out.

The board settled on seeing if the City Council was willing to hold a special meeting Aug. 16 to coincide with the next commissioner meeting.

Brown County Weed Superintendent Scott Erthum reported Tuesday weed management groups Brown County is a part of received substantial grant funding through the American Rescue Plan Act.

Erthum said the various weed control groups in the state usually have about $700,000 in grant funding to share. With an allocation of ARPA funding, those groups had $2.7 million to share for this year.

Erthum said the Middle Niobrara Weed Awareness Group requested several grants that were approved, including $40,000 for an 8×8 Argo amphibious vehicle.

“It is an amazing machine,” Erthum said. “It can be used in areas that are otherwise difficult to get to.”

He said the unit would be equipped with spraying equipment. The group also received $10,000 in grant funding to purchase four drones for aerial surveillance of potential noxious weed sites, another $10,000 for the group’s chemical cost share program with landowners, $10,000 for spraying equipment, and $50,000 to spray portions of the Niobrara River valley.

Total grant funding for the year for the Middle Niobrara Weed Awareness Group reached $125,000. Erthum said he was training to get a license to operate the drones.

He also reported the Sandhills Weed Management Group, which Brown County is a part of along with 20 other counties, received $140,000 in grant funding to purchase a Bobcat unit equipped with a tree trimmer. That weed management group received a total of $500,000 in grant funding for the year.

Erthum said the groups tried to focus on equipment purchases with the extra funding instead of just applying for grants to spray larger areas. The reason being, Erthum said, was if the funding was only going to be available for one year, spraying larger areas would require additional funding in future years to be effective and that funding would likely not be available.

The commissioners Tuesday heard the annual review from Brown County Emergency Management Director Traci Booth. Booth recapped the training she had conducted and the equipment she had purchased during the past year. She reported Brown and Rock counties were awarded between $65,000 and $70,000 in grant funding to support emergency management for the year.

Booth said the counties were required to have a deputy emergency manager and Rock County suggested an interlocal agreement to share one full-time deputy instead of each county hiring its own part-time deputy. If agreeable by the commissioners, she said she would advertise and interview for the position with a goal of having a deputy in place by Jan. 1.

Commissioner Buddy Small told Booth said had provided more emergency management service to Brown County in one year than Region 24 did in all the years the county was a member.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin provided the board with an update on roads department activity during the past week. Turpin reported the roads department had been hauling armor coat gravel to both the Ainsworth and Long Pine shops ahead of armor coating work being undertaken on several asphalt roads in the county.

Armor coating work will be undertaken this fall on South Pine Avenue, 433rd Avenue, 432nd Avenue, 430th Avenue, and 423rd Avenue.

The highway superintendent reported he received a copy of an updated interlocal agreement with Rock County for maintenance of the shared Bar 25 Road. Turpin said Rock County would assist in the cost of signage and the replacement of the McCullough Bridge on the Bar 25 Road. The maintenance agreement had Brown County maintaining the road from May 1 to Nov. 1, and Rock County maintaining the road for the other six months.

The commissioners will vote on the interlocal agreement during their Aug. 16 meeting.

County Clerk Travee Hobbs discussed correspondence she received from the Nebraska Secretary of State’s office encouraging counties to upgrade their cyber security. She said Applied Connective, who already works with the county’s computer system, will provide the county a quote for enhanced cyber security.

In a final action item Tuesday, the commissioners approved a $9,000 transfer from the county’s miscellaneous general fund to the reappraisal fund.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Aug. 16.

* Two area students to graduate from UNK Friday

(Posted 9 a.m. Aug. 1)

Graduate and undergraduate degrees will be conferred for 217 summer graduates at University of Nebraska at Kearney commencement exercises 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 5, in the UNK Health and Sports Center.

Area students scheduled to graduate from the University of Nebraska-Kearney include Morgan Osborn of Ainsworth, who is receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, and Matthew Thomas of Dunning, who is earning a Master of Arts degree in physical education.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

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

July 24

  • Provided a welfare check in Ainsworth. The individual was located and reported safe.

July 25

  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a 911 call at an Ainsworth business. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Responded to a request for a welfare check on a juvenile in Ainsworth. The juvenile was located and reported safe.

July 26

  • Responded to a request for an accident report involving a parked vehicle being struck on Wilson St in Ainsworth. Minor damage occurred to both vehicles.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred one Ainsworth individual to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Released an inmate from the Brown County Jail, that was held for Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office, for an arrest warrant for driving under suspension, carrying a concealed weapon, no operator’s license, and criminal trespassing.

July 27

  • Booked a male subject into the Brown County Jail for domestic assault.
  • Provided a civil standby for a domestic property dispute.
  • Provided traffic control on 4th St for a building relocation.
  • Responded to a loose dog complaint on Fullerton St in Ainsworth. One dog was taken to the Ainsworth Vet Clinic.
  • Issued 5 notices to Ainsworth residents to license their dogs.

July 28

  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a 911 call at an Ainsworth residence. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital.       
  • Responded to a traffic complaint of a Colorado plated vehicle driving recklessly on Highway 7. The vehicle was stopped in Ainsworth and the driver was issued a written warning.
  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a Hidden Paradise address. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital and then later taken to the Ainsworth Airport to be picked up by an aircrew.

July 29

  • Released an inmate from the Brown County jail on a personal recognizance bond.
  • Received a report of a phone scam involving an Ainsworth juvenile. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • During a traffic stop on Highway 7, near mile marker 35, a South Dakota resident was issued a citation for speeding 88 mph in a 65 mph zone.

July 30

  • Responded to a traffic complaint on Highway 20, near mile marker 240, of a vehicle driving erratically. Deputies made contact with the driver and no citations were issued at this time.

Weekly Summary

 Burn Ban in Effect for all Fire Districts

12 – Incident Reports Were Taken

125 – Phone Calls Were Received

6– 911 Emergency Calls Received

4– Titles Were Inspected

0 – Handgun Permits Applied For

2 – Paper Services Were Served

Monthly Summary for July 2022:

3– Accidents                             

4– Arrests

74– Calls for Service

5– Citations were issued

5– Verbal & Written Warnings issued

2– Defect Cards issued

25– Paper Service served

587– Phone calls were received

28– 911 emergency calls received

24– Titles inspected

1– Handgun permits issued

* Recent cases from Brown County Court

(Posted 11:45 a.m. July 28)

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

Cheryl W. Bennett, 60, of Keystone Heights, Fla., charged with speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, fined $200.

Jose A. Gonzalez, 24, of Alamo, Texas, speeding 16-20 mph over the limit, $125.

Andrew J. Emodi, 23, of Omaha, speeding 21-35 mph over the limit, $200.

Betty J. Martin, 66, of O’Neill, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25.

Michael E. Rath, 59, of Indianapolis, Ind., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

Brenton K. Mann, 37, of Ainsworth, taking or possessing fish without a permit, $100.

Deborah L. Mills, 26, of Omaha, speeding 6-10 mph over the limit, $25; also charged with possession of drug paraphernalia, $100.

Sherri R. Johnson, 34, of Ainsworth, two counts of a dog running at large, $10 on each count and ordered to pay $595 in restitution; three counts of no dog license, fined $10 on each count.

Dustin S. Privett, 24, of Ainsworth, careless driving, $100.

Juanita J. Long Crow, 23, of Fort Thompson, S.D., possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $300.

Jonathon P. Klintworth, 31, of Ainsworth, third degree domestic assault, sentenced to one year of probation.

Cody R. Dillon, 40, of Long Pine, disturbing the peace, $500.

Charles J. No Heart, 46, no address listed, third degree assault, sentenced to 30 days in jail with credit for 23 days served.

Sharon E. Simonson, 64, of Ainsworth, stalking, sentenced to one year of probation.

Brandon Shaul, 24, of Ainsworth, leaving the scene of an accident, failing to furnish information, fined $400, sentenced to seven days in jail and ordered to pay $400 in restitution; driving under suspension, $100; possession of marijuana less than 1 ounce, $500; first offense driving under the influence, $500, sentenced to seven days in jail, driver’s license revoked for six months and ordered to install an ignition interlock device.

Courtney McLeod, 36, of Ainsworth, four counts of failing to license a dog or cat, $50 on each count.

Jeffrey Larson, 40, of Valentine, procuring or selling alcohol to a minor, $100.

Steven C. Olson, 60, of Plainview, first offense reckless driving, $500.

Austin T. Ferguson, 25, of Edmond, Okla., speeding 11-15 mph over the limit, $75.

* Nebraska’s June unemployment rate remains low

(Posted 2:45 p.m. July 27)

The Nebraska Department of Labor reported Nebraska’s preliminary unemployment rate for June is 1.9 percent. The rate is unchanged from the May rate and is down 0.6 percentage points from the June 2021 rate of 2.5 percent. The rate continues to be a record low for Nebraska.  

Nebraska’s June rate is the second lowest rate in the country.

“Nebraska continues to have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and over a million Nebraskans employed,” Commissioner of Labor John Albin said. “For the past year, the state’s monthly employment levels have reached historical highs.”

Brown County’s unemployment rate of 2.6 percent in June is above the state average. Blaine County had the highest unemployment rate in the area in June at 3.9 percent.

The lowest unemployment rate in the area in June belonged to Rock County at 1.6 percent. Cherry County’s 1.8 percent unemployment rate also fell below the state average. Holt County matched the statewide average in June at 1.9 percent, with Keya Paha County at 2.0 percent and Boyd County at 2.4 percent.

The lowest unemployment rate in the state in June belonged to Wheeler County at 1.4 percent. Blaine County and Thurston County shared the highest unemployment rate in the state at 3.9 percent.

Over 1 million Nebraskans have been employed since August of 2020. Nonfarm employment, a count of filled jobs, was 1,038,733 in June, up 3,664 over the month and up 21,630 over the year. Private industries with the most growth month to month were leisure and hospitality (up 2,781), mining and construction (up 2,677), and manufacturing (up 1,402).  Private industries with the most growth year to year were education and health services (up 5,430); trade, transportation, and utilities (up 4,785); and leisure and hospitality (up 3,722).

The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for June is 3.6 percent, unchanged from the May rate and down 2.3 percentage points from the June 2021 rate of 5.9 percent.

* Highway 20 center lane work to begin next week

(Posted noon July 27)

A&R Construction is getting close to completing Phase 1 of the Highway 20 reconstruction project in Ainsworth, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Beginning Monday, A&R Construction will begin preparing pavement markings and traffic control for Phase 2 construction.

Traffic is anticipated to be switched to Phase 2 by the end of the day Tuesday. Phase 2 for the project will reconstruct what will be the common turn lane, or the center 14 feet of the roadway.

With construction occurring in the middle of the roadway traffic will be divided and one-way only with limited left turn movements.  East bound traffic will be driving on the new Phase 1 concrete and west bound traffic will remain on the north side.

Motorists traveling on Highway 20 will be able to make right turns onto city streets. To accommodate construction in the center of the roadway, left turns across Highway 20 will initially be limited to Richardson Drive, the Road Runner west driveway, Ash Street, Oak Street, Main Street and Osborn Street. As construction progresses, city street and business access will change similar to what occurred during Phase 1 work.

Phase 2 concrete paving will begin on the east end of the project to Richardson Drive. As underground utility connections are made, concrete paving will follow.

Phase 1 was completed two weeks ahead of schedule and Phase 2 is expected to take about two months to complete.

People needing access to the Brown County Hospital from Highway 20 will need to use Richardson Drive.

* Brewer discusses recent trip to Ukraine

(Posted 3:45 p.m. July 26) 

Nebraska 43rd District State Sen. Tom Brewer discussed his recent trip to Ukraine to assist with logistical support in the country’s ongoing war with Russia. Brewer visited with KBRB’s Graig Kinzie on the challenges and successes of Ukraine’s military and what he witnessed while he was in country.
Hear the full conversation below.

* Friday accident injures 2 north of Ainsworth

(Posted 3 p.m. July 25)

A one-vehicle accident Friday afternoon on Meadville Avenue just north of Ainsworth injured two motorists.

According to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, at 1:57 p.m. Friday, July 22, a 2008 Chevy Equinox, driven by Montserrat Almendarez Rocha, age 30, of Ainsworth, was traveling south on Meadville Avenue when the vehicle struck a guard rail on the canal bridge just north of Ainsworth.

Almendarez Rocha and a passenger in the Equinox, Justino Alonso Ortiz Vargas, 32, were transported by the Brown County Ambulance Association to the Brown County Hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during the accident.

The Chevy was considered a total loss.

The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the accident scene to help provide traffic control.

* NDOT provides update on Highway 20 project

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

The Nebraska Department of Transportation provided an update on the Highway 20 construction project in Ainsworth.

A&R Construction plans to finish work on intersections and private driveways on the south side of the highway this week, and will place sidewalk ramps and clean up areas where concrete has been poured.

Those needing access from Highway 20 to the Brown County Hospital are asked to use Harrington Street.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

(Posted 6:30 a.m. July 25)

July 17

  • Assisted a stranded motorist on Highway 20 in need of fuel.
  • Responded to a noise complaint near the intersection of 1st and Glen St in Ainsworth. Deputies made contact with the home occupants who complied with turning their music down.
  • Responded to a report of a bridge in need of repair near the intersection of 427th Ave and 879th Rd. The county road department was contacted and signs were put up to close the bridge until repairs can be made.

July 18

  • Long Pine and South Pine Fire Departments were paged to a grass fire 15 miles South of Long Pine.
  • Served an arrest warrant in rural Brown County for theft and criminal trespassing. One male subject was booked into the Brown County Jail and bond was set at $1500.
  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a 911 call in rural Brown County. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital.

July 19

  • Responded to a report of vandalism that had occurred to an Ainsworth Irrigation District canal gate.

July 20

  • Responded to a request for a welfare check in Long Pine. The individual was found to be in need of medical assistance and the Brown County Ambulance transferred them to the Brown County Hospital.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred an aircrew from the airport to pick up a patient at the Brown County hospital.
  • During a traffic stop on Highway 7, near mile marker 28, a citation was issued for speeding 82 mph in a 65 mph speed zone.

July 21

  • Booked an male subject into the Brown County Jail for an active warrant from Sheridan County. Bond was set at 10% of  $50,000 and he is currently at Brown County jail awaiting extradition.
  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a 911 call in Ainsworth. One individual was transferred to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Notices for failure to license dogs were issued to Ainsworth residents.
  • The Ainsworth Fire Department responded to a mutual aid request for a grass fire in NorthWest Keya Paha county.

July 22

  • Responded to a civil issue regarding a child custody dispute.
  • Received a complaint of a city ordinance violation of overgrown weeds on Merten St in Ainsworth.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred one individual from an Ainsworth facility to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Responded to a one vehicle accident on Meadville Ave. The Brown County Ambulance and Ainsworth Fire Department were also paged to the scene.  Both occupants were transported by ambulance to the Brown County Hospital.  The vehicle was towed.
  • Responded to a report of possible vandalism at an unoccupied home. No vandalism was found and the home was secured.
  • During a traffic stop near 4th St and Ulrich St intersection, one male subject was issued a citation for driving under the influence of alcohol, no valid registration, and possession of an open alcohol container and booked into Brown County Jail. The subject posted bond and was released the next day.

July 23

  • Responded to a report of vandalism that occurred to the back window of a vehicle parked at an apartment complex in Ainsworth. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Shortly before 9 am the first fire on this day was reported and Raven, Calamus, and Ainsworth Fire Departments responded to a grass fire near the Raven Rd and Highway 7 intersection. South Pine and Long Pine Fire Departments were then paged to a fire near the Paramount Valley Rd and Cattleman Rd intersection.  After those fires were extinguished South Pine, Long Pine, Raven, Calamus Fire Departments responded again to another grass fire in Southeast Brown County.  Lastly, on this day the Raven, Calamus, Ainsworth, and Johnstown Fire Departments were paged for a grass fire near Moonlake Ave.  The last firetruck returned to the barn shortly after 5 pm on this busy day for all departments.

Weekly Summary:

0 – Burn Permit Issued (by all Brown Co Fire Depts) Burn Ban in Effect

15– Incident Reports Were Taken

133– Phone Calls Were Received

6 – 911 Emergency Calls Received

6– Titles Were Inspected

1– Handgun Permits Applied For

4– Paper Services Were Served

* Portion of Lost Creek Road closed in Keya Paha County

(Posted 1 p.m. July 22)

Keya Paha County Commissioner Mike Tuerk reported Friday a portion of Lost Creek Road is closed.

A two-mile stretch of Lost Creek Road from 416th Avenue to the County Line Road north of the Highway 12 intersection will be closed for approximately two weeks while the Keya Paha County roads department resurfaces that stretch of road.

Motorists will still be able to access County Line Road, but the road closed signs will be in place near the Highway 12 intersection. Tuerk said the county will announce when the resurfacing work has been completed and the road reopens to traffic.

* Ag Society requests $70,000 from county

(Posted 7 a.m. July 22)

Representatives of the Brown County Agricultural Society requested a total of $70,000 in property taxes to support the fairgrounds and the Brown County Fair for the 2022-23 fiscal year during Tuesday’s meeting of the Brown County Commissioners.

Ag Society members Alex Goochey, Tyler Johnson, JD Hoover and Jamie Kinney requested $50,000 for its general operating budget and $20,000 to put toward a sinking fund. The commissioners will decide on all budget requests during its budget hearing in September.

Treasurer Deb Vonheeder discussed the need for the board to create a new line item in its budget for the administration of funds for the community fishing pond project. The Brown County Foundation approved a total of $40,000 in funding toward the construction of the fishing pond east of the Brown County Hospital, with the county accepting those funds and using them toward the cost of the project. The board approved a resolution creating a new fund for the pond project donation.

BKR Extension Educator Hannah Greenwell visited with the board regarding her position and correspondence between extension and the commissioners.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin updated the board on roads department projects.

The commissioners acknowledged the Jail Standards report as presented.

Brown County Attorney Andy Taylor presented the board with an addendum to the Public Defender Contract. The commissioners approved a resolution with the contract addendum.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. Aug. 2.

* Two fires ignite in Keya Paha County Wednesday

(Posted 1:15 p.m. July 21)

Two fires sparked Wednesday within 15 minutes of each other, with one burning more than 200 bales in northwestern Keya Paha County.

According to Springview Fire Chief Scott Hallock, the first fire was reported at approximately 3:30 p.m. northwest of Cub Creek on property owned by Larry Titus. Hallock said a broken bolt on a baler sparked a grass fire that quickly moved into a hay bale stackyard.

Hallock said approximately 240 bales were destroyed in the fire, and firefighters remained on scene until close to 1 a.m. Thursday to make sure the fire didn’t flare up and move out of the stackyard.

At approximately 3:45 p.m. Wednesday, 15 minutes after the first fire call, a second fire was reported in the northwestern portion of the county. A spark from equipment ignited a grass fire on the O’Keefe Ranch approximately 5 miles north of Norden.

Hallock said the Valentine Fire Department provided mutual aid to assist with that fire while the Springview Department battled the fire on the Titus property. Hallock said the fire on the O’Keefe ranch burned between 15 and 20 acres and destroyed a couple hay bales.

A burn ban remains in effect for Keya Paha County. Hallock said conditions remain extremely dry, with fires having the capability of spreading quickly.

This is also the 10-year anniversary of the Fairfield Creek Fire Complex that burned nearly 80,000 acres in the Niobrara River Valley. The hot and dry conditions the area is experiencing this summer are similar to the conditions in 2012 when lightning started the initial fire in the river valley.

* Bassett customers asked to keep garbage out if not collected

(Posted 3 p.m. July 20)

The city of Bassett was notified the J&J Sanitation garbage truck broke down Wednesday. J&J Sanitation plans to be back in Bassett Thursday to complete the Wednesday route. Customers who did not have their trash collected Wednesday are asked to leave it out for collection on Thursday.

* Special election set for Aug. 9 on LB 840 sales tax renewal

(Posted 2:45 p.m. July 20)

Registered voters in the city of Ainsworth will have the chance Tuesday, Aug. 9, to cast a ballot for or against renewing the LB 840 local option sales tax for an additional 15 years.

Initially approved by the Nebraska Legislature through the passage of LB 840, the bill allows municipalities to collect one-half cent of sales tax for the purpose of assisting in economic development activities within the community.

By a nearly 3-to-1 margin, Ainsworth voters first approved collecting the one-half cent sales tax Nov. 20, 2007, with the one-half cent sales tax implemented in 2008. The parameters of LB 840 as adopted by the Legislature include that it must be reapproved by voters every 15 years or it sunsets.

With the 15-year period set to sunset in 2023, the Ainsworth City Council approved placing the issue on a ballot during a special election Tuesday, Aug. 9, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. Ballots will be cast in the Ainsworth Conference Center. Only voters who reside inside the city limits of Ainsworth are eligible to vote in the special election.

Voters Aug. 9 will be presented with two ballot propositions. The first reads, “Shall the city of Ainsworth renew the economic development program as described by appropriating annually from a one-half percent local option sales tax for a period of 15 years.”

The second reads, “Shall the city of Ainsworth continue to impose a sales and use tax of one-half percent for a period of 15 years upon transactions within the city that are subject to state sales tax to be utilized for the economic development program activities as described in Proposition 1.”

For the one-half cent sales tax to be renewed, both propositions must be approved by a majority of voters casting a ballot in the special election.

The goals of the economic development program are to contribute to the community’s economic and quality of life vitality by:

* Assisting business enterprises in Brown County to retain existing jobs and make existing businesses more competitive and profitable;

* Creating new jobs and generating employment opportunities;

* Expanding labor markets in Ainsworth and Brown County;

* Attracting new capital investment to the community;

* Broadening the tax base;

* Supporting tourism related business in enhancing activities;

* Promoting the overall Brown County community;

* Developing and implementing city improvement plans;

* Coordinating efforts to provide for sustainable development and related infrastructure that supports the capacity for maintaining and growing Brown County;

* Discovering additional external funding resources to provide for additional community needs, such as housing, public facilities etc.; and

* Providing economic diversification to ensure economic stability and vitality for the community of Ainsworth and Brown County.

The economic development program would include, but will not be limited to the following activities:

* Direct loans or grants to qualifying businesses for fixed assets or working capital or both;

* Loan guarantees for qualifying businesses;

* Grants for public works improvements essential to the location or expansion of, or the provision of new services by, a qualifying business;

* Grants or loans to qualifying businesses for job training;

* The purchase of real estate, options for such purchases, and the renewal or extension of such options;

* Grants or loans to qualifying businesses to provide relocation incentives for new residents;

The issuance of bonds as provided for in the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act; and

* Payments for salaries and support of city staff to implement the economic development program or the contracting of such to an outside entity.

If approved by voters Aug. 9, the sales tax would continue to be collected starting Jan. 1, 2023, for an additional 15 years.

A copy of the full Ainsworth City Council resolution and the 16-page council-approved economic development program is available for viewing during regular business hours in the Ainsworth City Offices.

A town hall has been scheduled from 5 until 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1, in the Ainsworth Conference Center that will provide information on how the one-half cent sales tax has been utilized during the past 15 years and how much revenue has been generated by the one-half cent sales tax.

* Hafer installed as Lions Club president Monday

(Posted 1:30 p.m. July 19)

Dale Hafer was installed as the Ainsworth Lions Club president during the club’s annual picnic and board installation Monday. Due to the heat, the picnic was moved from East City Park to the Ainsworth Community Schools cafeteria.

Hafer succeeds Bob Beatty, who moved into the past-president post with the Lions Club. Steve Dike was installed as the club’s president-elect, with Jerry Ehlers as the club secretary, Phil Fuchs the treasurer, Kim Bejot as the recording secretary, Vance Heyer as the Tail Twister, Steve Salzman as the club’s Lion Tamer, and Bill Lentz the club’s membership chair.

Roland Paddock and Roger Lechtenberg were installed two-year terms on the Lions Club Board of Directors, joining Larry Rice and Amy Dike, who both have one year remaining on their board terms.

Lentz provided the club with information on the city of Ainsworth’s LB 840 program and encouraged club members to vote to renew the program for another 15 years during a special election Aug. 9.

The next meeting of the Ainsworth Lions Club is scheduled for noon Aug. 15 in Canyon Creek.

* Micro-surfacing work to start on Highways 7 and 20

(Posted 1:30 p.m. July 19)

Weather permitting, micro-surfacing work will begin Wednesday on Highway 7 south of Ainsworth beginning at the Calamus River and proceeding south from milepost 8 to milepost 17, according to the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Missouri Petroleum Company, of St. Louis, Mo., has the contract. Micro-surfacing work will then move to Highway 20 between Wood Lake and Johnstown from milepost 221 to 232, then on Highway 20 west of Long Pine from milepost 249 to 252, and on Highway 7 southeast of Springview from milepost 78 to 86.

Traffic will be maintained with a pilot car and flaggers. Anticipated completion of the micro-surfacing work is August.

Motorists are reminded to drive cautiously in and near work zones, to buckle up, and to put phones down.

* Annual UN-L survey shows land prices spiking

(Posted 7 a.m. July 19)

For the third consecutive year, the all-land average value in Nebraska rose for the year ending February 1 to an all-land average of $3,360 per acre, or about 16% higher than the prior year.

The statewide all-land average value for the year ending February 1 averaged $3,360 per acre, or about a 16% ($465 per acre) increase to the prior year’s value of $2,895 per acre. 

Rates of increase were the highest in the Northwest, Northeast, East, South, and Southeast Districts as these areas averaged 15% to 21% higher for the all-land average. These Districts trended in-line with the rate of increase of 16% for the state. 

Western regions of Nebraska including the North, Central, and Southwest Districts reported smaller increases ranging between 11% to 13%. The North District reported the smallest increase at 11%. Overall, increases across the state range 11% to 21% in 2022. 

Panel members reported in 2022 that current crop prices, purchases for farm expansion, and interest rate levels as the major economic forces guiding the market value of land higher across the state. The financial health of current owners and non-farmer investor interest in land purchases as additional positive forces. 

The outlook for future gains in farm real estate values remain strong as only three economic forces were noted as somewhat negatively impacting farm real estate values. Property tax levels, farm input costs, and future property tax policies were reported as weighing down on the market. 

Based on 2022 market values, the estimated total value of agricultural land and buildings in Nebraska rose to approximately $161.2 billion. Between 2021 and 2022, the market value increase in agricultural land and building totaled about $22.3 billion. 

Map of Nebraska depicting Average Value of Nebraska Farmland, February 1, 2022 and Percent Change From Year Earlier

Average Value of Nebraska Farmland by Land Type

Land Type

$/Acre

%Change

All Land Average

3,360

16

Center Pivot Irrigated Cropland

7,730

17

Gravity Irrigated Cropland

7,055

16

Dryland Cropland (Irrigation Potential)

5,235

19

Dryland Cropland (No Irrigation Potential)

3,900

15

Grazing Land (Tillable)

1,475

13

Grazing Land (Nontillable)

950

10

Hayland

1,895

12

North

Average Value of Farmland by Land Type

Land Type

$/Acre

% Change

All Land Average

1,290

11

Center Pivot Irrigated Cropland

4,880

14

Gravity Irrigated Cropland

4,205

11

Dryland Cropland (Irrigation Potential)

2,245

7

Dryland Cropland (No Irrigation Potential)

1,830

11

Grazing Land (Tillable)

1,370

15

Grazing Land (Nontillable)

745

7

Hayland

1,370

14

Average Cash Rental Rates by Land Type

Land Type

$/Acre

% Change

Center Pivot Irrigated Cropland

230

9

Gravity Irrigated Cropland

195

8

Dryland Cropland

65

15

Pasture

30

11

      

Monthly Cash Rental Rates for Pasture

Land Type

$/Month

Cow-Calf Pairs

67.05

Counties in the north region include Arthur, Blaine, Boyd, Brown, Cherry, Garfield, Grant, Holt, Hooker, Keya Paha, Logan, Loup, McPherson, Rock, Thomas and Wheeler

* Brown County Commissioners Tuesday meeting agenda

(Posted 6:30 a.m. July 19)

Brown County Commissioners
Meeting 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 19
Brown County Courthouse
Agenda

5:15    Roll Call

              Kenneth Turpin – Road Department Update

5:30  Brown County Ag Society Resolution for levy allocation – acknowledge the request – Alex Goochey

           Resolution to establish new fund #4601 – VonHeeder

           Acknowledge Jail Standards Report – Hobbs

           Public Defender Contract Addendum – Taylor

           Public Comment

           Approve Claims

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

(Posted 9 a.m. July 18)

July 10

  • Received a report of a pickup driving recklessly with excessive speed in Ainsworth near Dawes and Woodward intersection. One male driver was cited for careless driving.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred one individual from an Ainsworth facility to the Brown County Hospital.

July 11

  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred a patient from the Brown County Hospital to the Airport to meet an air crew.
  • Responded to a disturbance at a grocery store in Ainsworth. One male subject was taken into emergency protective custody and transferred to a mental health facility.

July 12

  • Responded to a report of horses on Highway 7 near mile marker 25. The owner was found and the horses were removed from the roadway.
  • A 16 year old male juvenile was reported missing while floating the Long Pine Creek. The individual was found safe before a rescue party could respond.       
  • Received two reports of pivots spraying roadways. All owners were contacted.

July 13

  • The Ainsworth Fire Department responded to a small grass fire near the intersection of 428th Ave and 879th Rd.
  • Responded to a disturbance on Wilson St in Ainsworth for a landlord/tenant dispute.
  • Responded to the Brown County Hospital for a possible disturbance. Upon arrival the individuals in question had already left.

July 14

  • Responded to two separate dogs at large reports in Ainsworth. Both dogs were taken to the Ainsworth Vet Clinic.
  • Received a report of cattle out near the Elsmere Rd on Highway 7. The owner was contacted to remove them from the roadway.
  • Issued a city ordinance violation notice on Woodward St in Ainsworth for unlicensed vehicles.
  • Received two reports of a pivot spraying across a county road. All owners were contacted.
  • Ainsworth and Long Pine Fire Departments were paged for mutual aid for a fire North of Newport on Highway 137.

July 15

  • Responded to a noise complaint on Osborne St in Ainsworth. One individual was issued a verbal warning.
  • Ainsworth Fire Department responded to a baler fire near 429th Ave and 877th Rd intersection.
  • Responded to a complaint regarding an off road vehicle driving recklessly in Long Pine. A verbal warning was issued to the driver.
  • The Long Pine Fire Department responded to a bonfire that was able to be quickly extinguished.
  • Responded to reports of cattle in Ainsworth near Maple St and North Main St. The owner was contacted and removed them from the city limits.

July 16

  • Provided traffic control for a cattle crossing on Highway 20, near mile marker 228.
  • Responded to a vehicle deer accident on Highway 20, near mile marker 225. No injuries reported. The vehicle was towed from the scene.

Weekly Summary

 0     -Burn Permit Issued (by all Brown Co Fire Depts) Burn Ban in Effect

22    -Incident Reports Were Taken

16    -Paper Services Were Served

153  -Phone Calls Were Received

7      -911 Emergency Calls Received

10    -Titles Were Inspected

0      -Handgun Permits Applied For

* Dry, hot conditions prompt burn ban in Brown County

(Posted 9:15 a.m. July 14)

Ainsworth Fire Chief Brad Fiala reported Thursday a burn ban has been issued in Brown County. Fiala said the Brown County Rural Fire Board discussed current conditions during its meeting Wednesday and decided to implement the ban.

No camp fires or open burning will be permitted in the county, including in the Keller State Park and Long Pine State Park areas.

Fiala said the only exception to the burn ban will be inside the Ainsworth city limits, where fire pits will be allowed for the time being as long as they have a screen over the top.

Fiala said, with the extremely dry conditions, the burn ban will remain in place until conditions improve.

* Council again talks chicken Wednesday

(Posted 7 a.m. July 14)

For the third straight meeting, fowl was a topic of conversation for the Ainsworth City Council as the group continued to debate changing city ordinance to allow residents to keep a small number of laying hens.

The council was presented with a draft ordinance and application for review Wednesday, with councilmen focusing discussion on the number of birds allowable, how those birds must be confined and whether they can be slaughtered inside city limits.

Councilman Schyler Schenk said the city’s nuisance ordinance already addresses people having animal parts on their property, so he believed addressing the slaughter of birds was unnecessary in the new ordinance.

Councilman Vance Heyer questioned whether the ordinance needed to include specifications on coops, and whether chickens would be considered at large if they are outside a coop in a fenced-in yard for part of the day.

Council members pushed back on that perspective, indicating they preferred that the chickens be kept in a coop instead of being allowed free reign in a fenced-in yard.

Heyer said, “I’m fine with leaving that in, I’m not going to die on that hill.”

Audience member Rod Worrell questioned why the council was looking at creating an ordinance that might affect 1 to 2 percent of the people in the community.

“A few people were apparently cited for having chickens in town,” Worrell said. “That’s two or three tickets out of 700 residences. You are passing an ordinance for everyone in town for 1 percent of the population.”

Worrell said this ordinance could potentially pit neighbor against neighbor if one decides to have chickens and another is against having poultry in town.

Schenk said he believed dogs were a bigger nuisance than chickens, and the city certainly allows dogs even though some people may not like if their neighbor has dogs.

Councilman Brad Fiala said he had been approached by several residents after the council began discussing the issue who indicated they were in favor of the city changing the ordinance.

“That surprised me,” Fiala said.

Heyer said he was surprised previous councils had not already addressed the ordinance that bans poultry in town.

“Most communities already allow chickens,” Heyer said. “Most of the things we spend a lot of time on only affect a minority of residents.”

The council agreed to leave in place the coop requirements in the ordinance but remove references to the slaughter of chickens.

Mayor Joel Klammer said he would like the council to get to a first reading of the ordinance during its August meeting.

“This was brought up because council members have been approached about it,” Klammer said. “There will be plenty of chances for public input.”

To change an ordinance, the council must hold three separate readings before taking a final vote to adopt the changes. The item will be placed on the council’s August agenda for potential first reading.

In other business Wednesday, the council approved signing initial documents needed for the Central Nebraska Economic Development District to pursue a Community Development Block Grant public works grant for the Main Street and Highway 7 project scheduled for 2024.

Amber Ross with CNEDD told the council these documents began the process of applying for the $250,000 to $400,000 CDBG public works grant to assist the city with replacing water and sewer lines under Main Street when the Nebraska Department of Transportation replaces the driving surface and sidewalks on Highway 7 in Ainsworth.

“We looked at several options, and the public works grant is going to be a good fit for this project,” Ross said. “The grant is due Sept. 1. You could get notice of award in December with the funds released in April.”

City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said the NDOT plans a similar project for Highway 7 as is currently underway for Highway 20.

“They will tear up the street and sidewalks from store front to store front,” Schroedl said. “We are in the process of trying to line up funds to pay for upgrades.”

Schroedl said the city plans to replace the water and sewer main lines under Main Street. Doing so while the NDOT has the highway torn up will save the city a substantial amount. She said the city also planned to upgrade lighting and landscaping on Main Street as part of the project.

While engineering firm Olsson Associates was still working to develop an estimate for the entire scope of the upgrades, Schroedl said it could be a $3 million total project.

She said the city was also working on applying for a potential revolving loan from the state, which would potentially provide the city with up to a $1.5 million loan at zero percent interest and a portion of the loan being forgivable.

The council approved signing the first set of documents to allow CNEDD to continue the CDBG application process.

The council also approved an application from the city’s housing rehabilitation loan fund for $25,000 to allow a homeowner to make improvements. Income qualified residents can receive low or no interest loans from the fund to make qualifying improvements to their home.

Schroedl said there was about $145,000 in the housing rehabilitation loan fund, with about $30,000 of that committed to other projects. She said the housing committee recommended the council approve the $25,000 application, which would be paid back over 20 years with no interest.

Brown County Ambulance Association member Ann Fiala provided the council an update on the association’s plans to build a larger building to house its ambulances.

Fiala said the ambulance association is working on some financing strategies to pay for the new building. She said the new ambulance is larger, and the current ambulance barn is not big enough to house all three ambulances when the new unit arrives.

She said the association plans to apply for American Rescue Plan Act funding that would pay for the ambulance. If awarded, that would let the association use funds it has been saving to purchase the ambulance to go toward paying for an upgraded building, with the association working with DA Davidson on financing the remainder of the building.

Fiala said the association is self-sustaining and does not require any tax dollars to operate. She said the association’s goal was to pay for the ambulance barn itself through its operations.

“The goal is to keep all of our ambulances under one roof,” Fiala said. “Right now, our third ambulance will need to be housed elsewhere.”

Klammer said the city appreciated the update and would do what it could to assist the ambulance association.

The council visited by phone with Brad Slaughter from Piper Sandler and Company regarding options for the city to fund its share of the Sandhills Care Center.

Slaughter discussed the ballot initiative the council is considering that would ask voters to approve a levy to support the care center’s operations for the next four years.

Slaughter went over some potential options for funding the care center that would not require a vote, but the council indicated it has always planned to take the issue to a vote of the residents.

Slaughter said he would be happy to help the council work on the language for the ballot question.

Kaylynn Mizner approached the council about a sewer issue she was encountering due to her sewer line running under another house.

“My sewer line is underneath someone’s house,” Mizner said. “The city must have approved a house to be built there at some point. Now I have to figure out how to get a sewer line around that house and a garage. It is very expensive, almost $15,000.”

She said she could go the opposite direction and tie in to a different line if she could use city right of way for a portion of the line. She said that route would keep her from having to remove trees and would cut about $3,000 off the project cost.

Mizner said a big part of the cost is having to tear up the city curb and street. She asked the council, since the city at some point approved a permit for a house to be built over her sewer line, if the city would waive the costs associated with replacing the curb and street to get a new line into a city sewer main.

Klammer said the city historically maintains the main lines, and it is the landowner’s responsibility to reach the main line for water and sewer service.

Mizner said she was trying to find financing to get the project done. She said her neighbor’s sewer line also runs through her yard, so she will have that line to avoid as well. She said the city approving a building permit for a house in 1970 does not allow her to now access and repair her sewer line.

“I don’t know if I have any great ideas,” Klammer said. “I don’t think we would have any issues with you using city right of way if that would save you the expense of removing trees, but we would need to look at some maps. The city will work with you if we can, but we are likely not going to be able to pay for it.”

The council heard from Ann Weeks, who expressed displeasure in receiving notice from the county attorney that she was going to potentially be charged with a crime for having items on a dedicated city street.

She said there are boundary issues in that area that the city needs to address. She discussed progress she has made on cleaning up the property, including tearing down a house that had a major fire.

“There were no time frames discussed on getting everything removed,” Weeks said. “Then I got a letter that gave me until July 6. That wasn’t feasible.”

She said the house has been torn down and stacked into piles of concrete, steel and wood. She asked if she could get a burn permit from the city for the wood pile.

Klammer said the city has been willing to allow people more time to clean up nuisances if they see the property owner is making progress.

Don Schuyler, a neighboring homeowner, said he and his wife live north of the Weeks property, and they did not have access to a portion of their property because Weeks put a garden on city property that had previously been his access point.

“The way we can get to that area is to come down Wilson Street, and they have a no trespassing sign posted,” Schuyler said. “The only other way to get in is through that city property, and they have equipment sitting there and now a garden.”

Schuyler said he just needed access some way to his property to maintain it.

“I am landlocked now that the street has been turned into a garden,” Schuyler said.

Klammer said the city is not going to referee a dispute between neighbors, but the city would work toward marking the boundary of the public right of way.

During her report, Schroedl said the city’s new garbage truck had been delivered, but there may be some issues with the frame. She said a representative of McQueen Equipment was coming to Ainsworth Thursday to go over any potential issues with the truck.

Schroedl said she applied for and was awarded $10,000 from the Brown County Visitors Committee to assist with a repair project at the Sellor’s Cabin Museum. She said the estimate for repair work was $18,000, and the city would pay for the remainder of the repair work that she hoped would be completed this fall.

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

* Burn ban issued in Keya Paha County

(Posted 12:45 p.m. July 13)

Springview Fire Chief Scott Hallock informed KBRB Wednesday he has implemented a burn ban for Keya Paha County due to the dry conditions and extreme heat in the forecast.

Until conditions improve, campfires, burn pits and all other open burning are not allowed in Keya Paha County until further notice.

Those who violate the burn ban could be either fined or be held responsible if a fire were to spread from an open burn and cause damage.

Hallock will inform KBRB when the ban is lifted should conditions improve.

Everyone in the area is asked to be mindful of the current dry conditions and the potential for fire to spread quickly.

* June bleak, but Care Center poised for July financial rebound

(Posted 10 a.m. July 12)

Though it absorbed a substantial financial loss during June, the Sandhills Care Center Board learned Monday the facility has taken some major strides back toward financial stability.

The care center lost more than $90,000 during June, as resident numbers declined and the facility spent $135,846 in agency nursing. However, Administrator Penny Jacobs said the care center has made some additional hires in its nursing department and will have likely increased its resident population by 50 percent in just one month.

Resident numbers dipped to 16 during June, which led to just $145,717 in revenue for the month with expenses of $237,579 for a net loss of $91,861. Jacobs told the board the July numbers will be much better, as the care center now has 21 residents and planned to admit three additional residents from Cherry County this week for a 50 percent resident increase in just one month since the Ainsworth City Council and Brown County Commissioners voted to increase their contributions in the short-term and put an issue on the ballot in November that, if approved by voters, would provide additional funding to the care center.

“The city and county support has led to more residents and more staff,” Jacobs said. “Our referral sources have opened back up. We have two residents coming from the assisted living at Valentine, and we have two coming from Rock County because they are full there.”

Board Chairman Phil Fuchs said the board knew funding would be short for June, but the facility should see a significant change in its July financial report.

“We are short this month, but we should improve from there,” Fuchs said. “We will still have some agency bills in July, but we won’t have many of those by August.”

Jacobs said, as of Monday, the nursing home has agency contracts for its director of nursing, assistant DON, one registered nurse and one CNA.

“When those current agency contracts are up, we will be fully staffed with our own nurses other than the DON,” Jacobs said. “We should not have any other agency costs by mid-August.”

Jacobs reported the care center received notice that it would qualify for an additional $99,804 in federal funds to assist nursing homes operated by government entities.

The special funding provides government-operated nursing home facilities with reimbursement of a portion of the funding the government entities put toward operations. With the city and county contributing $155,943 in qualifying expenditures, the care center will receive $99,804 in a special federal funding match.

Jacobs said she wasn’t sure when that funding would be received, but it would be a great help as the care center works to improve its long-term financial outlook.

Board member Shawn Fernau said, with the additional residents and the federal funding, the care center should be back above water in July.

Fuchs asked if anything had been decided by the Ainsworth City Council and Brown County Commissioners during a joint meeting the previous week. Fernau said there was nothing set in stone from that meeting.

Both the commissioners and the council will take action prior to Sept. 1 to establish a ballot question for voters. Though no official action was taken, the consensus from the two groups is that each ballot question would request $100,000 in funding per year for a four-year period.

The county levy to collect that amount would be between 1 and 2 cents per $100 in value, but a city levy would be closer to 10 cents on every $100 in value due to lower total property valuation inside city limits.

If approved, those funds would replace the $80,000 contribution the council and the commissioners have each been making over the past five years. Fuchs said, with $200,000 each year, it would only be increasing the current contribution by $40,000 because the city and the county would no longer each put in $80,000 from their general funds.

“That should be enough to meet our needs,” Fuchs said.

Fernau said the new promotion committee that was put together following June’s meeting has already met twice and is forming a plan to educate the public about the care center’s role in the community.

Jacobs reported there are currently 21 residents, with nine paying privately, two receiving Medicare assistance and 10 receiving Medicaid assistance. Of the three pending admissions this week, two would be paying privately and one would receive Medicare assistance.

“We are also working with a fourth family,” Jacobs said. “With the three admissions this week, we will be at 24 residents, and potentially could get to 25.”

Jacobs said, on average, the care center receives $296 per day from residents paying privately and $277 per day on average for residents receiving Medicaid assistance.

Board member Dr. Mel Campbell asked if the nursing home had adequate staffing for 25 residents. Jacobs said the facility could handle 25 residents with its current staffing, but if there were additional admissions more CNAs would likely be needed. She said there is another CNA class starting soon, and anyone interested in taking the month-long class can contact the care center for more information.

Jacobs said the facility could use help in its dietary department, as staff there are working a substantial amount of overtime, and additional CNAs would be needed in August when students head to school.

Board member Buddy Small said he knew of a few local families who moved a resident from the facility when there were concerns it would close. Now, with more stability, Small asked Jacobs if any of those families planned to bring their loved one back.

Jacobs said she had not heard from any of the families who moved a resident to another facility.

“It would be tough on the resident to move that much,” Jacobs said.

The board voted to transfer its remaining $101,000 in funding from its interlocal account to its operations account. Coupled with incoming revenue and $80,000 from Brown County for its 2022-23 fiscal year contribution, Fuchs said that would fund the $189,639 in transfers needed to cover current claims.

In addition to approving the funds transfer, the board appointed Fuchs as the board’s chairman for the next year, with Tom Jones appointed as the vice chair, Small the secretary and treasurer, and Travee Hobbs as the recording secretary.

The next meeting of the Sandhills Care Center Board of Directors is scheduled for 5 p.m. Aug. 8.

* School Board approves bus route with one change

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

The Ainsworth Community Schools Board of Education on Monday voted to remove one of the little-used stops on its daily bus route that also presented challenges for the bus driver.

Superintendent Dale Hafer said, while the bus routes would be similar to the prior year, he recommended no longer having the bus stop at the Moon Lake Avenue intersection with Highway 20.

“The driver can’t get the bus completely off the highway at that stop,” Hafer said. “We only had one student using the Moon Lake Avenue pickup, and that was somewhat infrequently.”

Hafer said several families use the Rauscher Avenue stop, and the bus driver is able to get completely off the highway to pick up and drop off those students.

“We just don’t want to do anything along the highway unless we can get completely off the road,” the superintendent said.

The bus will still make a stop in Johnstown, and another bus will pick up students from the Long Pine Palace as has been done in the past. The board approved the bus routes with the one recommended change.

In other business Monday, the board approved spending up to $3,000 on a logo for the school’s leased activities bus. Hafer presented the board with numerous options for wrapping the bus with the school’s name, mascot and school colors. Some options ranged from $5,500 to over $8,000 for completely wrapping the bus.

“It’s not a huge expenditure, but I wanted the board’s input so we were all on the same page,” Hafer said.

The board opted for a logo option that does not cover any of the bus’s windows and has both the school’s name, logo and colors on the sides only.

Board members Scott Erthum, Frank Beel and Jim Arens all indicated they believed $5,000 to $8,000 was excessive. Each indicated a desire to keep the wrap off the bus windows, but to include both the school’s name and the Bulldog mascot on the bus.

Hafer said the district had some money in its activities fund that it receives from its annual contract with Coca-Cola, and he suggested using those funds to add the logo and mascot to the activities bus instead of using any general fund dollars.

The board approved moving forward with the logo using the activities fund dollars available, with the total project cost not to exceed $3,000.

In other action items Monday, the board approved the student-parent and teacher handbooks as presented, and approved the first reading of updated policies from the Nebraska Association of School Boards.

Hafer said the student-parent handbook and the teacher handbook are available on the district’s web site. Hard copies would be made available to anyone who requested one.

Regarding the policy updates, the superintendent said the NASB recommended changes based on legislation passed by the Unicameral.

Hafer said one of the updates included language from LB 644 passed in the legislature this session. If a taxing entity increases its property tax asking by more than the 2.5 percent allowable growth rate, then it must hold a public hearing with any other taxing entities that raise property tax requests by more than the allowable growth rate and give the public a chance to ask questions about why taxes were going up.

“We are going to be in good shape so I don’t believe we would have any kind of increase that would require us to hold that hearing,” Hafer said.

Another of the updates include a new policy regarding seizure safety. While the district already has a plan in place and two nurses on staff trained to assist any student who has a seizure, Hafer said the legislature included in the bill passed this session a requirement that all staff members take a one-hour training session every other year related to assisting a student having a seizure.

During his report, Hafer said the elementary heating and air-conditioning project was on track to be completed by early August. He reported the crew is on site working on the elementary roof seam restoration.

“Matt Fischer took me on the roof and showed me the process,” Hafer said. “Matt is pleased with how the project is going.”

The superintendent said the contractor is confident with the five-year warranty the company is providing and believes it should last even longer.

Hafer also reported Walton Concrete is working on replacing the concrete on the south side of the school building and is on schedule to complete that project on time.

Hafer said the district still needed two paraprofessionals, and encouraged anyone interested in being a para to contact the district office.

Elementary Principal Ben Wright reported summer school is wrapped up, and students received excellent instruction as the groups were small enough to allow teachers to target areas of foundational instruction each student needed.

Wright reported kindergarten roundup was scheduled from 9:30 a.m. until noon Aug. 8. He reported 26 students are currently enrolled for kindergarten in the fall, but that number could change.

The district received a letter from the Nebraska Department of Education that the district had been granted accreditation for the 2022-23 school year as the district has operated in compliance of all regulations.

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

* NDOT provides Highway 20 project update

(Posted 7 a.m. July 11)

The Nebraska Department of Transportation provided an update on the Highway 20 construction project in Ainsworth. A&R Construction plans to spend this week placing concrete on the remaining south lane intersections, driveways and alley entrances.

The electrical contractor continues trenching wire and installing light pole bases, and the storm sewer contractor will continue forming and pouring concrete for south lane drainage structures this week.

People needing access to the Brown County Hospital from Highway 20 are asked to use Harrington Street.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

(Posted 6:30 a.m. July 11)

July 3

  • The Brown County Ambulance crew transported a patient from the Lutheran Church to the Brown County Hospital.
  • During a traffic stop on Hwy 7 a Colorado driver was issued a citation and released.
  • Responded to a welfare check; the individual was not to be found.
  • Responded to a loud music complaint on North Main Street. Individuals were contacted and asked to turn down their music.
  • Responded to a welfare check to local Ainsworth residence. Individual was found safe.
  • Responded to a report of fireworks at Hidden Paradise where it was banned. No fireworks were observed as being let off.

July 4

  • Responded to a report that the flags have blown down on Main Street. Flags were re-hung.
  • Received report of a black cow out on Hwy 7 South of Ainsworth. Owner was contacted.
  • Received report of a dog that wandered into the fireworks stand across from Red & White. Owner was contacted.
  • Responded to a report of a young girl hanging out of a vehicle window while it was traveling. Officers were not able to locate the vehicle described.
  • Responded to two pickups speeding through Long Pine. When officers arrived the individuals were no longer in Long Pine.
  • Responded to a report of individuals lighting off fireworks in the street on Main Street. Individuals were contacted and asked to move to the sidewalk or a side street.
  • Long Pine Rural Firemen responded to a small grass fire in the ditch near Camp Witness North of Long Pine.

July 5

  • Responded to a report of fireworks being let off after the midnight cutoff. When officers arrived the individuals were cleaning up.
  • Responded to a report of unknown individuals parked overnight on a side street in Long Pine. Individuals were contacted and no violations were reported.
  • Responded to a report of animal neglect on 3rd Street. Officer found animals in good health with food, water and shade.
  • Responded to a report of an individual dumping debris into the creek in Ainsworth. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Paged Ainsworth, Long Pine, Johnstown, & Raven/Calamus Firemen regarding a Severe Thunderstorm warning in the area.
  • Received a report of a large tree branch down on 2nd Street in Ainsworth. Ainsworth City Roads Dept was contacted and the limb removed.
  • Served a City ordinance violation on a local Ainsworth resident.
  • Rock County Sheriff’s Office provided mutual aid in an attempt to find a rural Brown County resident needing medical attention.  Individual was located in Rock County and transported to the Rock County Hospital.

July 6

  • Assisted in locating the owner of a lost dog being held in a local Ainsworth resident’s porch. Owner notified and the dog was retrieved.
  • Assisted a local Ainsworth resident with a dog in their doorway. Same owner as prior call. The 2nd dog was retrieved.
  • Received a report of the barricades and barrels being damaged at the east end of the Hwy 20 road construction project. If anyone has information please call our crime stopper line at (402) 382-3121. You will remain anonymous.
  • Received request for extra patrols around local Ainsworth residents home due to unwanted individuals suspected to be there.

July 7

  • Received a Medical Alert call for a local Ainsworth resident. The Brown County Ambulance Association responded and the patient was transported to Brown County Hospital.
  • Responded to a welfare check for an individual in Ainsworth. Individual was found to be fine.
  • Received a report of a driver either sleepy or needing medical assistance. Officer made contact with the individual and they did pull into a hotel for some rest.
  • Received a report of possible underage drinking at a local Ainsworth residence. This is an ongoing investigation.
  • Responded to a report of several dogs loose near Ainsworth Family Clinic. Owner was located.
  • Responded to a one vehicle accident without injury where the vehicle ran into the Dollar General building. Brakes were malfunctioning. Owner of the building was contacted.
  • Ainsworth Ambulance Association transported a patient from Cottonwood Villa to Brown County Hospital.
  • Received a request for an ambulance to a local Ainsworth home. Ainsworth Ambulance Association transported the individual to Brown County Hospital.

July 8

  • Responded to a request for a welfare check on a local Ainsworth resident. Assisted family members to find her and she was found to be fine.
  • Assisted a local Ainsworth resident reporting being harassed. Suspects were verbally warned to cease contact with the individual.
  • Responded to a report of several dogs loose on Woodward Street. Owners were with the dogs when officers arrived.
  • Responded to an underage driver in Ainsworth. Officers made contact and the subject. Subject was issued a warning for violation of school permit.
  • Responded to a report of two loose dogs on 3rd street. When officers arrived the dogs were gone.

July 9

  • Responded to a one vehicle accident with deer on South Hwy 7 near MM 13. Airbags deployed but no injuries reported. Vehicle did require towing.
  • Made contact with a local Ainsworth resident regarding a city ordinance violation.
  • Received a report of road hazard on the east end of the Hwy 20 road construction project. The NE Dept of Roads manager responded.
  • Received a report of an open fire in Long Pine. Long Pine Rural Fire Chief contacted.

Weekly Summary

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

   0 – Handgun Permits Applied For

  21 – Incident Reports Were Taken

   2 – Paper Services Were Served

137 – Phone Calls Were Received

   3 – 911 Emergency Calls Received

   4 – Titles Were Inspected

* Portion of Meadville Avenue closed Thursday

(Posted 6:45 a.m. July 7)

Brown County Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin reported a portion of Meadville Avenue is closed today (Thursday). Turpin said the closure from Fifth Street to Canal Road just north of Ainsworth is closed while emergency repairs are made to a culvert in the area.

Motorists can detour 1 mile east or west of Meadville Avenue to get past the area under repair. The remainder of Meadville Avenue remains open. Turpin will report to KBRB when the repairs have been completed and that portion of Meadville Avenue just north of Ainsworth reopens to traffic.

* Commissioners, council discuss care center levy

(Posted 7 a.m. July 6)

The Ainsworth City Council met in special session Tuesday during the regular meeting of the Brown County Commissioners as the groups continue to work on details of how to try and fund continued operations of the Sandhills Care Center.

With the city and the county jointly owning and operating the care center, discussion Tuesday centered on several potential budget scenarios provided by the care center and how much to request from voters in a potential property tax levy, if requesting a levy at all.

Though neither group took official action Tuesday, the majority of both boards appeared to indicate they were leaning toward asking voters for a total of $200,000 in property taxes each year for the next four years. Two separate levy questions would appear on the November General Election ballot, one for city of Ainsworth voters that would request enough levy to generate $100,000 annually and another for all voters in Brown County asking for enough levy to generate $100,000. While it would only take between 1 and 2 cents of additional levy to generate $100,000 in the county, the additional levy would be closer to 10 cents on $100 of property inside the city limits of Ainsworth to generate the same $100,000 in property tax.

Commissioner Denny Bauer said the commissioners and the city council did not have much time to visit with each other on the details of a levy proposal in June when the two entities met in special session with the Care Center Board.

Bauer said he requested and received several budget scenarios from the care center, from the worst-case scenario to the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario, which would include the care center operating with entirely agency nursing staff and an average of 17 residents, showed a potential shortfall of $1.46 million. The best-case scenario, which included the care center having entirely in-house nursing staff and an average population of 21 residents, showed the care center with a profit of $202,738 for the next fiscal year.

The groups agreed the actual numbers would likely fall somewhere in between those two scenarios, with an optimistic scenario showing an in-house nursing staff with the exception of the director of nursing position and an average of 21 residents. That scenario showed a loss for the upcoming year of $91,159. A more pessimistic scenario included half in-house and half agency nursing with an average of 19 residents. That scenario would result in a projected loss of $917,806.

Bauer said the additional $250,000 the two entities agreed to provide to the care center would help fund operations through the November election. If the bond measures are approved by voters, Bauer said the two entities would have to figure out how to fund the nursing home for 2023 until bond funds would begin to be collected the following year.

“If we have a $900,000 shortfall, it would take a levy of 8 to 10 cents across the county just to get us to the time when the bond money is collected,” Bauer said.

City Councilman Brad Fiala said there was no way the council would be able to help float those kinds of dollars if the care center was to need $900,000 to operate.

City Councilman Shawn Fernau, who serves on the Care Center Board, said the nursing home filled three nursing positions within three days of the June special meeting.

City Councilman Vance Heyer said a more realistic figure of around $200,000 in additional funding would be similar to how the care center has performed in the past.

“We both have other services we need to be able to provide,” Heyer said. “Do we keep floating the care center’s operations through our budgets or create a separate entity? It would take us years to fund 50 percent if they keep losing money like they have been recently. We don’t have the money to help with a full year of funding if conditions don’t improve.”

Fiala said the city would likely have to look at issuing a bond to cover the operating costs if that scenario played out. City Administrator Lisa Schroedl said there may be issues with the city even trying to use bond funding to help float operations for a year since it is not a capital project and the city only owns 50 percent of the care center.

“They are trying to figure out if the city would even be eligible to issue bonds,” Schroedl said. “If the bond counsel says the city cannot bond it, we are out. There is no way we could fund those kind of losses.”

Heyer said he didn’t see any way the city would be able to cover the facility for a year if the bond passes but operations resulted in a loss of $900,000.

“Hopefully, the added staff helps,” Heyer said.

Mayor Joel Klammer said the volatility in the nursing home business makes it difficult to budget and make decisions.

“May’s loss was $90,000 over the projection we were given in April,” Klammer said. “When we are the ones who have to come up with the money, it makes it very difficult.”

Commissioner Reagan Wiebelhaus agreed that funding the facility for a full year if bond issues were to be approved by voters was what concerned him.

If approved by voters in November’s General Election, the bond would not be added until the 2023 tax year. Property owners do not have to pay 2023 taxes until 2024, when half of those taxes come due in May and the other half in September.

“The best-case scenario would be about a loss of $150,000 continually,” Wiebelhaus said. “That’s where it has been. How much are the city and county willing to float if the bond passes?”

Wiebelhaus said he didn’t think the facility would need $900,000, and he believed it should be left up to voters to decide.

Bauer said he would be willing to continue providing some funding without asking voters to approve a property tax levy if the facility showed it could make improvements and show it was viable financially.

“We could see how they do between now and December,” Bauer said. “If they improve, we could each fund another $80,000 like we have been and not go through the headache of putting it on the ballot. That would give them the opportunity to show they can make it work.”

Wiebelhaus said the big question was how much were taxpayers willing to spend to keep the facility open. If it cost what it had historically cost each entity for the care center to operate, the city and county could probably afford it.

“Can we afford it if it loses more than $200,000?” Wiebelhaus asked.

Fernau said he believes the care center’s financial situation is going to improve. He welcomed the opportunity for the care center to prove it can work.

Fiala said the city could probably continue to find a way to come up with $80,000, though other departments may suffer.

Heyer said he still believed the voters should decide on the future of the care center instead of the two entities just finding ways to fund operations through their general levies.

“It doesn’t seem like they are going to be profitable,” Heyer said. “They are likely going to keep losing around $200,000 per year. Personally, I would vote for it if they could keep the losses in the $200,000 range. It is a different story if they are going to need $1 million. If their numbers turn around before the election, that should help their case with the voters.”

Audience member Don Fling asked the groups how much burden they were willing to place on real estate for something that should be a private business.

“Agencies aren’t going away,” Fling said. “Continued uncertainty will cause people not to come here. I would hate to see it go on and be supported by tax money. The city has been stealing from other areas of its budget to make it work now, mainly from the streets.

“We would all like to have a nice nursing home in the community, but every time we look at real property to tax. The city and the county have already put in a lot of money, and it looks like it is just going to keep going on and on. I think this is putting good money after bad.”

Wiebelhaus said, though he was initially against having the county and the city reopen the nursing home, he was not looking at it as a money-making endeavor.

“It is now a service we are providing,” Wiebelhaus said. “Now the question is what is it worth to us to continue to provide that service.”

Audience member Jeep Cozad said both the city and the county have already put in what they initially agreed upon.

“I think you have done what you agreed to do and it didn’t work,” Cozad said.

Lynn Cozad said a lot of people in the agricultural industry would not be able to afford an additional levy on their property.

“I don’t want it to close, but where do we draw the line,” she said. “It is not the taxpayers’ responsibility to fund every business that fails.”

Klammer said most of the services provided by the city and the county serve a large portion of the public.

“With this, we are just talking about a handful of people,” the mayor said.

Klammer said he believed the groups had some more information to work off of now than they did during the April and June special meetings.

“I am going to recommend the city study this and be ready to take action next week,” Klammer said. “I think we are looking at needing around $200,000.”

Bauer suggested, with the additional funding the two entities have already provided to the care center, to wait until December and see if the outlook has improved.

Heyer said he felt the decision needed to be made by voters this fall.

“If we wait until December, we just end up nickel and diming other city and county services,” Heyer said. “This gives the voters a say on this specific item. I think we have a duty to let the voters decide.”

Heyer said the city and the county both have other obligations they need to provide with their general operations budgets, and a nursing home is not one of those continuing obligations.

“That is why I think it should be voted on, and then become a separate entity,” Heyer said. “If the people decide they want to keep it, fine.”

Councilman Schyler Schenk said, without an election, he believed the two entities would just be right back in the same situation in January.

“I think a change in management may also be needed,” Schenk said.

Fernau said he believed what is going to be the deciding factor for voters is what happens with the care center between now and the election.

“If the numbers improve, I think the people will vote to support it,” Fernau said. “If things don’t improve before then, people won’t vote for it.”

Fling urged the commissioners and the council not to go to a vote of the people.

“I think it should be the council and the commissioners making the decision,” Fling said. “I don’t think we should obligate the taxpayers any more. The commissioners should recognize that funding a nursing home is not a part of the county’s responsibilities.”

Wiebelhaus said, in going to a vote of the people, transparency was the key.

“The information provided to the public needs to be accurate,” Wiebelhaus said.

Neither group took action Tuesday, and will address potential language for a ballot question at a future meeting. The ballot language must be approved by both entities prior to Sept. 1.

The council adjourned its special session, and the commissioners addressed other items on Tuesday’s agenda.

The commissioners approved a supplemental engineering services agreement with Miller & Associates for the Sand Draw Creek bridge project.

Highway Superintendent Kenny Turpin reported preliminary work on the project has started.

He said the roads department has been hauling gravel to areas that need it, and hauled clay to several roads south of Long Pine.

“We are going to work on Canal Road this week,” Turpin said. He said the roads department plans to place millings and armor coating on that stretch of road just north of Ainsworth, turning it into a paved stretch.

“That is part of our one- and six-year plan,” Turpin said.

The highway superintendent said the department resurfaced a portion of the Meadville Avenue detour route.

“That should help quite a bit,” he said.

He said the roads department had several grading projects in the Johnstown area it planned to start on.

Turpin reported a 1982 Caterpillar motor grader the county declared as surplus sold for $38,000 on Big Iron, with the county receiving $34,000. Turpin said he was pleased with the sale, as he was hoping to maybe get $25,000 out of the surplus motor grader. He said a 2006 Freightliner semi the county declared as surplus sold for $14,465 after commission.

The commissioners approved a subdivision for a portion of Section 11, Township 27, Range 22 approximately 15 miles south of Ainsworth near Paradise Valley Road that cleaned up a 7-acre parcel.

The board appointed Scott Erthum and Kurt Starkey to the Brown County Safety Committee, bringing the number of safety committee members to six.

The commissioners approved a $250,000 transfer from its general fund to the highway fund, and a $3,000 transfer from the general fund to the reappraisal fund.

In a final item, the commissioners acknowledged the annual county audit report as prepared.

The next meeting of the Brown County Commissioners is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. July 19.

* Ricketts appoints members to Niobrara Council

(Posted 6 a.m. July 6)

Governor Pete Ricketts announced recent appointments he has made to fill Nebraska’s boards and commissions.

Among the appointments are several to the Niobrara Council. They include Jason Appelt of Ainsworth, Lana Arrowsmith and Les Hall of Bassett, Andrew Steinhauser of Springview, and Mary Mercure, Richard Mercure and Dallas Dodson all of Valentine.

The appointed members of the council, along with members appointed by the counties included in the Niobrara National Scenic River footprint, make decisions on issues within the scenic river corridor.

* Area libraries receive grants from state commission

(Posted 2:30 p.m. July 5)

The Nebraska Library Commission recently awarded Library Improvement Grants for 2022 totaling $332,471 to 74 Nebraska public libraries.

The Ainsworth Public Library received a $1,428 grant to purchase Makerspace equipment and supplied. The Rock County Library at Bassett picked up a $1,472 grant, also for Makerspace equipment and supplies.

The Atkinson Public Library was awarded a $4,858 grant for public access and circulation desk computers, barcode scanners and receipt printers, and the Valentine Public Library picked up a $3,400 grant to purchase a computer, color printer/copier/scanner.

The competitive grants were made available by the Nebraska Library Commission with funding provided from the American Rescue Plan Act, the federal stimulus bill passed by Congress, as administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The Nebraska Library Commission has received a one-time award of $2.42 million. A portion of that funding was allocated for the Library Improvement Grants.

The Library Improvement Grants help to facilitate growth and development of library programs and services in Nebraska, by supplementing local funding with federal funds designated for eligible purposes.

In order to be funded, projects had to meet one or more LSTA purposes, which include:

* Facilitate access to resources for the purpose of cultivating an educated and informed citizenry;

* Encourage resource sharing among libraries for the purpose of achieving economical and efficient delivery of library services to the public;

* Promote literacy, education, and lifelong learning and to enhance and expand the services and resources provided by libraries, including those services and resources relating to workforce development, 21st century skills, and digital literacy skills;

* Ensure the preservation of knowledge and library collections in all formats and to enable libraries to serve their communities during disasters;

* Promote library services that provide users with access to information through national, state, local, regional, and international collaborations and networks.

* Brown County Commissioners Tuesday agenda

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

5:15   Roll Call

Kenneth Turpin – Road Department Update

Review Preliminary Engineering Services Supplemental Agreement No. 2 between Brown County & Miller & Associates Inc. – Turpin

Acknowledge Brown County Audit prepared by Ritterbush & Piotrowski LLP – Hobbs

5:30     Approval of Subdivision – Bowen – Priest, part of the NW1/4 of Section 11, Township 27, Range 22 lying North and East of the County Road.- Gurnsey

Meet with City Council – Small

Appointment of New Committee members to the Brown County Safety Committee – Scott Erthum & Kurt Starkey – Booth

Website update – Hobbs    

Transfer $250,000 from Miscellaneous General in General Fund to County Highway Fund – Hardy

Transfer $3000 from Miscellaneous General in General Fund to Reappraisal Fund – Hardy

* Intersection work continues on Highway 20 project

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

The Nebraska Department of Transportation provided an update on the Highway 20 construction project in Ainsworth.

A&R Construction plans to close both the Richardson Drive and Ash Street intersections this week and is continuing to pour concrete on intersections and private driveways on the south side of the project.

The electrical contractor is trenching wire and installing light pole bases.

When Richardson Drive closes, Harrington Street will open to traffic, and that route is to be used for access to the Brown County Hospital.

* Brown County Sheriff’s Department weekly summary

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

June 26

  • During a traffic stop in Ainsworth, near the intersection of Walnut & 4th St, a driver from Virginia was issued a speeding citation for doing 61 mph in a 35 mph zone.
  • The Ainsworth Fire Department conducted a house fire training in Ainsworth, along 4th St, near Roadway Inn.

June 27

  • Provided emergency protective custody for a juvenile in rural Brown County and transferred them to a mental health facility.
  • The Brown County Ambulance transferred a patient from the Brown County Hospital to Grand Island, NE.
  • The Sheriff’s Office and Brown Co Ambulance responded to a 911 call for a mental health crisis. The individual did not require transport to a medical facility at this time.

June 28

  • Received a report of vandalism that occurred to a car on 4th St in Ainsworth.
  • Provided a civil standby in Ainsworth for an individual gathering personal property from a residence.

June 29

  • Deputy Calder and K9 Dutch along with Deputy Stang assisted Holt County Sheriff’s office in serving a search warrant. Multiple illegal substances were discovered and two arrests were made from the search warrant.
  • Received a report of possible vandalism that occurred at a construction site in Long Pine.
  • The Brown County Ambulance were paged after receiving a 911 call from an Ainsworth business. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital.
  • The Ainsworth Fire Department was paged for mutual aid assistance to Keya Paha county for a grass fire, South of the Cub Creek Recreation area.
  • Issued a city ordinance violation warning on 1st St in Ainsworth for removal of garbage or debris.

June 30

  • Responded to a two vehicle collision accident near Meadville Ave and 887th Rd intersection. The Ainsworth Ambulance and Fire Department were also paged.  One driver was transported to the Brown County Hospital, and their vehicle was considered totaled.  The 2nd Driver had no reported injuries, and damages to that vehicle were minimal.
  • Issued city ordinance violation warnings for two Ash St residences in Ainsworth for removal of garbage and debris.
  • The Brown County Ambulance responded to a 911 call at a rural Brown County home. One individual was transported to the Brown County Hospital.

July 1

  • Responded to a domestic dispute near 4th St in Ainsworth. Both parties were separated and connected with Bright Horizons for further assistance.
  • Ainsworth Fire Department responded to a bale fire near Cemetery Rd, South of Ainsworth.

July 2

  • Received a report of fireworks igniting outside of the approved time period in Long Pine.
  • The Brown County Ambulance were paged for a lift assist in Ainsworth. No transfer was needed.
  • Responded to a missing juvenile near the intersection of 433rd Ave and 882nd Rd. The Ainsworth Fire Department was also paged for assistance in locating the juvenile.  The child was found and the Brown County Ambulance transported the juvenile to the Brown County Hospital.
  • Responded to a verbal disturbance on 4th St in Ainsworth.

Weekly Summary
0– Burn Permit Issued (by all Brown Co Fire Depts)
2– Handgun Permits Applied For
16– Incident Reports Were Taken
2– Paper Services Were Served
139– Phone Calls Were Received
9– 911 Emergency Calls Received
2– Titles Were Inspected

Monthly Summary
2– Accidents                             
3– Arrests
78– Calls for Service
8– Citations were issued
13– Verbal & Written Warnings issued
2– Defect Cards issued
622– Phone calls were received
52– 911 emergency calls received
19– Titles inspected
8– Handgun permits issued
21– Paper Service served

* Thursday accident north of Ainsworth injures driver

(Posted 2:30 p.m. July 1)

An Ainsworth man was injured Thursday during a two-vehicle accident north of Ainsworth.

According to the Brown County Sheriff’s Department, at 2:11 p.m. Thursday, a collision occurred at the intersection of Meadville Avenue and Road 881 between a southbound 2008 Ford Edge, driven by Jesse Marshall, 26, of Ainsworth, and a westbound 2018 Peterbilt truck, driven by Adan Garcia Guzman, 56, of Ainsworth.

Marshall was transported by the Brown County Ambulance Association to the Brown County Hospital for treatment of injuries suffered during the accident.

The Ford was considered a total loss. Damage to the Peterbilt was estimated at $1,500.

The Ainsworth Volunteer Fire Department responded to the scene in addition to the sheriff’s department and the ambulance association.

 

 

 

 

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