Category Archives: Regional News

Just a few days left to vote for Team Jack founder in NASCAR contest

ATKINSON — There’s only a few days left to vote for Andy Hoffman, the co-founder of the Team Jack Foundation, to win the NASCAR Foundation’s Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.

Online votes will determine the winner from among four national finalists. Voting ends at 4 p.m. Monday. Go to NASCAR.com/Award to vote.

The award honors a volunteer who embodies the ideals of charity and community that Betty Jane France, founder of The NASCAR Foundation, championed throughout her life. France died last month.

Each finalist will receive a minimum $25,000 donation to a children’s charity. The winner will receive a $100,000 donation. Each finalist also receives a trip to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and a trip to The NASCAR Foundation’s Honors Gala in New York City, where the 2016 award winner will be announced.

The Team Jack Foundation works to raise money and pediatric brain cancer research.

“I am humbled and grateful for our efforts with the Team Jack Foundation to receive this recognition,” said Hoffman, of Atkinson, Nebraska. “This nomination helps the Team Jack Foundation make this disease a national priority, which is our No. 1 goal.”

Hoffman and his wife, Brianna, have led efforts in establishing the Team Jack Foundation and have helped raise over $3 million for pediatric brain cancer research. The Hoffmans’ son, Jack, has been battling pediatric brain cancer for several years.

Andy Hoffman’s “passion for fighting pediatric brain cancer is unprecedented. From investing personal resources to volunteering countless hours each year, Hoffman is helping lead a nation in the fight against the number one cancer cause of death in children,” a NASCAR Foundation spokesman said.

Recently, Hoffman successfully lobbied for a $3 million brain tumor program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center that was matched by the State of Nebraska. Today, the Team Jack Foundation has three staff members, an eight-person board of directors and a scientific advisory board.

“When our son was diagnosed with brain cancer and we found out that the treatments were over 30 years old, we knew we had to do something, not just for our son, but for all children,” Hoffman said. “This donation to the Team Jack Foundation will be a game changer. It will give these children hope. It may be the difference in funding a new clinical trial or not.”

Nebraska State Patrol will join agencies from five other states to crack down on speeding drivers

Motorists enjoying the first colors of fall are advised to leave their lead foot at home this weekend.

The Nebraska State Patrol will join participating law enforcement agencies from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma in a Regional Speed Enforcement Campaign. Troopers will be on the lookout for motorists operating above the speed limit on Saturday and Sunday.

“We are excited to partner with our fellow law enforcement agencies to draw attention to the need for voluntary compliance as we work to reduce serious injury and fatality crashes,” said Col. Brad Rice, superintendent of the Nebraska State Patrol. “Increasing visibility in a six state area for a concentrated period of time will help to raise awareness and encourage motorists to obey all traffic safety laws.”

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 27 percent of crash fatalities in 2015 were related to a driver exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for conditions. The Nebraska Department of Roads said that more than one out of every 20 Nebraskans were convicted of speeding on state roads in 2015.

The State Patrol will conduct high-visibility patrols on high-traffic corridors to include Interstate 80, state highways and county roads during the enforcement effort.

Inside Beatrice: Finance Director

BEATRICE – The City of Beatrice has a budget. The community members of Beatrice fund that budget. But the money that accumulates comes from more than just paying taxes at the courthouse and goes to more than just paychecks of city employees.

Finance Director for the City of Beatrice Linda Koch says her job is more than just budgeting on fund.

“Well, I take care of all of the financial statements, take care of the budget process for all of the city funds. We have the Board of Public Works funds, which are electric, water, and WPC. Then all of the city general funds, which entail the police and fire protection, the parks, the library. Our street fund is separate and then all of our miscellaneous funds like when we bring in Keno revenue and the economic development fund and any grant funds and our capital improvement funds. So we do have a lot of different fund to keep track of the city finances and some of them are restricted and have to be kept track of separate.”

Each of the funds come from different areas, along with the taxes that are paid at the courthouse, the city also gets money from the water park, motor vehicle tax, Keno play, and more.

“When you go shop in Beatrice and you pay sales tax the state gets 5.5%, the city gets 1.5%. The retailer pays the 7% to the state and then the state remits back to the city, once a month, our share of that, so 1.5%.”

Money also comes from simply getting gas.

“The street fund receives money from the state which is called Highway Allocation Dollars and that money comes from the gas tax. When you pay at the pump, no matter where at, that is divvied up, the state has a formula for how much of that we get back and that has to go to the improvements of our streets and running of the street fund.

All of these funds help to keep rates even for members of the community. This happens because of the two, three, and five-year budget plans the city has. Koch says she likes the capital improvement plans most.

“I like the capital improvement plan over five-years so that way all of our funds we don’t, like I said, have spikes, in we need a lot of money this year and don’t need a lot of money next year. We try to plan it out so we are spending about the same amount every year in order to provide for equipment. You know, we have a fire truck and that’s a pretty expensive cost. Some stuff we will bond out over so many years so we can kind of keep that funding source for those projects level throughout the five-years.”

When large purchases arise, such as the purchase of a new fire truck, the city bonds money in order to help keep rates steady.

“The Legislature allows communities to levy $.05 for public safety. And we will bond out money every three to four years for those big purchases for public safety equipment. We can use that $.05 levy to repay those bonds on that equipment. So we will buy police cars, the firetrucks, the ambulances and that type of thing that are major purchases. That one year you need $700,000 well you can spread that out over three to four years then you repay the bonds.”

For large purchases that are not planned Koch says the city has to amend the budget to modify for those changes.

“If we have any changes, something came up, such as the year we had the lightning strike and the flood. Then of course we had expenses that were unanticipated and over our budget amount so we have to amend our budget before the end of the year to account for those expenditures.”

And when something must be fixed right away the city has a 30% reserve fund in case of emergencies.

“That’s why we have cash reserves. It’s very important that the city has at least three months cash reserves or about 30%, that’s where we are sitting right now if you take all of our funds together for things like that, that might come up like the lightning strike or the flood. Yes, we do get reimbursement once in a while from the insurance company or from FEMA for the flood. That money doesn’t come back in right away and of course we have to repair the electric system, we have to repair the 911 center right away, so we have to order those things and pay for it. So it is important the we have cash reserves on hand. To account for those unanticipated expenditures that may happen when we have to amend our budget.”

Koch says she just wants people to come to her for questions instead of listening to people that may not have all the information.

“Like I said, I just encourage the citizens, both the budget book that is approved by the council and our financial report are on the city’s website. If you ever have any questions regarding the city’s finances or budget I had a gentleman stop in the other day and ask about a grant we received for the trails. You know, I’m more than happy to talk with people and explain where those funding sources are coming from, getting grant money and to pay for something. I’d rather the citizens understand where their money is going than listen to the coffee shop talk of what they think may be happening.”

When community members spend money in their community chances are the money is going back to the community.

Driver and Cass County sheriff’s deputy involved in fatal confrontation are identified

A 23-year-old Louisville man was killed Wednesday night when a Cass County sheriff’s deputy shot him during a confrontation, officials said Thursday.

Just after 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, the deputy, 25-year-old Tyler Reiff, stopped a 1992 Buick Century near First and Cherry Streets in Louisville. The car matched the description of a vehicle that had been reported as being driven recklessly in the area, the Nebraska State Patrol said in a press release.

After initially stopping, the driver, Austin M. Baier, drove off a short distance, the patrol said. After stopping a second time, Baier got out of the car and confronted the deputy, officials said. An altercation ensued, officials said, and Reiff fired his service weapon, fatally wounding Baier.

Reiff, a four-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Office, and medical personnel attempted life-saving measures, but were unsuccessful. Baier was pronounced dead at the scene.

Reiff was not injured.

Reiff has been placed on administrative leave, the State Patrol said.

An autopsy will be conducted later today, the patrol said.

Under state law, a grand jury will be convened to investigate the shooting.

The site of the shooting is near Louisville High School’s football field.

Thursday afternoon, Baier’s former co-workers at Louisville’s Main Street Cafe were in disbelief. They said Baier was kind and soft-spoken and would do anything for anyone.

Meiah Yale-Barton, a cook at the cafe, went to school with Baier’s sister at Weeping Water High School. She said Baier also went to the school and ran cross country and track.

“He was a good kid,” Yale-Barton said. “He cared about the things he should’ve cared about.”

Yale-Barton and others said Baier was small in stature.

Baier was a nice kid but struggled with mental illness, which made his life difficult, they said.

Antoine Walker, 45, a cook at Casey’s General Store in Springfield, said the overnight staff at the Casey’s was so upset over his death that he came in early as a relief worker.

Walker said Baier also was a cook at the Casey’s; he had worked there about five months, making pizza and sandwiches at the convenience store.

Baier was a quiet guy who would bring in food to work to share with his co-workers, Walker said. He said he never would have thought Baier would be killed in a confrontation with law enforcement.

“I thought he was an awesome kid,” Walker said. “We’re all kind of hurting. It’s sad.”

“He was just free-spirited,” Walker said. “We’re all just distraught … It’s hard to believe in a small place like this.”

Wind Farm Addition On Agenda For Saline County Commissioners

SALINE – The Saline County Planning Board approved the addition of another wind farm eight miles west of Wilbur. The farm is planned to be 15 by 8 miles in size and already has over 100 landowners with signed contracts for the use of their land. Each mile section houses around four turbines for a combined total of 95 turbines on the land.

This wind project is the second of two potential areas, and the first named Milligan 3, has already been approved. Milligan 3 is planned to have 37 turbines in a much smaller area further west on Highway 15.

The current wind farm was originally two projects, Milligan 1 and Milligan 2, but has since been combined to one project known as Milligan 1. It will run both east and west of Highway 15 and north and south of Highway 41.

The projects are being contracted out to a company by the name of Aksamit and is based out of Texas. The energy collected by turbines will go all over the middle part of the country with a large percentage going south in the summer and north in the winter. Aksamit covers areas from Texas up to Minnesota.

The Milligan 1 Project was approved by the Saline County Planning Board but will be on the agenda of the County Commissioners meeting October 4th.

Charges Filed in Norfolk Hotel Robbery

NORFOLK – Norfolk police have identified the man they say was responsible for robbing the Norfolk Hampton Inn back in January.

Norfolk Police Capt. Michael Bauer identified 28-year old Justin Kinnear as the man authorities believe was responsible for the armed robbery. Bauer says investigation following the robbery identified Kinnear as the suspect.

He was located in a Louisiana jail, where DNA provided by authorities there matched a DNA sample taken from clothing recovered at the scene.

Police submitted an arrest warrant for Kinnear on Monday, charging him with robbery and two counts of terroristic threats. He’s currently being held in the Lancaster County Corrections Center.

Governor to Announce Highway Priorities on Thursday

LINCOLN – Major upgrades to Nebraska’s infrastructure are on the way.

The office of Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Wednesday that the governor will be unveiling new road and infrastructure priorities in a news conference in Lincoln Thursday morning. The projects announced will be paid for by the recently passed Build Nebraska Act and Transportation Innovation Act.

Following his announcement, Gov. Ricketts will be touring the state with former Gov. Kay Orr, State senators Lydia Braasch and Jim Smith and U.S. Senator Deb Fischer to deliver comments about the announcement. Among those stops will be the Nielsen Center in West Point Thursday afternoon.

The governor’s office has not yet said what projects will be announced, however the Norfolk-based group 4 Lanes 4 Nebraska has been among the most vocal proponents for an expanded four-lane Highway 275 between Norfolk and Omaha.

Drivers urged to be on high alert for deer

This is the time of year when autos and animals — especially deer — collide.

Farmers Insurance and State Farm Mutual Insurance warn drivers to be especially alert, adding tips on how to avoid a collision and what to do if it happens.

Some animals are migrating and others are in the mating season through December, both factors putting more animals on the road, Farmers said.

One-third of Farmers’ claims from animal collisions come between September and November. So far this year such claims are running 2 percent ahead of 2015.

“The onset of fall means drivers need to be on high alert for animals on and around the road,” said Paul Quinn, head of claims customer experience for Farmers, “especially larger animals like deer and elk that can total a vehicle if struck at a high speed.”

State Farm said it is estimated there were more than 10,500 deer-vehicle collisions in Nebraska and 32,550 in Iowa between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016.

Among all states, West Virginia ranks No. 1, with chances of a collision, at 1 in 41, and Hawaii last, with the chance at 1 in nearly 19,000.

Tips for avoiding an animal collision:

>> Avoid distractions such as cellphones and GPS devices.

>> Be especially careful or avoid driving in known crossing areas at dawn and dusk, when animals are most active and light is limited.

>> Use the middle lane of a multilane highway and slow down to give yourself more time to react.

>> Use a seat belt. In fatal animal crashes, 60 percent of the people killed were not using a seat belt.

>> Don’t swerve if an animal is headed into your path. Many crashes occur when a driver turns and hits other vehicles or loses control.

> Be aware that other vehicles may hit animals, causing chain reactions.

>> Don’t rely on deer whistles or reflectors.

If you hit an animal:

>> Pull over safely and call law enforcement. Later, check with the State Department of Motor Vehicles to see if you have met reporting requirements for an animal collision.

>> Stay away from an injured animal.

>> Document the scene with photographs and write down witnesses’ contact information.

>> Make sure your vehicle is safe before trying to drive it.

Inside Beatrice: City Engineer

BEATRICE – “If you don’t like the weather wait 15 minutes, it will change.” This phrase is one most Nebraskans know well. The ever changing weather brings both sunshine and rain along with hail, snow, mist, and humidity.

In Beatrice, when it storms the community knows which areas begin to flood and the city knows what happens to that water. City Engineer James Burroughs says some changes have been made lately to what happens to the flooded areas and excess rain water.

“Storm water is something that has been changing a lot of the course of, I’d say, the last 10-15 years. It used to be as long as you got the surface water off your property into somewhere else that was fine just get it out. Then we got into where we were saying ‘hey you can’t take storm water and just shove it onto someone else’s property, you have to keep it on your property or onto the streets and into the storm sewer system’. Now they are getting a little bit more stringent and saying ‘hey you can’t create more storm water runoff than what was originally there’. So whatever storm water came off your property you needed to detain it or find some other avenue for that storm water to go versus just shoving at all down the storm sewer system. And we are seeing changes even now where they are wanting us to make the water more clean. So when you are talking about projects and having to put those parameters on those projects it’s getting more and more expensive for people to do development and meet these storm water conditions so it’s getting tougher and tougher on everybody.”

These changes also include more environmentally friendly ways of filtering the water before it ends up back in the rivers.

“The original storm sewer systems I’d say no, the only filter system you had was yards, things of that nature, but that’s what the government is pushing towards is ‘hey let’s have all of this storm water go into a collection basin.’ If you can see at the hospital, there is a large storm water detention basin there. Basically, the idea is ‘hey let’s get all of the storm water to go into these detention basins, soak back into the ground to recharge our ground water system.’ And that ground also works as a filter system versus the old idea of ‘hey let’s get it onto the ditches, let’s get it into the streets as quick as possible, get it down into the storm sewer pipes as soon as possible and get it down the river and have it go downstream and we don’t have to worry about it.’”

He says that most people don’t realize that the storm sewer inlets are designed to handle a two or a five-year storm event. This means that while they are designed to handle most of the rain and storms Beatrice gets, if a storm is bad enough and it rains heavily for an extended amount of time the inlets can’t keep up.

Burroughs says the city tries to keep the central flood areas as parks so there is minimal damage to houses.

“You know, the City of Beatrice has been pretty proactive in terms of our flood plains. A lot of our parks are in the flood plain. So when we get large rain events and water comes out of its banks and it floods in those parks. But if you really look at it we would rather have it flood in the parks than in people’s homes. So those are areas we try to keep as green areas or park areas that have the least amount of impact or damage that people have to pay for to bring back up when the flood waters recede so we try to keep homes out of the flood plain. We had a buy-out program where we had some homes that were continually being flooded out and having issues so we tried to, through a program the government created, buy those properties out and get them out of the flood plain. That’s some of the measures the City of Beatrice has been trying to do to minimize flood damage.”

If someone wants to build near a flood plain in an area called the fringe they can but are required to have flood insurance which according to Burroughs is increasing in price.

“Well there is flood insurance and you know, that’s one of the items my office handles as well, is I’m the flood plain administrator, being the City Administrator. So yes there are homes, there are two components to the flood plain. There’s the flood plain, or the fringe area, which you are allowed to build in. But you have to meet some very stringent guidelines if you’re going to build in that area. Then there is the flood way and that’s a central channel where the flood water goes and that you cannot build in. In the flood fringe, if they do build, the problem with that is you’re going to have to have flood insurance and what a lot of people are seeing is that flood insurance is getting very very expensive. We have a lot of homeowners coming to us saying ‘am I in the flood plain and if the answer is yes, how do I get out of the flood plain?’ Well there’s not really a way you can get out, I mean, there’s some minor things you can do but in essence you’re going to be paying flood insurance. So we try to keep people out of those flood plains as much as possible or if they are in them, they build their house accordingly to where it minimizes the amount of damage that would happen if a flood were to happen. We try to help there as much as we can.”

As City Engineer, Burroughs is a part of helping different areas complete projects. These projects are mainly decided by the city as what is most important. A project that has been in the works for a few years because of Federal money is the flooding that occurs by the Gage County Museum and along 2nd Street.

Burroughs says he thinks the community would be surprised at the broad range of projects he helps with.

“I think just the broad range of tasks we do do in this office. Like I said we administer the flood plain, we help the water department with their projects, we help design the sanitary sewer projects and even the waste water treatment plant, we help with projects down there. The street department, we work hand in hand with the street department on projects they have going on and improvements we have going on each year and we try to do so much curb and gutter replacement, so much street replacement. And there’s only so any dollars, you know, we’d like to fix everything. I think that’s one thing that is a task we have to tackle every year that’s hard is how can we get the most projects done with the amount of dollars we have and that’s kind of new to me, you know, trying to fit everything in. And of course there’s a lot of roads that need replaced if you drive around. We have a lot of streets that are cracked, broken, curb that’s broken or settled, we’d like to fix them all but there’s only so many dollars so we like to do the best we can with the dollars we have and we try to hit the high traffic areas first because that’s where the most people would see the impact of those projects. I would say just the broad range; we even have our hands with the building inspection department. When you have a new development that comes into town we review those plans set for the utilities, the streets, the planning process, we are involved in all of that. Every day brings a new challenge. We always have something new and interesting that we are working on, so I like that part of the job.”

When it goes from a nice sunny day to storming with flooding, there is a plan for all that water with as little damage as possible.

Nebraska State Patrol Urges Caution During Harvest Season

LINCOLN – The Nebraska State Patrol wants motorists in Nebraska to be extra careful during the 2016 harvest season.

As harvest season is in full swing, that also means more tractors, combines, grain carts and other ag equipment will be on Nebraska roads. These vehicles typically travel at slower speeds with the drivers oftentimes having less visibility than average motorists.

These agricultural implements should have Slow Moving Vehicle warning triangles displayed, as well as flashing their caution lights. They are also allowed to drive on the shoulder of the roadway.

Colonel Brad Rice of the Nebraska State Patrol says farm vehicles are not the only thing to watch out for during the harvest season.

“Motorists should also be aware of the possibility of wildlife moving around due to the increased activity in the fields.”

The NSP also encourages drivers of ag equipment to buckle up if their vehicle allows it.