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HPS hears annual audit

The Hastings Public Schools Board of Education heard a report from an auditing firm Monday about how the district can improve financial procedures.

All board members were present.

Kyle Overturf, a certified public accountant with AMGL CPAs and Advisors in Grand Island, explained to the board some of the improvements the school district can make in its accounting practices, following an audit of the 2018-19 financial year. The audit is annual and state-mandated.

Overturf gave the board an overview of the audit performed and provided a few better accounting practices that the district can adopt. For example, the auditors took a random sample of 83 students who had applied for free or reduced-price lunches and found that two of the students were incorrectly categorized.

About 25% of the students in the district who receive free or reduced-price lunches establish their eligibility through an application process. Eligibility for the other 75% of recipients is pre-certified by the state of Nebraska. This means the number of discrepancies flagged from the random sample could be extrapolated to suggest that about a dozen students overall are incorrectly categorized. Currently, applications for free or reduced-price lunches are filed by hand.

(In 2018-19, 2,220 students in the Hastings Public School District, or 61 percent of the total student population, were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.)

“Fix that a little bit, make it more streamlined, have a better process to put in place there,” Overturf said. “Had we had one more compliance issue out of those 83, there would have been a single audit finding in there.”

In the future, Superintendent Jeff Schneider suggested that the system should be automated to prevent oversights. He said other schools already automate that process.

The audit had one finding, which pertained to a bond refinance from last year. That bond refinance was not included in the 2018-19 budget.

The board took action during the meeting to correct an issue this year that related last year’s bond refinance. The board amended the budget to reflect another bond refinance that was approved during the September board meeting. This year’s refinance is expected to save about $2 million over 20 years.

Schneider said it is not common for the district to refinance bonds two years in a row, but current economic conditions make it favorable to do so.

Board member Brady Rhodes announced that his family will be living abroad in Central America from January to May. He asked to be excused from board meetings during that time. He also will miss several district events.

Rhodes said that he will be able to participate electronically for most business, but he will not be able to vote during meetings. The board did not take action on Rhodes’ request during the meeting.

“I’m going to do my best to stay involved,” Rhodes said. “All the places I will stay will have access to internet, and I will be ready and willing to return if the board calls me back.”

Thomas Szlanda, Hastings High principal, presented for the Spotlight on Learning. Szlanda gave his talk on mindset, and how teachers are developing a growth mindset to become better teachers.

In other business, the board approved the consent agenda, which includes the hiring of two nurses. This will fill all the positions for nurses; however, one nurse still is on long-term medical leave.

The board also approved the second reading for the superintendent evaluation, an exhibit in Policy 302.05.

Planning commission continues action for NAD property

Members of the Hastings Planning Commission continued action until their December meeting to designate 82.61 acres of the former Naval Ammunition Depot a blighted and substandard area.

Commissioners also voted 8-0 to continue until Dec. 16 proposed adoption of a resolution to adopt a blight and substandard determination study and redevelopment plan, and unanimously continued consideration of a proposed ordinance to establish a statement of intent to annex Redevelopment Area No. 15 in the future, when the area is statutorily eligible as an addition to the city.

Commissioners Gavin Raitt and Rakesh Srivastava were absent. Alternate Willis Hunt was present.

“It is unlikely the subject property will be eligible for annexation in the foreseeable future,” Development Services Director Don Threewitt said.

Redevelopment Area No. 15 is east of Maxon Avenue and includes Industrial Circle Center on the north, Industry Circle to the east and Hadco Road East to the south.

Property owner Golden Triangle LLC is in the process of establishing a sanitary sewer improvement district, which is a statutory requirement to be completed prior to consideration of any specific redevelopment plans or plan modifications.

“There are no specific redevelopment projects at this time,” Threewitt said.

City staff asked the items be continued until the sanitary sewer improvement district has been formed. The extra time will give the city an opportunity to engage in public outreach among adjacent property owners around Redevelopment Area No. 15

Also during the meeting, commissioners unanimously recommended approval of Ordinance No. 4607, a zoning conversion for properties situated in the zoning jurisdiction of the city of Hastings.

Commissioners also recommended approval of the First Christian Church Subdivision at 12th Street and Crane Avenue, a replat of lot 1, block 2 of Colonial Estates Second Addition to the City of Hastings.

Police squad takes names in basketball victory over Tribune

In fake news, the Hastings Tribune staff basketball team stomped the Hastings Police Department pick-up team, 77-24, in one of the more dominant games played at the Central Community College gym in recent history.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Tribune police and courts reporter Will Vraspir (right) guards Police Cpl. Nate Hanson during a basketball game Monday night at Central Community College-Hastings.

In reality, however, it was the Police Department that took shooting practice at the Trib team’s expense, showing off its superior overall conditioning en route to a 68-42 win in the first community engagement game at CCC Monday night at Dawson Gym.

Introduced as a way to bring non-students onto the campus, the game drew multiple spectators on both sides of the gym, with the student section sporting a fairly lively cheering section.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Tribune city government reporter Tony Herrman (left) knocks the ball away from Officer Brad Cunningham during a game between Hastings Police Department and the Hastings Tribune Monday night at Central Community College-Hastings.

“We have a lot of new buildings on campus, so we wanted people to be familiar with the campus and just have fun with the students,” said Jerry Wallace, CCC-Hastings campus president. “We’re already planning our alumni weekend, so we’re hoping we can bring the winner of this game to play against our the CCC alum team in May (2020).”

A former basketball standout — along with his brothers before him — Wallace said the feeling on campus was that HPD would prevail in the matchup. But though the results weren’t exactly a surprise, he thought the Tribune “ringers” with college basketball experience at Hastings College kept the game interesting.

“It’s been very fun,” he said. “Our faculty and staff are over (watching) on the Tribune side. They figured you guys needed a little more help.”

Asked about the level of play on exhibit, he chucked for a minute, then said, “It’s been fun … competitive and fun. You can see the stars out there who played at the next level, but it’s been a fun outing. It’s just been a fun activity.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Police Department Officer Jesse Bartles puts up a shot against Hastings Tribune defenders Kolby Stortenbecker (left) and Amanda McKenzie (right) Monday night at Central Community College-Hastings.

Though hardly serious competition, the all-male police squad nevertheless scored early and often, with four players reaching double-digit scoring in the onslaught. Officer Jayden Dawe led the charge with 19 points, followed by Officer Jesse Bartels and Corporal Nathan Hanson, 12 each, and Kyle Williamson, 10.

On the Tribune side, Jami Williams was the lone shooter to score in double-digit numbers with 11 points. Fellow female “ringer” Amanda McKenzie and Andrew Kuta had seven points each, and Will Reynolds added 5 for the losing squad.

Tribune safety reporter Will Vraspir said he was “well outside” his wheelhouse on the court going up against some familiar faces on his beat. Having been home-schooled, he said, his experience on the basketball court had been limited to pick-up games with friends. After watching the police team run the court in dominant fashion, he said he felt pretty sure they probably ducked in a few practices together beforehand.

“They’re in a profession that encourages physical fitness,” he said of his opponents. “But we have some pretty good players on our team, too.”

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Hastings Tribune sports writer Will Reynolds and Hastings Police Department Officer Brad Cunningham dive for a loose ball during a game Monday night at Central Community College-Hastings.

Though bragging rights were on the line, the competition never veered from friendly, Vraspir said. Fiercely competitive at times perhaps, but always friendly.

“Looking at Facebook posts, they had some practices over the week, so that may have given them some help,” he said. “As far as game strategy and such, that’s stuff I’m not very familiar with.”

With fun being the primary driver, both sides traded playful barbs throughout the affair. At one point late in the second half, Tribune players rushed the court from the bench to give their team a temporary advantage in manpower. But it was to no avail: They were still unable to score, even with the extra bodies on the floor.

“Don’t make me go out there,” one police player yelled from the bench following a disputed call by one of the officials. “I’m sure we’ve got some cuffs around here somewhere.”

For Williamson, who played basketball at Harvard High School, it felt good to be back on the court again. Though physical fitness is a regular part of the department’s regimen, basketball hadn’t been before tonight, he said.

“It’s probably the first time any of us has really touched a basketball in a few years,” he said. “We held a couple practices, and hopefully everybody can see that we kind of well-conditioned ourselves to come out here and play. All in all, I think everybody had a good time.”

He said he and his teammates welcomed the opportunity to put on a show for the public in an informal setting.

“This was great fun for us to come out and be ourselves and let everybody’s guard down and just have fun,” he said.

Though most expected them to dominate the competition, Williamson said, he was surprised he and his teammates won so handily.

“I felt great about it,” he said. “We put up a good win. I didn’t think it was going to go this well.”

Those who played now plan to get together for some three-on-three games in the future, he said.

Reynolds said he believed it was largely a matter of conditioning that gave the police team the upper hand on the court.

“I think we just got gassed,” he said. “The policemen are well-conditioned. Tribune employees held their own, though.

“I think we had a really good time overall and played well together for this being our only time on the court together.”

Council to mull future of 16th Street viaduct

Members of the Hastings City Council will try to determine the “least worst decision” for the future of the old 16th Street viaduct during the next council meeting.

That is how Mayor Corey Stutte described the situation as the council will narrow four engineering design proposals during its Nov. 25 meeting to two options moving forward.

The cost estimates for all options, ranging from demolition to repair to replacement, have swollen since design firm Olsson first addressed the situation in May, due to supply and demand. Contractors around the state are busy fixing and repairing other bridges that were damaged during floods earlier this year.

“It’s a bad decision no matter how we look at it,” Stutte said. “All we’re trying to do is figure out is the least worst decision to make and do it with the understanding this is taxpayer money.”

Work on the old 16th Street viaduct could be delayed a couple of years due to other bridge projects around Nebraska.

“The request coming out of council is that we want some more honed-in numbers, and so what we did was prepare the most feasible options we thought would make sense,” Stutte said. “We presented them to Olsson’s, and they went back and they took a hard look at it with their railroad engineering team to really figure out what the cost might be. We had a suspicion the cost would be driven up just based on the flooding that happened this spring.”

Escalated mobilization and contingency costs factor into the cost estimate increases.

“It comes down to who’s available, when they’re available and how much is it going to cost to mobilize when we get them out here,” Stutte said.

City Administrator Dave Ptak said working with the Union Pacific Railroad will be a wildcard. The viaduct extends over the Union Pacific line.

“Who knows what kind of delays or timing issues we may have dealing with the railroad,” he said.

According to new estimates, Option 1 includes demolition of the structure, including coordination with Union Pacific, for a cost estimate of $1,464,140.

Option 2 is repairing the east abutment, removing the southern span, wrapping pillars and repairing extension contraction joints for a cost estimate of $3,095,120.

Option 3 is removing and shortening the span of the bridge over the railroad using retaining walls for a cost estimate of $12,466,370. This option includes the purchase of the former Taylor’s Steak House at 1609 N. Kansas Ave., underneath the bridge.

Option 4 is a new alignment of a new viaduct structure on Eastside Boulevard from 14th Street to 26th Street, including coordination with Union Pacific, for a cost estimate of $13,014,550.32. This includes the purchase of the apartment complex on Eastside Boulevard near the tracks for $850,000, right-of-way acquisitions of Nebraska Department of Transportation land, and overhead power relocations that aren’t in the public right-of-way.

“I get where the cost is coming from,” Stutte said. “It really does come down to other issues throughout our state.”

By comparison, Olsson’s bridge assessment report from May 2019 included a $150,000 estimate for repair to extend the structure’s life two to three years; a $500,000 estimate for permanent closure and rerouting of traffic; $2.250 million for extensive repairs to extend the structure’s life 30 years, with the assumption expansion joints will be replaced and maintained to prevent chloride-laden water from leaking water from leaking directly on the pier caps; and $5.7 million for a full replacement and an estimated 75-year lifespan.

A project the scope of a new bridge would require a public vote.

With a cost estimate of more than $13 million, Stutte said, complete reconstruction is not a feasible option.

“We’re looking for council to declare it as a safety issue, and what we’re going to do is try to narrow it down to two options and the two most feasible options, which will be removal or repair,” he said.

Council members will have a further discussion about the chosen options during the Dec. 2 work session, with the expectation of selecting, at the regular Dec. 9 council meeting, an option to proceed.

“It was kind of eye-popping, to be quite honest,” Stutte said of the new cost estimates. “Not only did the costs escalate, but the timelines we’re talking about are obviously much longer than we were thinking.”

City Engineer Dave Wacker said he thought the contingency costs included within the estimates may be high, but it’s important to trust the expertise of Olsson’s bridge engineering team.

If the council decides to remove the structure, that doesn’t necessarily mean a new viaduct couldn’t be constructed in the future, Stutte said.

“It just takes a vote of the people,” he said.

Work on the overpass cannot come out of the city’s renewed half-cent sales tax because the viaduct was not included in the language for the September 2017 ballot issue. The half-cent sales tax expires March 31, 2028.

Ptak said state statute would prevent bridgework being paid for with funds earmarked for street repair.

Stutte and other city officials realize how important the overpass has been to the Hastings community. Stutte said his own mother yelled at him about it.

“I am not for raising taxes,” Stutte said. “There may be a council member or two that are thinking we could go ahead and repair that, but at the end of the day it’s taxpayer dollars, and that’s something we’ve got to grapple with.”