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Property tax petition sets up in Hastings

Organizers of an initiative petition drive seeking a 35% rebate for property taxes paid have set up a place in Hastings for people to sign.

The TRUE (Tax Relief Unites Everyone) Nebraskans petition drive will have a room at Hastings Rentals, 237 N. Burlington Ave., as organizers work to gather more than 120,000 signatures of registered voters in Nebraska by July 2 to put the proposal on the November ballot. The group’s initiative proposes giving all property owners a state income tax credit equal to 35% of their annual property tax bill.

Four Nebraska senators — Tom Brewer, Steve Erdman, Steve Halloran and Dave Murman — visited the office space Friday to kick off the local signing drive.

Halloran thanked Steve and Carol Craig for providing a room to be used as a venue for signature collection. He said it provides a place for people interested in signing the petition to visit. Volunteers are slated to be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 1-5 p.m. on Friday.

Erdman said the petition would force the Legislature to deal with high property and income taxes in the state.

“We are of the opinion that the Legislature will do nothing meaningful for property tax relief,” he said.

Erdman said citizens have been asking for property tax relief for years and the petition is a way for voters to force the issue.

“The petition is forcing the conversation,” he said. “If the petition goes away, so does the urgency.”

If the ballot initiative passed, it would remove around $1.4 billion from the state budget, based on 2018 property taxes.

Ed Truemper, field director of TRUE Nebraskans, said Adams County residents paid about $59 million in property taxes in 2018. If the initiative had been in effect, $20 million of that would have been rebated to property owners.

“It would be rewarding Nebraskans who actively built this state and live in this state,” he said.

But opponents have said the initiative would either force steep increases in taxes or drastic cuts in state programs.

If the initiative is approved by voters, Halloran said it would create a huge change in state government funding and likely require the governor to call a special session of the Legislature to address the issue.

“It would be an opportunity to discuss a new model to tax the state and that is a consumption tax,” he said.

Erdman said a consumption tax framework he proposes would replace the current income tax, inheritance tax, property tax and sales tax. He said a consumption tax is being discussed in other states and would impose a tax on new goods and services.

In order to prevent harm to low-income families, he said a prebate check would be given to each citizen at the beginning of the month to help cover the taxes on food and other essentials.

“It’s an opportunity to tax people in a fairer and more equitable way,” Erdman said.

No matter what tax structure the Legislature ultimately decides to use, Halloran said this wouldn’t be the first time that citizens voted to make a change.

In 1965, he said citizens collected sufficient signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in the 1966 General Election to forbid the use of property taxes to fund state government and it passed.

With no funding source, Halloran said the Legislature worked with the governor to create income tax and sales tax to fund the state budget.

Murman said it is time for a change again.

“We have a 55-year-old model we’re using,” he said. “It’s time to update it.”

St. Cecilia student wins county spelling bee

In one of the longest spelling bees for at least six years, John Kryzsko, a seventh-grader from St. Cecilia, took home first place at the Adams County Spelling Bee Friday at Adams Central Elementary.

“Ruffian” and “benefactor” were the winning words.

“I feel very excited. I feel very fortunate to have won,” John said. “I talked to my mom. She was like, ‘If you win, I’ll get you ice cream.’ ”

Prior to the oral spelling, 220 students were given a written test. Second-grade students through eighth-grade students took the written test, but only the top five fifth- through eighth-grade students moved to the oral portion.

John said he won the written portion of the spelling bee in second, fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

“I want to keep the record going for my parents and everyone,” John said.

aroh / Amy Roh/Tribune  

Abhinav Srivastava (left) congratulates John Krysko after John won the Adams County Spelling Bee Friday at Adams Central Elementary School.

John said he doesn’t do a lot of studying to prepare for the spelling bee. Instead, he tries to break down each word into more manageable parts.

In under an hour, the contestants went through 13 rounds. After only two of the original 20 spellers remained, John and Abhinave Srivastava, an eighth-grader at Hastings Middle School, went back and forth to spell the words.

Spelling bee coordinator Jackie Koepke, who has helped coordinate the competition for about six years, said this year’s spelling bee was the longest she has seen, with 103 words used. She said the average is about 65 words.

Koepke said having to use more words speaks to a talented group of spellers.

“This was amazing. I’m glad I had some extras,” she said.

The regional competition will be in March in Omaha.

The top five students by grade for the written test are:

Second grade

1st: Eisley Hood, Adams Central Elementary

2nd: Owen Pavelka, Adams Central Elementary

3rd: Isabelle Boggess, Adams Central Elementary

4th: Micah Donner, Lincoln Elementary

5th: Kollyns Howard, Adams Central Elementary

Third grade

1st: Brenden Callahan Lewis, Alcott Elementary

2nd: Owen Kloepping, Adams Central Elementary

3rd: Kali Brannen, Lincoln Elementary

4th: Jaxon McShane, Adams Central Elementary

5th: Leo Keiser, Kenesaw Elementary

Fourth grade

1st: Sam Axford, St. Michael’s Elementary

2nd: Hudson Hookstra, Adams Central Elementary

3rd: Macie Deines, Adams Central Elementary

4th: Ben Wibbels, Hawthorne Elementary

5th: Richard Job, Lincoln Elementary

Fifth grade

1st: Eve Hoops, St. Michael’s

2nd: Gianna Rosno, St. Michael’s

3rd: Kaiya Brennen, Adams Central Elementary

4th: Christian Bohl, Hawthorne

5th: Carter Henry, Adams Central Elementary

Sixth grade

1st: Isaac Russell, Hastings Middle School

2nd: Sylvia Schneider, Kenesaw

3rd: Naomi Brooks, Adams Central Elementary

4th: Catherine Lehn, St. Cecilia

5th: Dilsia Colindres Fonseca, Hastings Middle School

Seventh grade

1st: John Kryzsko, St. Cecilia

2nd: Liam White, Hastings Middle School

3rd: Camden Mullen, Hastings Middle School

4th: Sam Hoops, St. Cecilia

5th: Josiah Benal, St. Cecilia

Eighth grade

1st: Hayden Stickels, Adams Central Junior High

2nd: Abhinave Srivastava, Hastings Middle School

3rd: Demetrios Theoharis, Hastings Middle School

4th: Addie Demuth, St. Cecilia

5th: Izzy Cerveny, Hastings Middle School

Coronavirus risk low in Tribland, local health officials say

While Tribland remains at little risk of problems with the coronavirus, area public health officials and Mary Lanning Healthcare in Hastings are on top of the situation and are prepared to act if the need arises.

That’s the message this week from Mary Lanning and the South Heartland District Health Department in respective news releases addressing the new virus, which apparently originated in central China and has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization. As of Friday, the virus reportedly had sickened more than 34,800 people and killed more than 700 — virtually all in China.

As of Tuesday, 11 cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the United States, but none of those were in Nebraska or surrounding states. Currently, the virus doesn’t spread easily from human to human.

Officials have announced that Camp Ashland, a National Guard training site in eastern Nebraska, will be used as a quarantine site for American evacuees from China, who will stay at the camp for for 14 days of health monitoring to ensure they do not have coronavirus. A planeload of evacuees arrived in Omaha on Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is unlikely the quarantined evacuees at Camp Ashland or on other military bases around the United States will show symptoms of the illness.

Michele Bever, director of the South Heartland District Health Department, said residents of Adams, Clay, Webster and Nuckolls counties have no immediate cause for undue concern.

“We understand that some are worried about the coronavirus outbreak,” Bever said. “However, the current risk for South Heartland residents is low.”

The new virus, known as the 2019 novel coronavirus, causes respiratory illness. It was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China, after officials were notified of an outbreak of a breathing illness.

To date, the virus is associated with mild to severe respiratory illness that includes symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath. No vaccine is available, so the best way to avoid the illness is to avoid exposure to it.

Bever said staff members in her agency are keeping close tabs on the global situation and will be prepared to respond as warranted.

“The situation is continually changing, with new developments daily, but the health department is working with state and national partners to monitor the situation, and is receiving and passing along the most current guidance,” she said.

Within the area, she said, “local preparedness partners” include hospitals, health care professionals and emergency managers.

“We are sharing the most current guidelines and recommendations, and making sure we have everything in place to respond should any local cases of coronavirus infection show up in our district,” Bever said.

At Mary Lanning, Janet Riese, employee health/infection prevention manager, and Dr. Daniel Brailita, an infectious-disease physician, said the hospital is following protocol from the CDC and guidelines from the South Heartland health district, and has policies in place to prevent the spread of any viruses or diseases.

“We train our (emergency room) and admissions staffs to watch for certain symptoms and ask if the patient has traveled,” Riese said. “These procedures have been in place for a while now.”

ER or admissions staff members who notice potential problems are trained to notify the hospital’s Infection Prevention Department so the patient can be placed in isolation. The staff is trained to use gowns, masks, face shields and gloves and follow isolation protocol.

If a patient is assessed and coronavirus is suspected, South Heartland is notified to conduct testing while the patient remains in isolation. South Heartland would be the organization to notify the public if a case of coronavirus were to be confirmed locally.

The following prevention tips are being provided for everyone hoping to steer clear of coronavirus:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Contact your health care provider’s office before seeking treatment if you suspect you may be ill with coronavirus.

Bever encourages residents to stay up to date on the coronavirus issue. The CDC website, cdc.gov, is updated frequently and includes Frequently Asked Questions, fact sheets, updated information on the number and location of cases, recommendations for travelers and travel restrictions, guidelines for health professionals and laboratories, archived video recordings of national briefings, and more.

The SHDHD website, www.southheartlandhealth.org, will be used to post local information and updates. Questions for the district health department may be directed by telephone to 1-877-238-7595.

Minden takes holistic approach to ag program

MINDEN — Since the new Minden High School opened its doors in 2017, the Minden Public School District has worked to strengthen its connection to the community and give back to residents who approved the $23 million bond issue that made the construction project possible.

The school district hopes bringing back an agricultural program — after missing for several decades — will do just that.

“The philosophy we’re working on with this ag program is being holistic. That encompasses the community, too,” Superintendent Jim Widdifield said.

Minden Public Schools has begun curriculum development and started searching for an agriculture teacher for the 2020-21 academic year.

The MPS Board of Education approved the agriculture program during its November 2019 meeting. Prior to the board meeting, a committee made of community members suggested the program.

Widdifield said adding an agriculture program was a clear decision, given the district’s geographic connection to agriculture.

“Minden is a big ag community, and there’s a lot of good things that go on in this community when it comes to agriculture,” Widdifield said.

Widdifield said the agriculture program is made possible because of the new building, which gave the district more space and technology than was available in the previous 81-year-old high school structure.

“The change of facilities gave an opportunity to start looking at things that could enhance what we already have and maybe give some electives to kids,” he said.

One of the key features of the three-year-old, 110,000-square-foot high school is an industrial arts facility, which includes automotive and woodworking spaces that feature specialized equipment.

The industrial area has enhanced the industrial curriculum for students, Widdifield said.

“Just having this facility gives us an opportunity to make that program the best that we can make it, because you have the space and you have the resources,” he said.

But the space hasn’t been limited to just students. Community members also took advantage of the industrial space in fall 2019 when the woodworking area was opened for a weekly adult woodworking class. Registration for the class was handled by Central Community College.

“I think of our industrial tech area: having a really nice area that a lot of kids and the community can benefit from moving forward,” Widdifield said.

A holistic agriculture program also includes other academic areas within the school itself, Widdifield said. The agriculture program will draw on math, business, technology and other subjects.

“To say that this program doesn’t have an effect on other programs would not be, in my mind, accurate,” he said.

MPS follows other nearby schools in creating an agriculture program, whether for the first time or after many years’ absence. Axtell Community Schools introduced an agriculture program in its schools about a year ago, and Adams Central Public Schools began its program several years ago.

MPS is looking for a teacher with an agricultural certification to run the program. One of the early options for the program was to have a currently employed teacher get an agricultural endorsement, but Widdifield said that would have made it difficult to certify the program for FFA affiliation.

The agriculture teacher will be responsible for creating the program. The district is looking at potential curriculum options but is waiting for the teacher to be hired before making a decision.

“That person has to feel like it’s a fit for them, just as much as we have to feel like it’s a fit for us,” he said. “You hope that person you’re looking for can start a program and build some excitement and energy around it to make it the best it can be.”

The agriculture program will start with introductory courses because no student has taken agriculture courses yet. More classes will be offered in future years.