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County board tables decision on bid for county-owned ground

Adams County received a bid deemed too low for the purchase of county-owned property, so members of the county Board of Supervisors decided to wait a month before pursuing further action.

It was one of two Hastings properties the supervisors addressed during their regular meeting Tuesday.

The supervisors voted 5-1 to table making a decision until Dec. 3 on the $5,500 bid from George Ang of San Marino, California, for the triangle-shaped 2.71-acre property west of Highland Road and just north of the Hastings Regional Center.

The bid from Ang was the only one received.

Supervisor Scott Thomsen was absent.

The property has been used as farm ground and had a hailed out corn crop this year.

Most of the supervisors agreed Ang’s bid was too low, but did not determine an appropriate amount of money to accept for the property.

“I don’t think it’s representative of what the property’s worth,” Supervisor Dale Curtis said of the $5,500 bid.

Supervisor Glen Larsen was the lone dissenter.

“We’ve owned (the property) for all these years and didn’t get a dime out of it,” he said. “Now we have a chance to get $5,500. That’s $5,500 more than we ever got for that little piece of land. If we get it sold then we could get some taxes from it.”

Supervisor Chuck Neumann said accepting a bid that was too low could set a dangerous precedent. He said the owner of that property, and surrounding agricultural properties, could argue before the Board of Equalization that farm ground values should be lowered based on that sale price — about $2,000 per acre.

The property is in the city of Hastings’ jurisdiction.

Don Threewitt, development services director for the city of Hastings, who was in attendance later in the supervisors’ meeting, said the property is zoned agricultural.

“If somebody wanted to go in there and continue an ag use, it could stay ag for as long as wanted,” Threewitt said.

The property also could be residential.

The closest city sewer is 1,300 feet away, but a septic tank could be used until the sewer is extended closer to the property.

Threewitt said 80% of the property is within the flood plain.

“So the buildable area on the property is pretty small anyway,” he said.

Also during the meeting, Deputy Adams County Attorney Dave Bergin introduced the possible sale or donation of the tax foreclosed property at “or near” 610 S. Sewell Ave. to Habitat for Humanity. The supervisors unanimously approved purchasing the property for the amount of taxes owed — $484 —and selling the property for $1 to Habitat for Humanity.

There were no bids for the property at a recent sheriff’s sale.

The suggestion had been made to check and see if Habitat for Humanity might want the property.

The Habitat for Humanity board visited the property and expressed interest in it to the county.

“That’s the benefit of doing it, is you can get it back on the tax roll and then maybe something would be built there some time in the future,” Bergin said.

Threewitt attended the supervisors’ meeting to receive commends regarding a proposed amendment to the Hastings city code that would adopt a zoning conversion chart to uniformly apply to any property entering the city’s zoning jurisdiction.

The code amendment coincides with the first amendment since 2009 to Hastings’ extra-territorial jurisdiction. Threewitt previously has said there have been several plat additions since 2009 and a boundary adjustment is warranted.

“This isn’t something we want to step lightly into,” he told the supervisors, in reference to the code amendment. “We certainly don’t want anyone to think we have plans on city expansion. The basic intent on this is to provide clarity and consistency to property owners and to make things a little easier moving forward for folks that do redevelop their property in the future.”

In other business, the supervisors:

  • Unanimously approved issuing a conditional use permit for a single-family residence in the C-1 village development district in lot 1 of the Koch Subdivision in the village of Hastings.
  • Unanimously approved the release of securities totaling $2.442 million from Five Points Bank.
  • Unanimously approved 260 distress warrants issued for unpaid personal properties and mobile homes from 2018 and prior, totaling $360,956.25 in taxes due.
  • Unanimously approved the year-end certification of the county highway superintendent form and resolution. In having Dawn Miller, a full-time Class A highway superintendent, on staff, Adams County will receive $9,750 from the state.
  • Took no action following a closed session discussion regarding a land transfer to the Hastings Rural Fire District.

Juicery wins Big Idea Hastings

The winner of Big Idea Hastings 2019 wasn’t even in the Lark Tuesday night to accept the oversized check for $1,000 from Hastings Economic Development Corp.

Chelsey Morton, who submitted her business idea Lemon and Co. Juicery, was in Newton, Kansas, helping the Hastings College women’s basketball team defeat Bethel College in her role as assistant coach.

In Morton’s absence, her significant other, Brett Wells, pitched her business idea for a health-conscience juice company.

That he was the one holding the check at the end of the night was a pleasant surprise.

“I knew Chelsey’s idea about Lemon and Co. was great and is going to be great, but did I expect for her company to win this? I don’t think so, I think it was just ‘let’s try it and see what happens.’ ” he said later.

He joked during his pitch that if Lemon and Co. won, Morton would have to take him out to a steak dinner.

Big Idea Hastings, modeled after the TV show “Shark Tank,” allows participants to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges.

Each participant had two minutes to make a pitch, followed by a question-and-answer interaction with the five judges. The judges determined the five finalists.

A popular vote determined first, second and third place within the finalists.

The first-place finalist received $1,000 from HEDC, second place received $500 from Hastings College and third place receives $250 from the Central Community College Small Business Institute.

All five of the finalists will receive a local business resource package.

Second place went to What the Dickens, the British bakery and catering company owned by Beth Funkey and Caroline Kemp.

“We are very honored for that selection,” Funkey said. “We just wanted to come and have a good time and get to hear what other great ideas there were out there and participate.”

The business has been in existence just more than two years, has several hundred past customers and is making plans to move into the storefront just east of Jimmy John’s on Second Street.

Third place went to Carly Cremers, a Hastings College senior, and her pitch Healthy Hoops for a business that would offer hula-hoop exercise classes and custom made hula-hoops for sale.

aroh / Amy Roh/Hastings Tribune  

Carly Cremers makes her presentation Tuesday for Healthy Hoops during Big Idea Hastings at The Lark.

She gave a demonstration on stage after making her pitch.

“I’m very happy with how the overall night went,” she said. “There were so many great business proposals out there where it felt like we were all highly supported by the community and supportive of each other. Any extra on top of that was just fantastic because of the networking opportunities here and the extreme sense of care.”

Other ideas pitched Tuesday include an art show competition that would showcase the work of students from Adams Central, Hastings Catholic Schools and Hastings Public Schools; a horse therapy business; an interactive service that would inform Hastings College students about events happening in the community; a company that would provide administrative services for local daycares; outdoor fitness equipment to be placed along the Pioneer Spirit Trail; an initiative to spread awareness of Down Syndrome while promoting reading; a coffee bean importing and roasting company, a information technology company geared toward older customers and a company that would use fungi to deal with both the emerald ash borer as well as potential leaks from the Keystone XL Pipeline.

This was the fourth year for the Big Idea Hastings.

Event organizer Maggie Vaughan, who is HEDC director of talent solutions, was blown away by standing-room-only crowd and support from the public for the variety of ideas.

“This was the biggest crowd we’ve ever seen and the ideas we had were extremely strong and legitimate business ideas people are serious about pursuing,” she said. “The response from the community, the preparedness of the finalists and the energy in the room was just incredibly inspiring and I am so glad we did this again and we’ll continue to do it.”

She said she met with Morton in the days leading up to Big Idea Hastings. Morton was worried whether Hastings would support a high-end juice company.

“I think (the response) proved tonight it will, we will together,” Vaughan said.


International
AP
In last days, al-Baghdadi sought safety in shrinking domain

BEIRUT — In his last months on the run, Islamic State group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants.

Ghaith Alsayed  

FILE — In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, people look at a destroyed houses near the village of Barisha, in Idlib province, Syria, after an operation by the U.S. military which targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group. In his last months on the run, al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants.

Associates paint a picture of a man obsessed with his security and well-being and trying to find safety in towns and deserts in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border as the extremists’ domains crumbled. In the end, the brutal leader once hailed as “caliph” left former IS areas completely, slipping into hostile territory in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province run by the radical group’s al-Qaida-linked rivals. There, he blew himself up during an Oct. 26 raid by U.S. special forces on his heavily fortified safe house.

Ghaith Alsayed  

People look Oct. 27 at a destroyed houses near the village of Barisha, in Idlib province, Syria, after an operation by the U.S. military that targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group.

For months, he kept a Yazidi teen as a slave, and she told The Associated Press how he brought her along as he moved, traveling with a core group of up to seven close associates. Months ago, he delegated most of his powers to a senior deputy who is likely the man announced by the group as his successor.

The Yazidi girl, who was freed in a U.S.-led raid in May, said al-Baghdadi first tried to flee to Idlib in late 2017. She said one night she was loaded into a three-vehicle convoy that included the IS leader, his wife and his security entourage, headed for the province. The convoy reached a main road but then turned around, apparently fearing it would come under attack, said the girl, who was 17 at the time.

For about a week they stayed in the southeastern Syrian town of Hajin, near the Iraqi border. Then they moved north to Dashisha, another border town in Syria within IS-held territory.

There, the Yazidi teen stayed for four months at the home of al-Baghdadi’s father-in-law, a close aide named Abu Abdullah al-Zubaie. Al-Baghdadi would visit her there frequently and rape her, the teen said. He would only move at night, wearing sneakers and covering his face, always with around five security men, she said. The AP does not identify victims of sexual assault.

Ghaith Alsayed  

FILE — In this Oct. 27, 2019, file photo, people look at a destroyed houses near the village of Barisha, in Idlib province, Syria, after an operation by the U.S. military which targeted Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of the Islamic State group. In his last months on the run, al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants. AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed, File)

In the spring of 2018, she was given to another man, who took her out of Dashisha. That was the last time she saw al-Baghdadi, though he sent her a piece of jewelry as a gift, the teen said.

It appears al-Baghdadi then moved from place to place in eastern Syria for the next year as one IS stronghold after another fell to U.S.-backed Kurdish-led forces, before heading to Idlib sometime in the spring.

During that time, al-Baghdadi was a “nervous wreck,” pacing up and down and complaining of treason and infiltrations among his “walis,” or governors of the group’s self-declared provinces, his brother-in-law, Mohamad Ali Sajit, said in an interview with Al-Arabiya TV aired last week.

“This is all treason,” Sajit recalled al-Baghdadi shouting.

Sajit, an Iraqi who was married to another of al-Zubaie’s daughters, was arrested by Iraqi authorities in June.

HOGP  

FILE — This Oct. 26, 2019, file image from video released by the Department of Defense, and displayed at a Pentagon briefing, shows U.S. Special Forces, figures at lower right, moving toward compound of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In his last months on the run, al-Baghdadi was agitated, fearful of traitors, sometimes disguised as a shepherd, sometimes hiding underground, always dependent on a shrinking circle of confidants.

He said he saw al-Baghdadi several times over 18 months, starting in Hajin in late 2017. The last time was in the desert regions along the Syrian-Iraqi border not long before Sajit’s own capture. He said al-Baghdadi entrusted him with delivering messages on flash drives to lieutenants inside Iraq.

Iraqi and Syrian Kurdish officials have said they separately cultivated sources that led to the IS leader, and Sajit is believed to be one of them. A U.S. official said it seemed the Syrian Kurds managed to get a “guest” inside al-Baghdadi’s inner circle whose information was key in the hunt.

Sajit said al-Baghdadi’s movements were heavily restricted, more so as greater IS territory was lost. He walked around with a suicide belt, even slept with one near him, and made his aides also carry belts. He never used a cellphone; only his aide Abu Hassan al-Muhajer did, using a Galaxy 7, Sajit said.

The stress worsened the IS leader’s diabetes, and he had to constantly monitor his blood sugar and take insulin. He didn’t fast during the holy month of Ramadan and forced his aides not to fast as well, Sajit said.

At times, al-Baghdadi was disguised as a shepherd, he said. When al-Baghdadi’s security chief, Abu Sabah, got wind of a possible raid on the desert Syrian-Iraqi border area where they were hiding they took down their tents and hid al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajer inside a pit covered with dirt, Sajit said. They let sheep roam around on top of the pit to further disguise it. Once the threat of the raid was over, they returned and put the tents back up, he said.

HONS  

Undated handout photo made available by unnamed government sources showing a 65-year-old woman known as Rasmiya Awad, who is the sister of the slain leader of the Islamic State group Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Turkey captured the elder sister of the slain leader of the Islamic State group in northwestern Syria on Monday Nov. 4, 2019, according to a senior Turkish official, who called the arrest an intelligence “gold mine.” Awad was captured in a raid Monday evening on a trailer container she was living in with her family near the town of Azaz in Aleppo province.

Al-Baghdadi moved with a circle of five to seven people, including al-Muhajer, al-Zubaie and Abu Sabah; and the group’s former governor for Iraq, known as Tayseer or Abu al-Hakim. Al-Muhajer was killed on the same day as al-Baghdadi, in a separate U.S.-led military operation, following a Syrian Kurdish tip, in Jarablus, also in northwestern Syria; al-Zubaie was killed in a raid in March. On Monday, Turkish officials said they arrested al-Baghdadi’s older sister in northwestern Syria’s Azaz region. All are areas outside of government control.

The IS leader was also in contact with his top deputy, Hajji Abdullah, Sajit said. Iraqi officials say al-Baghdadi put him in charge of most of the group’s administrative and financial affairs. Sajit said he believes Hajji Abdullah is actually the man that IS named as al-Baghdadi’s successor before his killing, identified by the nom de guerre Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi Al-Qurayshi.

U.S. officials said they did not know when al-Baghdadi arrived in Idlib but said he chose the location because it was the last territory outside of Syrian government control. U.S-allied Syrian Kurdish officials said they pinned down his movements in May but suspected he left to there after the fall of the last IS territory in late March.

There, he hid in a compound in the village of Barisha, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Turkey. Like many of Idlib’s border towns, it is packed with people displaced from across Syria and is administered by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a militant group affiliated with al-Qaida and a rival to IS.

The compound belonged to a man named Abu Mohammed al-Halabi, who was a sheep trader but had little contact with his neighbors, several residents told the AP. They spoke on condition of anonymity fearing they would be endangered by talking about the site. Iraqi officials said al-Baghdadi’s “technician”—a man who took care of logistics— was killed with him in the raid.

One resident said that nearly a dozen helicopters hovered over their village before 11 p.m. the night of the Oct. 26 U.S.-led raid.

“We went out in the balcony to see and they started shooting, with automatic rifles. So we went inside and hid,” the resident said. Then there was an airborne operation west of the village, in the direction of al-Halabi’s house. Later, the Americans warned residents to move away from the house because they were going to blow it up.

“No one really expected al-Baghdadi to be here,” another resident said.

———————

Associated Press writer Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad and Matthew Lee and Lolita Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.


State
AP
Nebraska payday lending ballot campaign gets $485,000 boost

LINCOLN— A ballot campaign seeking to tighten the cap on how much interest payday lenders can charge in Nebraska has received a major boost from a national donor, increasing the odds that it will succeed in placing the issue on the 2020 ballot.

Nebraskans for Responsible Lending received $485,000 in cash and in-kind contributions last month from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a liberal, Washington-based group that has helped in other states with campaigns to expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage and restrict payday lending.

“A lot of the early conversations we’ve had about fundraising have been positive,” said Aubrey Mancuso, an organizer for Nebraskans for Responsible Lending. “A lot of people get this issue, and I think we’re hopeful that we’ll have all the resources we need to succeed.”

Organizers are looking to cap the annual interest rate on payday loans at 36%, like measures that have passed in 16 other states and the District of Columbia. Colorado voters approved its cap last year, with most of the pro-campaign donations coming from the Sixteen Thirty Fund.

Current Nebraska law allows lenders to charge as much as 404% annually, a rate that advocates say victimizes the poor and people who aren’t financially sophisticated. Industry officials argue that the top rate is misleading because most of their loans are short-term.

In an email Friday, Sixteen Thirty Fund Executive Director Amy Kurtz said the group is “proud to provide support to the Nebraskans for Responsible Lending campaign to help end harmful predatory lending practices targeting working people in Nebraska.”

The group has been active in dozens of state-level campaigns for progressive causes, including political television ads critical of congressional Republicans.

The donations to Nebraskans for Responsible Lending were disclosed this past week in the group’s first financial filing with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission.

Mancuso said the group has started collecting signatures and is using paid circulators, a major step toward getting the roughly 85,000 signatures they’ll need by July 3, 2020.

“We are just getting started, but we’re very confident we’ll have more than enough to qualify by the signature deadline,” she said.

The drive has also won support from a coalition that includes social workers, child advocates, advocates for the elderly and religious leaders. The other donors disclosed in the filing were Nebraska Appleseed and Voices for Children in Nebraska, both of which advocate for low-income families. Combined, they donated about $1,725 to the campaign.

“We see people almost every day with different financial problems,” said the Rev. Damian Zuerlein, a Roman Catholic priest from Omaha who is helping with the campaign. “So many of them are caught in a terrible cycle of not having enough to repay payday lenders. They have a hard time digging out.”

Zuerlein said payday lenders charge rates so high that he considers them a form of usury, a sin in many Christian faiths.

Former state Sen. Al Davis said he supported the campaign because payday lenders are essentially “taking food out of the mouths of children” by placing their parents in debt, and lawmakers haven’t done enough to regulate the industry.

“To me, it’s just wrong,” Davis said.

Industry officials say the measure would put many payday lenders out of business, forcing people out of jobs and driving customers to other lenders.

“People are going to continue to borrow money whether the state of Nebraska has (payday lenders) or not,” said Brad Hill, president of the Nebraska Financial Services Association. “It would close off a line of credit to people who don’t have any other way to pay for a car repair or to fix their air conditioner.”

Hill said Nebraska already has regulations that prevent borrowers from ending up in the kind of staggering debt seen in other states.

For instance, one type of transaction allows borrowers to write a check to a lender, who loans money in return and agrees not to deposit the check right away. Hill said Nebraska requires lenders to deposit such checks within 34 days, whereas other states allow lenders to hold onto the check longer and charge the borrower more fees, thus increasing their overall debt.

Hill said his organization plans to fight the ballot measure, but it’s not yet clear what they’ll do.

“Everybody hates payday lending except the people who use it,” he said. “Our customers vote with their feet, and people come back.”

But Mancuso said she’s confident that voters will opt to restrict payday lending, a step that state lawmakers have refused to take.

“While people can find a lot to be divided on lately, this isn’t one of those issues,” she said. “Nebraskans overwhelmingly agree that predatory lending needs to end.”