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Educators warn against panic in emerald ash borer news

Homeowners need not panic in light of news that emerald ash borer has been discovered in the Tri-Cities area, says an educator with the Nebraska Extension.

“People don’t need to panic,” said Ron Seymour, extension educator with the Nebraska Extension in Adams County. “Even if you have (emerald) ash borer in your tree, it takes three years to kill it.”

EAB was confirmed by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture June 22 to have infested a terrace tree near Pioneer Park in central Kearney.

But Seymour said it likely will be years before EAB reaches Adams County. He said the infestation in Kearney likely was caused by someone bringing back firewood from an infested area. He said EAB does move naturally, but only 5 to 10 miles each year.

“At that rate, it will be five years before it can get here,” he said.

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Mushrooms can be seen growing on an ash tree July 2 at Highland Park Arboretum. Mushrooms are one symptom of an ash tree in poor condition, which may be targeted for removal as emerald ash borer draws nearer to the area.

Given the advanced time frame, Seymour said he is concerned area residents could be scared or tricked into removing trees before necessary. Healthy trees don’t have to be removed, especially when the pests haven’t been found in the area yet. Trees in poor condition can have mushrooms growing on the trunk, rotting on large branches or a lot of dead branches.

“I’m concerned people will be coming around and cutting down healthy ash trees where it’s not needed right now,” he said.

He said a better plan is to follow a plan similar to that used by the Hastings Parks and Recreation Department.

The Parks and Recreation Department has been planning for EAB since 2009. Director Jeff Hassenstab said previously that city employees continually check for signs of the pests and will be more vigilant due to the proximity. As part of the city’s plan to mitigate potential EAB damage, they have been removing ash trees nearing the end of their lives to spread out the costs over a longer time period.

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An ash tree July 2 at Highland Park Arboretum shows signs of deterioration, which may be cause for removal as emerald ash borer draws nearer to the area.

Seymour recommended that owners with ash trees on the terrace allow the city to determine if they need to be removed.

Even if a homeowner has a tree they would like to keep, Seymour said it’s too early to worry about starting treatments.

He said that 15 miles around each EAB infestation is designated a Treatment Consideration Zone by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. High-value trees in good condition in those areas may be worth protecting with treatments.

But Seymour said Hastings isn’t in that area yet. To start insecticide treatments now would be an unnecessary annual cost. He also said the insecticides could harm beneficial insects as well.

“I’m afraid people will get pressured into treating a tree when they don’t need to,” he said. “People value their trees and want to take care of them, but before they treat it, I would recommend they talk to somebody about it.”

Courtesy  

Mushrooms can be seen growing on an ash tree July 2 at Highland Park Arboretum. Mushrooms and damaged limbs are symptoms of an ash tree in poor condition, which may be cause for removal as emerald ash borer draws nearer to the area.

When considering a tree service company, Seymour said it’s best to consider the company’s credentials and experience, and make sure they have proper insurance. Cutting trees or branches, especially larger branches, can be dangerous for people in the area as well as property.

He said extension educators can provide an unbiased opinion of a tree’s condition.

“They should always get a second opinion,” he said. “We at the extension can offer that. That’s what we’re here for.”

He suggested that anyone wishing to be proactive with ash trees on their property plant another tree. People looking for examples of trees that thrive in the area can visit one of five local arboretum sites: Highland Park, Prairie Loft, Central Community College — Hastings, Hastings College and Good Samaritan Village.

Planting a new tree will give it time to grow into a replacement before an ash has to be removed, he said.

The arrival of EAB has been anticipated for several years, prompting communities to start planning how to replace ash trees in their local landscapes — a massive and expensive endeavor, considering how prevalent ash has become across the state.

The borer first was found in Nebraska in 2016, when its presence in Omaha was confirmed.

EAB is a small, metallic-green beetle that is about a half-inch long. The larvae of the wood-boring insect tunnel under the bark of ash trees, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients, ultimately causing the tree to die.

EAB-infested ash trees will exhibit thinning or dying branches in the top of the tree, S-shaped larval galleries under bark, D-shaped exit holes and suckers along the trunk and main branches.

Cass, Dodge, Douglas, Lancaster, Otoe, Sarpy, Saunders and Washington counties remain under a quarantine, first issued in 2016 and updated in 2018, which includes prohibiting ash nursery stock from leaving the quarantine area and regulating the movement of hardwood firewood and mulch, ash timber products and green waste material out of quarantined areas.

Quarantines are put in place to reduce the human-assisted spread of EAB into non-infested areas. NDA and USDA staff work with the public and affected industries to ensure compliance of quarantines.

The state agency will make any updates to the state EAB quarantine this fall, after adult flight is over and trapping has been completed.

The Nebraska EAB Working Group, which includes NDA, the USDA, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Forest Service, offers the following suggestions to help prevent the human-assisted spread of the insect:

Use locally-sourced firewood, burning it in the same county where you purchased it, as EAB can easily be moved in firewood.

Consider treating healthy, high-value ash tress located within a 15-mile radius of a known infestation. Treatment will need to be continually reapplied and will only prolong the tree’s life, not save it. Trees that are experiencing declining health should be considered for removal.

If you are in a non-infested county and think you have located an EAB infestation, report it to the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, 402-471-2351, the Nebraska Forest Service at 402-472-2944, or your local USDA office at 402-434-2345.

Additional information on emerald ash borer, including quarantine information, can be found on NDA’s website at nda.nebraska.gov/plant/entomology/eab/.

Additional information on EAB and Nebraska-specific recommendations for homeowners and municipalities can be found on the Nebraska Forest Services’ website at https://nfs.unl.edu/nebraska-eab.


County rescinds Lifehouse exemption

Meeting for the first time after members of the Adams County Board of Equalization granted a 2019 permissive exemption for Lifehouse Church, board members corrected their action on Tuesday.

Acting as the Board of Equalization, members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors voted 7-0 at their regular meeting first to reconsider a resolution that was adopted June 16 that provided Lifehouse with the 2019 exemption and then also unanimously approved rescinding that resolution.

Board members had voted 4-3 on June 16 to grant Lifehouse’s permissive exemption for the church’s new home it purchased in 2019 — the building formerly occupied by Paul Spady Motors at 2850 Osborne Drive East.

The exemption in question equals $44,765 in property tax.

Lifehouse paid the first half of the property tax, $22,382.50, which was due May 1.

“The Lifehouse Church exemption that was approved at your last Board of Equalization meeting, it was not within the limits of the law,” Adams County Assessor Jackie Russell told the board Tuesday. “We all take an oath to, basically, faithfully and impartially perform the duties of our office according to the law. That wasn’t done. That’s something we need to make sure we’re adhering to.”

The church purchased the former Paul Spady Motors building on May 29, 2019, for $1.5 million.

Part of the building is being used for a for-profit business, but the space used by the church is nonprofit. Russell spoke a year ago with Paige Mackey, children’s pastor and administrator for Lifehouse, about the process of filing for a permissive property tax exemption. Russell informed her the church had missed the July 1 deadline for 2019 and was only eligible for the 2020 year at that point because Lifehouse missed the filing deadline.

The church never filed a permissive exemption for 2019.

If someone purchases a property and converts it to a tax-exempt use, such as a church, the property owner has until July 1 of the same year to file a request for a property tax exemption.

The purchaser has until Dec. 31 to apply for tax-exempt status for the upcoming year.

In this case, the property was purchased in May and the exemption wasn’t sought out before July 1.

After the last county board meeting, Russell asked the state’s property assessment division to weigh in.

“This is something I cannot correct,” she said. “I cannot knowingly break the law and correct this for you.”

Board Chairman Lee Hogan, as well as County Attorney Donna Fegler Daiss, received a letter on Monday about the exemption from Ruth Sorenson, who oversees the state’s property assessment division and oversees county assessors.

The letter cited state statute, which says “Failure to file application on or before July 1 disqualifies the property for an exemption for that tax year.”

Mackey said Lifehouse wasn’t trying to obtain an inappropriate financial advantage.

“As first-time buyers, nobody told us, ‘Oh, wait, there’s one more form now you have to fill out in order for your legal rights as a nonprofit to be tax- exempt,’ ” she said.

Supervisor Dale Curtis said the supervisors know the church was acting in good faith.

“We know that you didn’t do anything, or pull the wool or anything else,” he said.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors voted in favor of Maxine Strasburg in an isolated land hearing, stating a 33-foot access road will be built on neighboring farm ground with 16 ½ feet on each neighbor’s property to access ground owned by Strasburg and the Ronald D. Strasburg Testamentary Trust.

Construction and maintenance of the road will be paid for by Strasburg.

The supervisors will vote Aug. 4 on the amount of money involved.

In other business, the supervisors:

Unanimously approved signing the 2020-21 juvenile services grant.

Unanimously approved plans for the J&S Parr Subdivision. Applicant Jeffrey Parr of Kenesaw would like to subdivide 2.9 acres on 12th Street west of Overland Avenue. The proposed subdivision is on a pivot corner. Parr said during the meeting he plans to build a residence on the property. There are no other residences in that quarter.

Unanimously approved a cost sharing agreement between Adams County and Howard’s Glass for a portion of the Adams County Office Building parking lot resurfacing.

Unanimously approved the chairman’s signature for an audit acknowledgement relating to the victim witness grant.

Unanimously approved a resolution outlining revisions to the Adams County Wellness Program, which is now handled by the Mary Lanning Healthcare wellness department.

Unanimously approved, separately, road maintenance and gravel agreements between Adams County and Roseland Township through the end of 2020.

Unanimously approved a resolution allowing county bond counsel D.A. Davidson to negotiate with financial institutions for bond rates to pay for the resurfacing of the Adams County Office Building parking lot.

Unanimously approved the chairman’s signature on the parking lot contract with Heartland Concrete, as awarded on June 2.

Unanimously approved the 2020-2021 collective bargaining agreement with the Adams County Sheriff’s Office chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police. The agreement includes a 3% salary increase.

Unanimously approved the audit agreement with the state auditor’s office for the audit of the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020.

The supervisors also heard 2020-2021 budget requests from representatives of several county departments and organizations that receive county support.

Stefanie Creech, executive director of Area Substance and Alcohol Abuse and Prevention, requested $10,000, which is the same as 2019-2020.

Tom Krueger, county surveyor, requested $27,935, which is a decrease from $28,000 in 2019-2020. The actual expense in 2019-2020 was $21,693.86.

County Treasurer Melanie Curry requested $622,163.40, which is an increase from $616,420.12 in 2019-20. The actual expense in 2019-20 was $594,157.78.

Chris Long, Veterans Service officer, requested $189,637, which is a decrease from $191,175 in 2019-2020. The actual expense in 2019-20 was $192,200.73

Joe Budnick, chief probation officer, requested $39,361, which is the same as 2019-20.

Ron Pughes, Adams County emergency management director, requested $179,240.41, which is an increase from $171,088. The actual expense in 2019-20 was $160,203.61.

Judy Mignery, zoning administrator, requested $69,296, which is an increase from $63,353. The actual expense in 2019-2020 was $56,658.57

Mignery also presented the county board’s 2020-2021 budget, requesting $263,820. That is an increase from $256,134. The actual expense in 2019-2020 was $250,954.36.

Anjanette Bonham, executive director of the Adams County Convention and Visitors Bureau, requested $257,467.27, which is a decrease from $259,821.77.

Tom Reichert, county maintenance supervisor, requested $562,764.74, which was an increase from $540,460.20. The actual expense last year was $485,952.38.

Diane McLeod, with the Adams County Extension Office, requested $227,634, which is a decrease from $228,967. The actual expense last year was $213,108.33.

County Clerk Ramona Thomas requested $384,091.83. The actual expense last year was $329,180.73. The clerk’s office returned $31,145.26.

Tom Hawes, county court magistrate, requested $171,000, which is a decrease from $182,000. The actual expense last year was $130,963.30.


Trump pushes state, local leaders to reopen schools in fall

President Donald Trump on Tuesday launched an all-out effort pressing state and local officials to reopen schools this fall, arguing that some are keeping schools closed not because of the risks from the coronavirus pandemic but for political reasons.

“They think it’s going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed,” Trump said at a White House discussion on school plans for the fall. “No way. We’re very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools.”

The White House’s round-table gathered health and education leaders from across the nation who said schools and colleges are ready to open this fall and can do so safely. They argued that the risks of keeping students at home outweigh any risks tied to the coronavirus, saying students need access to meal programs and mental and behavioral health services.

“We want to reopen the schools,” Trump said. “Everybody wants it. The moms want it, the dads want it, the kids want it. It’s time to do it.”

But that bright outlook was met with skepticism by some beyond the White House. The president of the nation’s largest education union said Trump is more interested in scoring points for the November election than in keeping students safe.

“Trump has proven to be incapable of grasping that people are dying — that more than 130,000 Americans have already died,” said Lily Eskelsen García, president of the National Education Association. “Educators want nothing more than to be back in classrooms and on college campuses with our students, but we must do it in a way that keeps students, educators and communities safe.”

At the White House event, Trump repeated his claim that Democrats want to keep schools closed for political reasons and not health reasons.

He made the same claim on Twitter a day before, saying: “They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!”

Trump offered no evidence for the allegation, which has been criticized by health experts who say politicizing the issue will make it harder to work toward reopening schools. Jennifer Nuzzo, of Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 Testing Insights Initiative, said she was “deeply troubled” by the claim.

“When you make it about politics and just people trying to score points and get elected, I mean, I really think it’s a disservice to how incredibly important this issue is,” Nuzzo said in an interview. “And it really distracts from what I think we need, which is real solutions and a plan in order to make this happen.”

Whether schools and colleges should open this fall and how has been a topic of growing debate as the coronavirus continues to surge in parts of the United States. Trump applauded Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for his state’s recent order to open public schools this fall. And Trump attacked Harvard University for its decision to hold instruction online for the fall term.

“I think it’s ridiculous, I think it’s an easy way out and I think they ought to be ashamed of themselves, if you want to know the truth,” Trump said Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sent mixed signals on the issue, saying students should return to the classroom but also noting that virtual classes present the lowest risk of COVID-19 spread. Speaking at Trump’s event Tuesday, however, the agency’s director said unequivocally that it’s better for students to be in school than at home.

Dr. Robert Redfield noted that COVID-19 cases tend to be mild in young people, adding that the greatest risk is transmission from children to more vulnerable populations. He said the CDC encourages all schools to reopen with customized plans to minimize the spread of the coronavirus while giving students access to school services.

“It’s clear that the greater risk to our society is to have these schools close,” Redfield said. “Nothing would cause me greater sadness than to see any school district or school use our guidance as a reason not to reopen.”

The CDC’s guidance for schools recommends that students and teachers wear masks “as feasible,” spread out desks, stagger schedules, eat meals in classrooms instead of the cafeteria, and add physical barriers between bathroom sinks.

Some schools have announced plans to bring students back for only a few days a week, an option that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday said was unacceptable.

“It’s clear that our nations schools must fully reopen and fully operate this school year. Anything short of that robs students, not to mention taxpayers, of their future,” DeVos said.

During a call with governors, DeVos slammed plans by Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools to have families decide between fully remote instruction or two days a week at school. “A choice of two days per week in the classroom is not a choice at all,” DeVos said, according to audio of the call obtained by The Associated Press.

DeVos also criticized many schools’ attempts at distance education after the pandemic prompted them to move classes online last spring. She said she was disappointed in schools that “didn’t figure out how to serve students or who just gave up and didn’t try.”

The same thing can’t happen again this fall, she said, urging governors to play a role in getting schools to reopen.

Among those joining Trump on Tuesday was the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently issued guidelines suggesting that schools aim to start the academic year “physically present in school.” Keeping students at home can lead to social isolation, the organization said, and prevent schools from identifying learning deficits, abuse, depression and other issues.

Students’ mental and emotional health — along with their parents’ — was repeatedly raised in the argument to reopen schools.

“Children’s mental health and social development must be as much of a priority as physical health,” first lady Melania Trump said at the round-table. “The same is true for parents. Many will be forced to make stressful choices between caring for their children and going back to work.”

But some are calling for greater caution. Arne Duncan, who served as education secretary under former President Barack Obama, has said the focus should be on making sure students can return safely.

“We all want children to go back to school,” Duncan said on Twitter. “The question is whether we care enough about our children to ALLOW them to go to school safely. Our behavior, our commitment to shared sacrifice — or our selfishness — will determine what happens this fall for kids.”