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County discusses possibly changing meeting format for public safety

During their regular meeting on Tuesday, the Adams County Board of Supervisors followed the direction from Gov. Pete Ricketts to limit gatherings to 10 people, but discussed ways to hold meetings in the future to meet that threshold, but still encourage public safety as well as allow public interaction.

Ricketts announced Monday afternoon public events and gatherings in Nebraska will be limited to 10 people or fewer to prevent or control the spread of the coronavirus following guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During Tuesday’s county board meeting, all seven supervisors were present plus Deputy County Clerk Pam Witte and Deputy County Attorney Dave Bergin, allowing limited public interaction. A handful of chairs were spaced out in the audience, but most other members of the public and county staff waited in the hallway outside of the supervisors’ meeting room.

Supervisor Chuck Neumann asked during committee reports whether all seven board members are needed at both of the county’s two meetings each month, and whether just four members could conduct business — the minimum number of supervisors needed to pass an item.

Bergin said if only four board members were present, everything voted on would have to be unanimous.

Supervisor Dale Curtis asked how to determine which four members should be present.

“There may be something on the agenda that should have seven people voting,” he said

Neumann suggested the county could schedule certain items with all seven board members present.

“Whatever we can do to cut down on meetings and the number of people present we need to do it,” he said.

Ricketts issued an executive order Tuesday morning to permit state and local governmental boards, commissions and other public bodies to meet by videoconference, teleconference or other electronic means through May 31.

The governor’s order stipulated that all such virtual meetings must be available to members of the public, including media, to give citizens the opportunity to participate as well as to be duly informed of the meetings’ proceedings.

The governor’s order didn’t waive the advanced publicized notice and the agenda requirements for public meetings.

Neumann made his request after most of the supervisors listed the meetings they had attended since the last county board meeting.

“I’m just trying to think, what can we do as an organization and also lead by example,” he said. “I listened to everybody’s report today, how many of these meetings that we went to did we need to go to?”

Neumann, who serves on the Midland Area Agency on Aging board, said all eight counties served by Midland are closing congregant meals but they are offering pick-up and home delivery options.

“As time goes on it seems to be changing every single day,” board chairman Lee Hogan said. “We’re going to have to go with the guidelines that are set up for us.”

“We’ve got to be proactive,” Neumann responded.

“We have to be, you’re right,” Hogan said.

The supervisors discussed possibly having a live feed of their meetings that would allow board members to participate remotely.

During public comment, Adams County Clerk Magistrate Tom Hawes asked the supervisors whether they planned to close the courthouse.

Closing courts would require a mandate from the Nebraska Supreme Court.

“Is there any plans at all of closing the courthouse completely? Or will it remain open, so we can work? I don’t have a problem with everybody else being gone, but I can’t close without the chief justice saying so,” Hawes said.

Supervisor Scott Thomsen said the board hadn’t yet talked about closing the courthouse.

He did, however, encourage the public to take all possible measures to stay safe, which may mean not going into the courthouse.

“There is always the option to pay taxes online or by mail,” he said.

The supervisors said they plan to keep the courthouse open until they can’t.

“We have to serve the public,” Curtis said.

Also during the meeting, the supervisors received the annual report from the Adams County Extension Office.

The supervisors went into executive session to discuss the transfer of real estate but took no action.

In other business, the supervisors:

  • Voted 7-0 to approve a bid of $2,828,729 from Werner Construction for 14 miles of asphalt overlay as well as a $377,876 Werner bid for seven miles of asphalt removal. Among those 14 miles of overlay, eight miles would be on Bladen Avenue, four miles would be on Holstein Avenue and 1.75 miles would be on Adams Central Avenue. Werner had the lowest of two bids for the overlay and lowest of three bids for the seven miles of asphalt removal. The engineer’s estimate for the overlay was $2,709,352. The estimate for asphalt removal was $220,780.
  • Unanimously approved rejecting a $190,279.50 bid from Werner for surfacing the county parking lot near the Adams County Office Building with asphalt. It was the only bid received. The engineer’s estimate was $125,430.
  • Unanimously approved allowing the chairman to sign 2020 gravel contracts.
  • Unanimously approved removing from discussion a request from Lifehouse Church for a permissive exemption waiver request, on the recommendation from Bergin. Removing from discussion is similar to taking no action. The church purchased the former Paul Spady Motors building at 2850 Osborne Drive East on May 29, 2019. Part of the building is being used for a for-profit business, but the space used by the church is tax-exempt. The Lifehouse Church secretary filed on July 24, 2019 called County Assessor Jackie Russell to question the process of filing for a permissive exemption at which time Russell informed her that Lifehouse missed the deadline for 2019 and was only eligible for the 2020 year at that point stating it was 23 days after the filing deadline. The church never filed a permissive exemption for 2019. Once Lifehouse got its tax statement, that is when the church started the process of seeing if there was a way to earn the exemption for 2019 and used that phone call date in a plea for the board to consider that the church was trying to make timely application.
  • Unanimously approved a request from the Dutton-Lainson Co. for a refund of personal property tax for real property items that were submitted in error to the county.
  • Unanimously approved a motor vehicle tax exemption application from Goodwill Industries for a 2017 Chevrolet Cruze.
  • Unanimously approved a $500,000 release of security.

Stores work to keep up with demand in uncertain times

Aisles in local grocery stores may be looking a bit depleted at times, but managers say it will just take time to restock in the wake of customers gathering supplies to face a possible quarantine due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

Greg Tjarks, grocery manager at Allen’s Shopping Center, said the store continues to be able to meet most customer needs.

“We’re fairly well stocked overall,” he said.

aroh /  Amy Roh/Tribune  

Many local grocers have put a limit on how much toilet paper customers can buy.

He said several items are harder to keep in supply with the rising demand, such as toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. Last week, the store started limiting purchases of some items to make sure supplies lasted.

aroh /  Amy Roh/Tribune  

Julie Shaw of Fairfield looks over frozen vegetables while grocery shopping at Allen’s Tuesday. Shaw said she is back to her routine of shopping just once a week for groceries as people have been stocking up during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The store has added extra truck shipments to help keep shelves stocked.

“They’re telling us there’s no shortage of products,” Tjarks said. “The biggest issue is the pipeline right now.”

aroh /  Amy Roh/Tribune  

Ella Tripe checks out groceries for a customer at Tuesday at Allen’s.

He said there is an issue with warehouses shipping out supplies to stores, but the logistics are being worked out. He believes manufacturing plants also have ramped up production to replenish supply.

As far as the store’s operation, much remains the same, Tjarks said. There have been discussions about reducing hours, but that hasn’t been necessary yet.

aroh /  Amy Roh/Tribune  

Jon Martin, manager of Allen’s meat department, stocks turkeys Tuesday.

When stores like Allen’s and Russ’s Market close for the night, it gives employees a chance to restock shelves without blocking customers from reaching aisles. Some restocking can be done through the day, but the majority is after hours.

A spokesperson for B&R Stores in Lincoln, which operates Russ's Market in Hastings, was unavailable for official comment Tuesday.

Joining that group now is Walmart, which began closing from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Sunday.

In a news release on Saturday, Walmart said the shortened operating hours will give employees time to restock products and perform cleaning and sanitizing.

Another store chain with a strong local and area presence also is implementing other changes to help protect senior citizens, who are apt to be most affected by the virus spreading across the country.

Dollar General is asking for the first hour of operations each business day to be dedicated for senior customers, according to a news release issued Monday. The store is encouraging at-risk customers to visit at the beginning of each day to avoid busier and more crowded shopping periods. Other customers are asked to plan shopping trips around this window.

Dollar General stores also will close one hour earlier in the evening to allow employees time to restock shelves and perform extra cleaning to be ready for senior customers the following day.

"We appreciate our customers’ understanding of our decision and request they visit our stores later in the morning to allow at-risk populations the ability to purchase the items they need at affordable prices,” said Todd Vasos, Dollar General’s CEO. “During these unprecedented times, Dollar General is diligently working to meet the ongoing needs of our customers and communities."

CCC adjusts as coronavirus problem unfolds

Staying connected with fellow leaders in the community is what Central Community College-Hastings Campus President Jerry Wallace says is going to get Hastings through the challenges posed by the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, in the coming weeks and months.

Wallace said it is the college’s position to stay as normal as possible as long as possible during the pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, which now has reached all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

College President Matt Gotschall announced Sunday that all face-to-face classes at all CCC locations would be canceled for this week, but online classes continue in the run-up to spring break scheduled to begin this weekend. Meanwhile, employees are continuing to report to work, the college website says.

CCC serves 25 counties with main campuses at Hastings, Grand Island and Columbus and several other satellite locations.

“It’s business as usual on campus,” Wallace said of the Hastings campus Tuesday afternoon. “For students who will stay over spring break, the dining hall and student services will be open. We’re obviously trying to stay away from large groups (gathering) and haven’t made a decision (about switching to online courses). Our spring break is March 23-27, and we’re planning and have the capability to go remotely to online classes as of March 30. That’s what our faculty and staff are doing this week, preparing for making sure our academic integrity doesn’t drop at all.”

Off campus, Wallace has remained in touch with top administrators across the city, including Hastings Public Schools Superintendent Jeff Schneider, Mayor Corey Stutte, representatives from Mary Lanning Healthcare, Hastings College, Educational Service Unit No. 9, South Heartland District Health Department, and others. Their collective objective, he said, is to work together to minimize the potential impact of exposures and cases within city limits and beyond.

“The good thing is so many groups and organizations have been collaborating on sharing information,” he said. “We have so many avenues for communication and want to make sure that everybody is working collaboratively, making sure we’re doing the best for the community as a whole.”

To date, about 10 of the 121 students on campus have announced intentions of wanting to stay on campus during the crisis, which Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday during a White House news conference may peak in number of active cases in 45 days.

Wallace said he expects the number of students planning to stay on campus to increase as the disease spreads.

“Things may change if people have family members with health issues,” he said. “We’re prepared to help the students out however we can. Luckily, we have a very flexibile faculty and staff.”

Wallace said the college is working with faculty and staff members who have expressed concerns over the virus and will reduce the number of employees on campus over spring break and for the duration of the crisis.

Staff who live on campus likely will remain there and continue to work as needed, he said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing CCC in the coming months is the volatility of the situation, Wallace said. At present, there are more questions than answers as he and fellow campus leaders look to anticipate the needs of students, staff, and faculty in the coming months.

“We’re not sure we’ll be able to have graduations,” he said. “Luckily, that’s in May, so hopefully everything is back to normal and we can control everything by then.

“Hopefully there are no fatalities. It’s unknown how fast the virus is spreading (or) how long the effects of the layoff from school and time away will hurt the students’ learning in the long run. The unknown is the biggest factor.”

HPS to provide sack lunches, breakfasts for children and youth during school closure

Despite the current closure of Hastings Public Schools due to concerns over the novel coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, “grab-and-go” meals will be provided on weekdays for anyone age 18 and under.

The program begins Thursday.

Meal pick-up sites are Hastings High School, 1100 W. 14th St.; Hastings Middle School, 201 N. Marian Road; Alcott Elementary, 313 N. Cedar Ave.; and Lincoln Elementary, 720 S. Franklin Ave.

Pick-up times are 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Each individual will receive a sack lunch and breakfast items for the following day. Extra food will be sent home on Fridays to help with the weekend.

The meals are intended for anyone age 18 and under, and not just for HPS students.

***UPDATE*** It's important to note that under regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Nebraska Department of Education, the young people for whom the meals are intended must be present at the time of pick-up.

The grab-and-go meal program was announced by the school district Tuesday morning.

In the Hastings Public School District, which has a high percentage of students eligible for free and reduced-priced meals, food insecurity is a major factor.

In discussing the decision to close schools for this week on Sunday, HPS Superintendent Jeff Schneider said finding ways to continue connecting students with nutritious meals was a top priority for him and his staff.

“We hate to do this to our community,” Schneider said, acknowledging the disruption the closure would cause for students and their families.