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Hastings declares snow emergency as white stuff piles up Wednesday afternoon

The city of Hastings declared a snow emergency at midafternoon Wednesday as heavy snow continued to blanket the area.

The snow emergency is in effect through 6 a.m. Friday unless otherwise noted.

During the snow emergency, parking will be prohibited along snow routes at anytime. This allows the street department to continue to move snow in the most effective manner.

Vehicles in violation of the snow emergency are subject to ticket and/or tow.

Wednesday’s winter storm led to cancellations of virtually all school, church and other community activities for Wednesday and into Thursday and closed many businesses early.

Just before 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Adams County Emergency Management announced that due to the unsafe conditions and zero visibility, the county highway department was pulling its trucks off the roads.

“It is RECOMMENDED that if you are home you STAY HOME and DO NOT TRAVEL unless it is ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY,” ACEM said, adding capitalization to convey the urgency of the situation.

“It is advised that if you are out — that you IMMEDIATELY go home and stay home — IF IT IS SAFE FOR YOU TO DO SO. It may be safer to STAY WHERE YOU ARE AT.”

“Conditions do not look like they are going to improve within the next two hours minimum.

“Roads are becoming IMPASSABLE in Hastings and Adams County.

“Only call 911 for EMERGENCIES.

“If you become stranded, STAY IN YOUR VEHICLE and call for help.”

Adams County snowplows were to return to operations as soon as it is safe to do so, Emergency Management said. It called the situation at hand “very dangerous.”

Governor, lawmakers unveil tax-slashing plan
Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has joined several state lawmakers in unveiling a tax proposal that would remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s tax rolls
  • Updated

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen joined several state lawmakers Wednesday to unveil a tax proposal that would remove hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s tax rolls, including measures that would slash income and corporate taxes, stop taxation of Social Security income, and restrict taxes on agricultural land.

The bills would be the largest tax cuts in the state’s history — $78 million in income tax cuts alone by the end of next year and more than $720 million by 2027, Pillen said at a news conference surrounded by fellow Republicans.

The cuts were billed as necessary to keep and attract people to the state who would otherwise be put off by Nebraska’s heavy tax burden, particularly its state income tax.

“We have to compete better than we have been,” Pillen said at a news conference with a handful of fellow Republicans. “These tax cuts, they’re not going to get us in the Top 10. But we’ll rank No. 15 in the states.”

Critics fear the proposed cuts could hurt state coffers and the public programs and infrastructure that rely on tax funding.

“We have serious concerns about the affordability of the tax measures discussed by the governor, especially given his recent commitment to significantly increase public education funding,” said Rebecca Firestone, executive director of the Nebraska-based tax policy think tank OpenSky Policy Institute.

Tax rates alone don’t drive people’s decision on whether to live in Nebraska, she said.

“Other factors such as quality of life, access to good jobs and the desire to be close to family rank much higher than taxes in the decisions of businesses and individuals,” Firestone said.

The measures would include bills to speed up implementation of a tax cut passed last year to phase in decreases of top individual and corporate tax rates. The new measures would slash individual and corporate tax rates gradually to 3.99% by 2027, far lower than the reduction to 5.84% by 2027 signed into law by former Gov. Pete Ricketts last year.

Sen. Joni Albrecht, of Thurston, unveiled a bill dubbed the Agricultural Value Fairness Act, which would shift farm and ranch land from being assessed at market value and would instead assess it based on its income potential. That potential would be calculated using information from the federal Agriculture Department, the University of Nebraska, land surveys, income reports and other sources, Albrecht said. Increases on agricultural land valuations would be capped at 3.5% annually.

“Nebraska is an outlier in how we value ag land,” Albrecht said. “In states such as Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota, they use the income-based assessment value to their ag land.”

The measure would go into effect next year and potentially reduce ag land valuations across the state by $7.5 billion, she said.

Pillen, the owner of a hog farm operation near Columbus, praised the move as a lifeline for family farms, noting he recently received a letter from a farmer whose 123-acre farm had been assessed at $30,000 per acre — its market value during a year when real estate prices have soared.

“He can’t make enough income to pay the property taxes,” Pillen said. “That’s just wrong.”

Another bill would stop taxing Social Security income, estimated to amount to $16.7 million in the next fiscal year, and a bill by Sen. Dave Murman, of Glenvil, would end funding community colleges through local property tax collections and would instead see the state provide funding for community college operations. The bill would start with the funding the two-year colleges currently collect through local taxes and increase that annually by 3.5%, Murman said.

City looking at best ways to enhance communication

New Hastings City Administrator Shawn Metcalf has a lot of plans for public communication.

Metcalf, who started with the city on Dec. 21, 2022, shared those plans with Hastings City Council members on Tuesday during what was Metcalf’s first work session. Among topics discussed during the meeting included council, citizen, staff and citywide communication.

Metcalf shared copies with council members of the monthly behind-the-scenes report the city published when he was city administrator at Rawlins, Wyoming. He would like to put out something similar in Hastings.

Content within the monthly report would come from department heads and be put together by the city’s public information manager, a position the city is in the process of hiring.

The report would be published on the city website and city social media accounts. In Rawlins, the city also printed a few hundred and delivered them to local businesses and the senior center.

“I think it will provide the council with some good updates, so that you can talk to your constituents about what’s going on,” Metcalf told council members.

He said he planned to work with local media after the monthly report was published to help share the information included.

Also in Rawlins, every four months the city put out a newsletter and activity guide. This larger, more infrequent newsletter was mailed to residences.

Metcalf said it was well received by residents.

“There’s just so much flexibility we have to do something like that,” he said.

He said he also is open to trying pilot programs when it comes to communication.

He asked for feedback from council members, employees and the public about possible communication methods.

Metcalf also spoke about communication methods the city used during his time in Rawlins including Facebook Live events with department heads and regular town hall meetings.

“I just wanted to let you know I’ll be working on those things and looking forward to hearing your feedback on them and telling me what you think is working really good and what’s not,” he said. “At the very end we’re going to come up with some awesome communication pieces for the community.”

Mayor Corey Stutte spoke about rekindling the Saturday morning town hall meetings organized by the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce.

In addition to communication with the public, council members also discussed the city’s process for the public to request a future agenda item.

City Attorney Jesse Oswald presented a draft of a resolution that would update the city’s request for future agenda item form, which last was updated March 27, 2006. Council members will act on the draft at an upcoming meeting.

According to the proposed form, the future agenda item request would be reviewed by the city administrator and either forwarded to the appropriate city staff member for review and/or action, or reviewed and scheduled for an upcoming meeting.

Oswald also spoke about public records.

He said Nebraska statute guarantees government records are open to inspection except where other statutes expressly provide that a record won’t be made public.

Exceptions Oswald listed include medical records, attorney-work product, certain records by law enforcement, and personnel information.

“Certain records by law enforcement” applies to ongoing investigations conducted by law enforcement and applies only to criminal activity, not general agency monitoring.

Closed-session meetings can be held if it is clearly necessary for the protection of the public interest or for the prevention of needless injury to an individual if the individual hasn’t requested a public meeting.

There are several topics that fall under the “protection of the public interest,” he said. Some of the most common ones include whether the city is considering a real estate transaction or pending litigation.

Oswald also spoke about open meetings.

He said the city practices “blind copy” for council discussion through email which limits the copy-all capability. This prevents group deliberation through email.

“That’s not permitted because that would be considered you guys working in closed session,” Oswald said.

Emails sent to all council members are done for informational purposes only, when there is no discussion or decision occurring in such a forum.

“If you guys would be emailing back and forth to one another, that could be considered a violation of the open meeting laws because you guys are discussing kind of in private what action you may or may not take,” Oswald said.

New ice core analysis shows sharp Greenland warming spike
New ice core data shows Greenland is the warmest it's been in more than 1,000 years
  • Updated

A sharp spike in Greenland temperatures since 1995 showed the giant northern island 2.7 degrees hotter than its 20th-century average, the warmest in more than 1,000 years, according to new ice core data.

Until now Greenland ice cores — a glimpse into long-running temperatures before thermometers — hadn’t shown much of a clear signal of global warming on the remotest north central part of the island, at least compared to the rest of the world. But the ice cores also hadn’t been updated since 1995. Newly analyzed cores, drilled in 2011, show a dramatic rise in temperature in the previous 15 years, according to a study in Wednesday’s journal Nature.

“We keep on (seeing) rising temperatures between 1990s and 2011,” said study lead author Maria Hoerhold, a glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany. “We have now a clear signature of global warming.”

It takes years to analyze ice core data. Hoerhold has new cores from 2019 but hasn’t finished studying them yet. She expects the temperature rise to continue as Greenland’s ice sheet and glaciers have been melting faster recently.

“This is an important finding and corroborates the suspicion that the ‘missing warming’ in the ice cores is due to the fact that the cores end before the strong warming sets in,” said climate scientist Martin Stendel of the Danish Meteorological Institute, who wasn’t part of the research.

The ice cores are used to make a chart of proxy temperatures for Greenland running from the year 1000 to 2011. It shows temperatures gently sloping cooler for the first 800 years, then wiggling up and down while sloping warmer until a sharp and sudden spike hotter from the 1990s on. One scientist compared it to a hockey stick, a description used for other long-term temperature data showing climate change.

The jump in temperature after 1995 is so much larger than pre-industrial times before the mid-19th century that there is “almost zero” chance that it is anything but human-caused climate change, Hoerhold said.

The warming spike also mirrors a sudden rise in the amount of water running off from Greenland’s melting ice, the study finds.

What had been happening in Greenland is that natural weather variability, undulations because of an occasional weather system called Greenland blocking, in the past had masked human-caused climate change, Hoerhold said.

But as of about 25 years ago, the warming became too big to be hidden, she said.

Past data also showed Greenland not warming as fast as the rest of the Arctic, which is now warming four times faster than the global average. But the island appears to be catching up.

Ice core data for years showed Greenland acted a bit differently from the Arctic. That’s likely because of Greenland blocking, Hoerhold said. Other scientists said as a giant land mass Greenland was less affected by melting sea ice and other water factors compared to the rest of the Arctic, which is much more water-adjacent.

Hoerhold’s team drilled five new cores near old cores so as to match established ice core records. They use the difference between two different types of oxygen isotopes found in the ice to calculate temperature, using an already established formula that is checked against observed data.

Hoerhold and outside scientists said the new warming data is bad news because Greenland’s ice sheet is melting. In fact, the study ends with data from 2011 and the next year had a record melt across Greenland and the island’s ice loss has been on high since then, she said.

“We should be very concerned about North Greenland warming because that region has a dozen sleeping giants in the form of wide tidewater glaciers and an ice stream,” said Danish Meteorological Institute ice scientist Jason Box. And when awakened, it will ramp up melt from Greenland, he said.

And that means “rising seas that threaten homes, businesses, economies and communities,” said U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center Deputy Lead Scientist Twila Moon.