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County buying Buss Stop for evidence storage

Gage County announced plans on Wednesday to buy the Buss Stop filling station next to the jail.

The board unanimously approved the agreement to buy the land and building at 620 N. Sixth St., directly north of the jail, for $250,000.

County Board member John Hill said the two lots being purchased and part of a third have a total assessed value of $238,000.

The property will be bought with inheritance tax dollars. That fund currently has around $1.8 million available.

The county intends to primarily use the building for evidence storage, as the result of a space shortage in the current sheriff’s office.

Attorney Jim Nelson, who handled the agreement, said the purchase includes the non-consumable items in the building.

“Quite frankly, the only thing that’s not included in the agreement is the alcohol, pop and snacks,” he said. “Shelving, ice machine, coolers, it’s whatever you guys want to do with them.”

Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson said he hopes the department can use the current cooling equipment to store temperature-sensitive items.

“The smaller coolers we can use for blood, DNA, urine, things like that, to keep cool,” he said. “We have an old refrigerator now. The big cooler, if we don’t use it, we’ll shut that down and use it for drying racks for marijuana and still store evidence in there. It’s laid out fairly decent for us to use it.”

He added vehicles and other equipment may be stored at the location, but there are no definite plans for how the building will be used, other than for evidence storage.

Nelson added the agreement includes safeguards against any issues with the tanks at the building, and another inspection will be conducted in the coming months.

The purchase has a closing date of Jan. 5, 2018.

Board member Matt Bauman stressed that the property was not being purchased with a new jail in mind.

“The county has no plans, no discussion for any jail,” he said. “We have had discussions for the viability of storing appropriate evidence. That’s been an issue with the sheriff for some time and we think proximity is appropriate here. It’s not a jail.”

Hill reiterated this, saying the location would not be suitable to house inmates, even though dozens of Gage County inmates are being held elsewhere due to a lack of cells available.

“We see a need for more beds in our facility than we have and we’re working out ways to deal with it,” he said. “At this time, there are no more current plans to build a jail than there were when I first got on this board.”

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Hybrid Turkeys to start production next month

Beginning next month, millions of turkeys will hatch in Beatrice as a new business prepares to launch.

It was announced last June that Hybrid Turkeys was building a hatchery in a northwest area of the industrial park. On Wednesday, company officials celebrated the completion of the building with an open house, and are expecting to start operations next month.

“This is an exciting kickoff for us,” said Scott Rowland, general manager of the Americas for Hybrid Turkeys. “The real fun is we can start getting eggs in here and get the business operating. That’s what we’re excited about.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts was among those in attendance at the event. He spoke to the crowd about the importance of drawing businesses and workers to the state from other areas, and in this case, other parts of the globe.

“By having Hybrid Turkeys here today and Hendrix Genetics opening up this new hatchery facility, they are making an investment in our state and in the city of Beatrice,” Ricketts said. “They are helping to create that opportunity. This $6 million investment will create about 25 jobs right here in your community, and also great potential.”

Hybrid Turkeys is part of Hendrix Genetics, a multi-species breeding company with primary activities in turkeys, layers, pigs, aquaculture and traditional poultry.

Headquartered in Boxmeer, in the Netherlands, Hendrix Genetics provides expertise and resources to producers in more than 100 countries, with operations and joint ventures in 24 countries and more than 2,400 employees worldwide.

Ricketts also commented on the importance to grow Nebraska beyond Lincoln and Omaha.

“This is manufacturing month, and it’s manufacturing jobs that grow our entire state, not just Lincoln and Omaha,” he said. “We can’t be healthy if we’re just growing jobs in Lincoln and Omaha. We have to grow them all over the state. Facilities like this allow us to do that.”

Rowland said the company prides itself on enhancing meat production on a global scale.

“Our company is in the breeding business, so we develop birds to have better meat production and better egg production,” he said. “We’re in the salmon business, we’re in the trout business. It’s basically trying to produce better protein more efficiently and more sustainably.”

Once fully operational, the facility will hatch 2.5 million parent females.

“This (hatchery) is specializing in producing only parent turkeys, so all the turkeys we’ll eat at Thanksgiving will be able to trace their parents back to being hatched at this hatchery, and the numbers are quite astounding,” said Dave Libertini, Managing Director of Hendrix Genetics turkey division. “We’ll hatch about 2.5 million parent females here, but their offspring will produce about 250 million turkeys. Across the country, 250 million turkeys will be able to say ‘my mother was born in Beatrice.’”

The company worked with a variety of officials from Beatrice, and also the NGage economic development group and the city, which approved a $100,000 LB840 loan to Hybrid Turkeys in May.

But it wasn’t just about the incentives. Rowland said of the four Nebraska communities and three states being considered that it was Beatrice’s emphasis on community that set it apart.

“We visited four cities and the last city we visited was Beatrice,” Rowland said. “They made the whole process a no-brainer pretty quick. They sold themselves not about a piece of land, but about community and it was a good place to put down roots and for employees to grow. That was instrumental, for sure.”

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Nebraska state employees thanked for service

Nebraska’s Lieutenant Governor Mike Foley stopped by the Beatrice State Developmental Center Wednesday to say thanks to state employees who had reached various milestones in their careers.

It was one of seven Nebraska State Teammates’ Years of Service Awards ceremonies being held around the state this week. The one in Beatrice celebrated state employees in southeast Nebraska who had reached various yearly milestones. There were 117 such employees—the state calls them “teammates”—in the area, representing a total of 2,385 years of service.

Foley gave a quick speech, highlighting the importance of state employees in the growth of Nebraska’s agriculture and manufacturing industries.

A lot of people are choosing to move to Nebraska, Foley said, for various reasons, be it people moving from Colorado to get away from what Foley described as a cultural change to the friendlier business climate.

Farmers and ranchers this year have hit a rough patch, Foley said, with revenues falling from $7.5 billion four years ago to an estimated $4 billion this year. There’s more bad news for agriculture in the forecast, he said, but he thinks there’s a lot of hope in sight.

“When our farmers and ranchers don't do well, it ripples throughout the whole state,” Foley said.

Foley said he’s confident that Nebraska will turn the corner. With existing companies, like Kawasaki in Lincoln expanding their facilities and new businesses moving in, like Facebook’s new data center coming to Papillion, and Costco’s $300 million chicken processing facility in Fremont, there’s a lot to look forward to, he said.

“These are happening because major corporations have confidence in a state government that's a well run machine,” Foley said.

Foley thanked the state employees before handing out gifts to employees celebrating five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and 45-year milestones.

“This is a very important one here in Beatrice because of the kind of work that a lot of these people are doing,” Foley said in an interview. “We're just very, very grateful to all these folks for giving their lives to public service.”

Cathy Buss was one employee commemorating a mileston, and she was awarded a clock to celebrate 40 years of working at BSDC. Buss was 21 in 1977 when she was hired as a physical therapy aide and since then, she worked in a secretarial position before moving into the maintenance department about 30 years ago.

People told her that BSDC was the place to go, she said. And 40 years later, she’s still here.

“The people I work with, I absolutely love my department,” Buss said. “I just enjoy everything about it.”

Foley said he tried to make it to all seven ceremonies, but wasn’t able to make it to Scottsbluff, Norfolk and North Platte due to his wife having surgery, but he was in Omaha on Tuesday and will be in Lincoln for a ceremony expected to last about five hours on Thursday. There are 1,688 people reaching a milestone this year, he said, representing a total of 34,490 years of service to Nebraska. There’s a lot of gratitude owed to them.

“Just stop for a moment and say 'Thank you,' and just give them a small token,” Foley said. “It's not much, we're still government and we can't spend a lot of money on these kinds of awards, but people just need to be thanked and appreciated and know that they're making a difference in the lives of many, many Nebraskans.”

Inmates get option before being sent to Kansas

Gage County inmates headed for a cell across the Kansas border now have the option to stay in Nebraska following allegations that housing inmates in another state is a violation of the Nebraska Constitution.

Earlier this month, Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers asked Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson to weigh in on a contract approved by the Gage County Board of Supervisors in late September.

The one-year contract reserved 10 beds in the Washington County, Kan. jail for Gage County inmates. A similar agreement was approved with Dawson County in central Nebraska to reserve five additional beds.

Chambers alleged that it’s a violation of the Nebraska Constitution to transport an inmate to another state for any offense committed in Nebraska.

He wrote in a letter to the attorney general that it’s a “bit much” to use Nebraskans’ tax dollars to pay another state when no product is received and called on Peterson defend the Nebraska Constitution.

At Wednesday’s County Board of Supervisors meeting, Sheriff Millard “Gus” Gustafson said inmates have to sign a waiver to be housed in Kansas. The waiver notifies inmates they have the right to be housed in state.

Gustafson said all inmates held in Kansas were transported back to Gage County and presented with the waiver. All 16 inmates voluntarily signed a waiver, and were transported back to Washington County.

“All in about an afternoon, we brought them all back, explained the situation and showed them the waiver,” Gustafson said. “They all said ‘No I want to stay in Washington’ and all went back within about four hours, so that’s all been taken care of.”

He described the waiver as a “no brainer” for inmates, since the alternative would be the Dawson County jail, more than 200 miles away. The Washington County jail is around a 46-mile drive from Gage County.

County Attorney Roger Harris said the county responded quickly to Chambers’ accusation, and there was no intent to violate inmate’s rights.

“Gus is trying to save money for the taxpayers,” Harris said. “At the time, we’re trying to keep them as close as possible to Gage County. Nobody accused of any intent of trying to violate people’s rights or anything like that.”

The county’s contracts with both jails are at a rate of $45 per bed, per day, whether or not they are being used.

This amounts to $675 per day, or $246,000 per year to house inmates in the other counties.

Gage County inmates have been held sporadically in Washington County for more than a year, though no beds were reserved.

The $45 cost per inmate at Washington County is $10 more than the standard rate Gage County previously paid. Officials justified the additional $10 per day because this would reserve the beds for Gage County, as opposed to saving the $10 and hoping the jail has room for Gage County inmates.

Not having a contract in place led to Gage County inmates being held in as many as seven different counties in Nebraska and Kansas, wherever open cells were available.

Talks of contracting with jails intensified this summer as the number of inmates reached double the Gage County jail’s capacity of around 27.