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Voters defeat Norris bond issue

Norris Public Schools voters defeated a $9.5 million bond issue that would have paid for a host of repairs and renovations, a new baseball field and tennis courts, according to election results Tuesday.

"We didn't get the outcome we'd hoped for," said Superintendent John Skretta. "It's disappointing, but not surprising."

Voters had to cast two votes: One on a $7.5 million proposal to pay for 18 infrastructure projects, the most expensive of which was a $3.5 million overhaul of the elementary school heating and air conditioning systems and money-saving system controls across the district.

The second proposal -- $2 million for the athletic facilities -- was contingent on passage of the first. Voters could have approved the proposal for infrastructure and not the athletic facilities.

The Lancaster County Election Commissioner sent out 6,950 mail-in ballots and 3,154 were returned -- a 45 percent turnout.

Those voters narrowly defeated the first proposition for infrastructure updates 51 percent to 49 percent. They more soundly defeated the proposal for new athletic facilities 60 percent to 40 percent.

Skretta said the results reflect the state's over-reliance on property taxes to fund schools and reductions in state aid in recent years that means Norris has had to rely more heavily on property taxes.

Another factor, he said, is that infrastructure updates are not as tangible as building a new school.

That's a key difference with a 2012 bond issue, approved by 63 percent of voters.

That $14 million bond issue -- also a mail-in election -- paid for a new intermediate elementary and added more space to the high school.

Norris Public Schools serves Roca, Hickman, Firth, Cortland, Panama, Princeton, Holland, Cheney and Rokeby.

The latest bond issue would have increased the district's tax levy -- currently just under $1.16 per $100 of valuation -- by 4.5 cents, or $45 more a year for the owner of a $100,000 home.

Skretta said previously board members structured the ballot proposals that way because they didn’t want to build athletic facilities if they couldn’t address basic infrastructure needs.

The second proposition would have built a competition baseball diamond and four tennis courts, neither of which are on the school site now, though they’ve been a part of the strategic plan since 2008.

Baseball players use the Legion field in Hickman, and tennis players take a bus to Lincoln's Woods Park courts.

The vote on that proposition shows constituents are satisfied to have itinerant programs, Skretta said.

"We believe it's a safety issue and support issue when you're not able to offer facilities on campus for school activities that have been around a decade."

District officials will review infrastructure projects and try to address the most urgent first. Given the narrow margin of failure, it's also possible officials might consider attempt another bond issue, he said.


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"Mayla the Monkey Girl" opens Friday at Community Players

Abandoned by her mother on an island, Mayla is forced to bake pies until she decides to make a daring escape, running into bloodthirsty pirates and a friendly group of monkeys in an effort to find a place to call home.

“Mayla the Monkey Girl” opens this week at Community Players in Beatrice, and features plenty of twists and turns.

The show opens Friday at 7:30 p.m., with additional showings on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. The show boasts the biggest cast of kids from the theater’s Acting Up program to date.

With 44 Beatrice kids on and off stage, director Tyler Rinne has his hands full, but he said it’s great to see community engagement with the theater.

“We usually try to cap the program around 30,” Rinne said. “But this script allowed for more people to be cast because there's so many monkeys and mermaids and pirates that I was able to take everybody who auditioned, but also guaranteed that they would have a good experience onstage.”

The show is an adventure, he said. It’s campy, but there’s a lot of action in it as well.

Acting Up, the theater’s after-school program, is a twice-a-semester program that’s built around the Beatrice Public Schools' early dismissal on Wednesdays. Every Wednesday afternoon from the beginning of the school year, the kids meet to rehearse the show. Then, they meet every day for the final three weeks leading up to opening night.

Raquel Moore, who plays Mayla, is starting in her 12th show with Community Players and said it’s a show that’s a safe bet for the whole family.

“There's a lot of plot twists and that's what keeps you on the edge of your seat,” she said. “Plus a lot of really funny, stupid humor that I think people will find a lot of fun.”

The Acting Up program is in its seventh year, which coincided with Rinne’s start at Community Players. “Mayla the Monkey Girl” is the program’s 13th show and registration for the upcoming show, “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales,” is open now. Auditions for the show, based on the children's book, will be held on Jan. 17 and are open to kids in fifth through eighth grade.

While they’ll have to keep the cast trimmed to a comparably lean 30 kids for the next show, Rinne said that the biggest challenge in doing a show with 44 kids on stage is keeping them all excited about what they’re preparing to do.

“A lot of it is really making sure that the kids are having fun and being engaged by their characters in the show that we're doing,” he said. “That way, with all those kids here, they don't have a chance to get distracted. If they're here, they want to be participating. And they all do.”

Tagg DeBoer, who plays Duncan the cabin boy, said that he’s really excited about opening night. He’s in eighth grade and about to age out of the Acting Up program. He said that, while the program might be aimed at kids, it has taught him a lot about acting and he’s ready to move on to different things the theater might have to offer.

“Tyler always gives us roles that push us a little out of our boundary,” he said. “But it always ends up really, really good.”

Raquel agreed, but said that she can really relate to Mayla, which makes playing the role pretty fun.

“This is kind of my dream role,” she said. “Not wearing shoes, that's pretty awesome, except for the fact that your feet get cold.”


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Man gets probation for assault

A Beatrice man will serve four years on probation for what a district court judge described as habitually stalking a female victim.

Justis D. Barnhouse, 22, was sentenced Wednesday in Gage County District Court for the April incident, in which he was convicted of kicking in an apartment door and hitting men he believed were involved with his former girlfriend.

District Court Judge Rick Schreiner indicated the programs Barnhouse will be required to participate in as part of probation can be more helpful than a prison sentence, but stressed that Barnhouse needs to leave the victim in the case alone.

“The fact that you have a child together does not mark her as your territory for the rest of your life and her life,” Schreiner said. “You need to leave her alone. You are extremely jealous and extremely controlling. You can’t control her anymore.”

The victim reported to police that Barnhouse broke in through the front door earlier this year.

Officers entered the residence, and found Barnhouse standing over a victim, who was on the ground crying. Scratches and redness were observed on the victim's leg, according to Gage County Court documents.

Another victim had blood on their nose, and court documents list five victims involved.

Barnhouse broke through the front door while the victim was talking with dispatchers, court documents state.

He assaulted three people, punching two in the face. One victim reported being punched in the face up to six times, according to court documents.

He was sentenced for five counts, including third-degree domestic assault, criminal mischief, first-degree criminal trespassing and two counts third-degree assault. All the charges were misdemeanors after the single felony count was reduced as part of a plea agreement.

The plea agreement also stated prosecutors would recommend probation at the time of sentencing, though deputy county attorney Calynn Schuck instead asked for a prison sentence. She said Barnhouse had committed four additional violations since the plea agreement, including contact made with the victim.

She said he directly defied court orders and has a history of domestic assaults.

Schuck cited a statement from the victim that outlined examples of control Barnhouse has held over the victim.

“She also discusses how Mr. Barnhouse monitors her Facebook, Snapchat and other social media,” Schuck said. “Due to Mr. Barnhouse’s actions, she has actually lost friends and her family fears for her life because of how controlling he is, and they’re not even in a relationship other than they have a child together. No person should be allowed to affect another person’s life like this.”

Defense Attorney Lee Timan countered that Barnhouse took responsibility for his actions, as demonstrated by pleading guilty to four of the five charges.

He pleaded no contest to the third-degree domestic assault charge because he disputed an assault took place against the female.

“He was there basically to get involved in a fight with the other individuals because he had concerns about what they were doing,” Timan said. “It’s his position that (the victim) jumped on him to stop him from going after them and either he shrugged her off or she fell off while trying to jump on him.”

Timan added that none of the victims sustained major injuries as a result of the incident.

“The fact is this case is only in district court because it started off with one count felony domestic assault,” Timan said. “That was the major charge of contention. There was no dispute as to him assaulting the other individuals or kicking the door in. He’s never disputed that in any way. He admitted that to law enforcement.”

In addition to the four years of probation, Barnhouse will serve 90 days in jail, and pay a $250 fine. He was also ordered to pay $600 restitution for the damaged door.


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Stolen city backhoe recovered

On Monday night, a city backhoe was taken for an unauthorized ride through town.

A backhoe, emblazoned with the city of Beatrice’s “Stake Your Claim” logo, was taken sometime Monday night from a work site at Fifth and Logan streets. The vehicle was left unattended when a water department crew was called to a different site to help repair a water main break at about 3 p.m. on Monday. The backhoe was recovered Tuesday evening, after it was found wedged in an alley behind the location of the old Dairy Queen at 500 W. Court St.

The theft wasn’t exactly sophisticated, as the keys were left in the vehicle and the doors were unlocked, said Water Superintendent Steve Kelley.

“What happened to it, I really don't know, but there doesn't seem to be any damage to it,” Kelley said. “We got it back and, when the guys get back in, we're going to talk about how we're going to handle the key situation from now on.”

 Kelley estimated that the 2005 model backhoe had a value between $30,000 and $40,000, but a newer backhoe recently purchased by the city cost them about $88,000. The insurance on the vehicle that went missing has a $50,000 deductible.

“In my opinion, where it was sitting, it was pretty well-hidden,” Kelley said. “My hunch is, it was going to be loaded on a trailer and it'd be gone.”

Discussing ways to prevent theft of city work vehicles, members of the Beatrice Board of Public Works pitched several ideas that might keep the heavy machinery safe.

Street Superintendent Jason Moore said a battery disconnect switch could prevent anyone from starting the machines.

“All of the pieces of equipment that we have, you can get a battery disconnect if they don't already have it,” he said. “Usually, it's a lever. You flip it and you put a padlock on it.”

BPW President Dave Eskra, who is also owner of Twin Rivers Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Beatrice, said that his dealership uses a device that allows their vehicles to be tracked in real time, in case they get stolen or are otherwise missing.

Eskra said he didn’t know exactly how much that would cost, but it probably would not be so expensive, in comparison to the theft of a single vehicle.

“We have that in police cars and ambulances,” City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said. “We have it in those vehicles, we've never gone to the point where we put them in anything else.”

The distance between the place where the backhoe was taken at Fifth and Logan streets and where it was found, near West Court and North Lasalle streets, is a distance of about a mile and a half and means the backhoe would have had to cross over the Big Blue River.

There are no suspects named yet, but, Kelley said, there were some clues left behind for the Beatrice Police Department who are investigating the backhoe’s disappearance.

“They took fingerprints,” Kelley said, “but it would have to be somebody who's been in trouble before.”