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Govt-and-politics
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Elected county officials to receive pay increases

Elected county officials will see a wage increase of up to 6 ½ percent beginning in 2019 after the County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution setting wages for a four-year period.

The board approved wage increases for all county departments and the supervisors, themselves, after a discussion during Wednesday’s regular meeting. The wages will go into effect in 2019 and are set for four years, following the election cycle.

Per the resolution, all elected positions other than supervisors will receive a 6 ½ percent pay increase in 2019, followed by 3 percent increases for each of the following three years.

This amounts to an annual wage of $68,590.12 in 2022 for the Gage County assessor, clerk, clerk of the district court, register of deeds and treasurer.

The sheriff will be paid $85,157.53 in 2022 following the increase schedule, and the county attorney will be paid $102,879 that year.

The part-time county surveyor will be paid $27,504.78 at the end of the cycle.

Board member Terry Jurgens said the increases were driven in part by comparisons to other counties that showed Gage County officials were compensated below the median.

“We looked at the array of counties that we’re in with, and at first glance, it was fairly obvious that Gage County officials were below the median,” Jurgens said. “We came up with what we felt was a good solution to get closer to the median and make them comparable.”

It was pointed out during the meeting that under the rate increase, elected officials in 2022 would be at the average wage in 2018, and will likely still be paid below the average at that time.

Much of Wednesday’s debate concerned the wages for County Board members, themselves.

The initial proposal called for board members to receive the same increases of 6 ½ percent the first year and 3 percent each of the following three years, the same rate of increase as the other offices, totaling $27,504.78.

Board member Gary Lytle said this was too much of an increase. He cited county valuations, the farm economy and the ongoing Beatrice 6 legal battle as reasons supervisors shouldn’t receive a 6 ½ percent increase in 2019.

“I do think that we need to be conservative with what we’re doing in the times we’re in,” Lytle said. “I’m agreeable that there’s a raise for the elected officials. If we are going with what is offered at this point, I disagree with the Board of Supervisors getting that type of raise to go along with it.”

He made a motion to increase the board members’ annual wage by 1.5 percent each year for the four years in total. The motion died without a second.

Board member John Hill moved to amend the resolution setting the wage increase for County Board members at 3 percent for each of the four years.

This motion passed 5-1, with Hill, Lytle, Erich Tiemann, Dennis Byars and Myron Dorn voting in favor and Terry Jurgens voting in opposition.

Under the amendment, County Board members will be paid $26,488.45 in 2022 compared to the $27,504.78 they would have received in 2022 under the initial 6 ½ percent proposal.

The board chairman receives an additional $100 per month.

Dorn said the board takes wage discussions seriously, and the ultimate increases were the result of several discussions.

“There’s been a lot of discussion amongst ourselves and at committees,” Dorn said. “This isn’t something that we take lightly. This is important for the next four years for everybody involved.”


Local
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Beatrice Fire and Rescue responded to record 2,782 calls in 2017

Last year, Beatrice Fire and Rescue faced their busiest year in terms of number of calls.

The department responded to 2,782 calls in 2017—up from 2,530 in 2016—and saw an uptick in most types of calls.

“I compared last year to this year's,” said Beatrice Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Daake. “Just in one spot that I noticed a big difference in numbers was in medical calls. We responded to 140 more medical calls than we did last year.”

There were also 80 motor vehicle accidents with injuries, Daake said, up from 52 in 2016.

The heavy storm back in June alone triggered more than 30 calls for service in about 3 1/2 hours. Most of the storm calls were due to downed power lines sparking in the street or in trees and welfare checks on family members. That night, all shifts were called in to work.

A lot of the calls Beatrice Fire and Rescue receives are seasonal, members of the department’s B shift said on Wednesday. Just as the seasons change, so do the calls for service.

In the springtime, there are always a few controlled burns that get out of control, Jeremy Seggerman said.

In the summer months, there are a lot of calls for heat-related illnesses and fireworks.

In the fall, when things are starting to dry out, the department gets a lot of calls for combine fires and fires caused by lit cigarettes tossed out of car windows.

Wintertime comes with its own hazards. The department gets a lot of calls for service on slips and falls on ice, beeping carbon monoxide detectors and blocked chimneys filling houses with smoke.

Winter also brings flu season, Jason Semrad said, and they get a lot of calls when it’s going around. They all get their flu shots, Semrad said, but they still take precautions against the virus.

“I always carry a mask in my pocket,” he said, pulling it from his pocket. “I carry, it's called an emesis bag, you can throw up in it. Real quick, you can have that out. I also wear glasses, gloves on every call--no matter what--and I also carry a little bottle of Germ X to try to keep my hands clean.”

In August, Beatrice Fire and Rescue crews were stationed at several points around town during the eclipse in August, Jake Yurka said. Even though Gage County was packed with thousands of visitors, the day was pretty calm, though they did nearly miss the eclipse after a call came in just at the moment of totality.

Yurka also went on a call that hit close to home this year after responding to his own mother’s call for service. They took her to the Nebraska Heart Institute in Lincoln which, Yurka said, saved her life.

“I was working and these lovely gentlemen helped my mom out,” Yurka said, gesturing to fellow members of the department. "They say you get tunnel vision. I definitely got tunnel vision. I was nervous and pacing around, so yeah, it was probably the most emotional call I've been on in my life.”


Local
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Council approves "Dead Files" filming in Beatrice library

Things are about to get spooky in Beatrice, after the city council gave its approval for a paranormal reality TV show to shoot in the Beatrice library.

At the Beatrice City Council meeting on Tuesday night, members pulled an item—which gives the Travel Channel and the production company Painless Television, Inc. permission to enter and use the Beatrice Library to film scenes for their show—from the consent agenda to learn more about it.

There’s not a lot of information yet on what the Travel Channel show “The Dead Files” will be focused on, but it has something to do with an event in Wymore, said librarian Laureen Riedesel.

The show, now in its ninth season, features two paranormal investigators. Amy Allan, a medium, and Steve DiSchiavi, a former NYPD homicide detective, independently investigate a location that’s reported to be haunted and then meet to compare notes on the alleged spectral activity.

“What they're interested in is the heritage room and the history side of this, because that's what they're emphasizing in this program,” Riedesel said.

After being contacted by the show’s production crew, Wymore city officials told them that the information the show is interested is a part of the library’s collection, Riedesel said.

The producers are eager to get filming, she said, and had been in contact with her Tuesday afternoon to see if the meeting had happened yet.

“They're obviously on some kind of tight (time) frame where, as soon as it's approved, they're excited about getting their filming situation together,” she said.

The city council approved signing the production company’s filming releases unanimously.


Crime-and-courts
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Man who had gun at Beatrice police station gets 3 years prison

A Kansas man will spend three years in a Nebraska prison after bringing a handgun to the Beatrice Police Department in 2016.

Brandon M. Hight, 34, was sentenced for a single charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The charge is a class 1D felony and carried a mandatory minimum sentence of three years.

Before pronouncing the sentence District Court Judge Rick Schreiner said the offense was a serious one since it involved a firearm.

“You, sir, are a convicted felon,” he said. “You have no business with a handgun in your possession or around anybody with a firearm in your possession for any reason whatsoever. None.”

Hight was arrested in November 2016 after police found a gun in his possession.

Police were called to a disturbance, during which Hight pulled a handgun during an argument. Gage County Court documents state a witness told police Hight did not point the gun at anyone.

While police were investigating at the scene, dispatchers advised Hight walked to the police department.

Defense attorney Lee Timan said Wednesday that Hight went to police to explain his side of the situation. Police found a firearm in his pocket at the department, which Hight is prohibited from possessing as the result of a prior felony conviction.