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Search for a tourism director underway

Gage County may have a new tourism director hired in the coming weeks.

Lora Young, Director of the Beatrice Area Chamber of Commerce, said the process of hiring a tourism director has been moving quicker than expected, and multiple qualified candidates for the position are being considered.

Interviews will be conducted next week and, as early as the following a week, a decision may be made concerning who will head tourism efforts in the area, working to draw visitors to Gage County.

The previous tourism director, Lisa Wiegand, announced last month that she had accepted a position with Gage County as the emergency management director.

And while the process of rehiring the position has moved quickly, members of the County Board of Supervisors questioned why the position has had a high turnover during Young’s quarterly report to the board on Wednesday

“It seems like a revolving door in that position down there,” said Supervisor Gary Lytle. “Is that normal for that position?”

When the new hire is announced, he or she will be the fifth tourism director in Gage County since 2013.

Young said one reason the position has been vacated regularly is the lack of enticing benefits, and the position does not offer full medical coverage.

The other driving factor, she said, is the salary.

“The salary that we’re paying, it’s low,” she said. “In the industry, Gage County tourism director is the very bottom. Almost every other county has access to the improvement funds to supplement salary. Almost every county uses them because that’s what they’re for. We’re not, and that keeps us low.”

Young said the current salary, including a medical stipend, is around $30,000.

While Young said the salary is among the lowest of the 12-13 tourism directors in the state, board member Erich Tiemann stressed that the figure needs to be based on Beatrice’s market, and not a statewide comparison.

“If you look at the Beatrice market, which is what we have to look at, not anywhere else, in the Beatrice market you’re right in there in pay,” he said. “You can get a heck of a good person in the office at that pay level. We have to be realistic of that, too. We’re always working with other people’s money and it’s dang easy to spend it. We have to be cognitive of that, too.”

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A birthday party for disaster relief

Wednesday was Ethan Buss’ 10th birthday, but this year, he doesn’t want presents.

Instead, he’s throwing a party that he hopes will help the people affected by recent hurricanes and wildfires.

On Oct. 29 at 11 a.m., Ethan will be inviting the public to a birthday party in the back room of Risky’s in Beatrice. It’s a spaghetti feed, and for $8, the community can help Ethan raise money for the people hit hardest by disastrous weather events this summer.

Ethan likes to give back, and that just comes naturally, said Ethan’s mom, Amber Shufeldt.

“He’s not a needy kid,” she said. “When we asked him what he needed for back to school this year, he just said socks and underwear. He’s had the same book bag for the last two years.”

Ethan is a fourth grader at Paddock Lane Elementary. In the past, he and one of his friends opened up a lemonade stand, sending all of the proceeds to diabetes research. Wanting to help people on his birthday came as no surprise, Shufeldt said.

“I’ve had a birthday for nine years,” Ethan said. “Other little kids only had a couple birthdays and now their homes are getting destroyed. If they have a birthday coming up, their birthday present would be like a new home, new toys, new everything.”

The party started out as a small idea, he said. Maybe a few friends and family, asking everyone to chip in a few bucks, but then Ethan’s grandparents Bob and Sharon Roberts stepped in.

They suggested holding the party in a room at the Good Samaritan Society where Shufeldt works and maybe invite a few more people. But then they mentioned the idea at one of their weekly haunts.

“His grandpa and grandma eat at Risky's every Friday,” Shufeldt said. “So they know the managers there and they were talking about it and they were like, 'We want onboard, this is amazing.'”

Risky’s offered up the back room and will be holding a few games, with the possibility of a piñata and a costume party. Ethan’s grandparents will pay for the spaghetti—so all the money raised can go to the Red Cross—but Risky’s has really been putting in work, Shufeldt said.

They’ve printed flyers and are accepting donations for Ethan’s cause right in the restaurant—if you’re interested in donating, you can walk in and put your cash in a jar. The goal is to raise at least $5,000 for disaster relief.

When Hurricane Harvey hit in August, Ethan’s class was studying the effects of hurricanes, which really piqued his interest.

“He is very aware of the world around him,” his mom said. “We watch the news here, and we don't hide our children from things. He went to the library the next day and got books about hurricanes.”

That’s one way Ethan decides to help out, she said. If he hears about someone in need, he wants to learn more and pitch in.

“Last year, I said that I want to grow up, play for the Huskers and then try to get in the NFL,” Ethan said. “If I got enough money from the NFL, I was going to buy a bunch of jars and donate loads of clean water to places that don't have clean water.”

On Ethan’s birthday on Wednesday, Shufeldt learned that the Red Cross would be attending his party as well. The Red Cross may even be holding a blood drive on site, she said.

Ethan did get a present for his birthday, however, but it was something he really needed: a refurbished computer. Everything else, he hoped, would go to the Red Cross.

“If a bunch of hurricanes come up, I'll do it every year,” Ethan said. “Probably every year, I don't know.”

Zoning recommends cell tower permit be denied

The Gage County Planning and Zoning Commission is recommending that a permit for a cell phone tower be denied.

The recommendation was made to the County Board of Supervisors, which will make a final decision on the special use permit.

The application from Viaero Wireless would be for a cell tower northwest of Beatrice near 103rd and Hickory roads.

Mark Harms of Viaero attended the meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the proposal.

“Viaero Wireless, approximately two years ago, received the opportunity to start providing service to southeastern Nebraska,” he said. “Since that time frame, I’ve been working in this area to try to promote and put together some cellphone infrastructure. We’ve been successful along the highway 81 corridor.”

He said the company has an agreement to add cellphone equipment at more than 20 sites, most in Nebraska but some in Colorado and Wyoming.

“Our objective is to improve our GSM wireless service in southeast Nebraska with both frequency and strength and improve our 4G network for those folks who live and work in our Gage County area,” Harms said.

The tower near Beatrice is an existing structure and cell equipment would be added to it.

However, because the land it’s on would be separated, it would no longer be grandfathered into the area and would no longer meet setback requirements, prompting the recommendation that the permit be denied.

“We’re going to use the existing tower in this location and not change anything other than probably add the cellphone equipment on it, which will probably be four microwave dishes and the antenna structure on top,” Harms said. “There won’t be anything changed as far as the tower goes. Our only proposal is to change out the building.”

The tower, which stands at just over 200 feet tall, would have setbacks of more than 400 feet, double its height. It was built in 1982, before the zoning regulations were in place.

Planning and Zoning member Terry Acton said the setback issue meant the commission had no choice but to recommend the permit be denied.

“It’s just not right because they don’t have the right setbacks,” he said. “…I’m all for helping the community with better cellphone service. I think at some point, if we let this one go, the next one is going to come and say we let Viaero go. You get yourself on a slippery slope and where are you going to draw the line?”

By Lee Enterprises 

Fairbury baserunner Cora DeBoer (16) runs the bases in the first inning against Bishop Neumann on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017, during the NSAA State Softball Championships.

Police pursuit through Beatrice ends in arrest

A Beatrice man is in custody after police said he led them on a pursuit that began in Beatrice and ended nearly 30 miles east in Johnson County early Wednesday morning.

Armando H. Lerma, 37, of Beatrice, was arrested after the pursuit on charges of flight to avoid arrest, reckless driving, fictitious plates, speeding and traffic signal violations.

At around 3:10 a.m. on Wednesday, Beatrice Police received a report of a suspicious man in dark clothing on a dark-colored motorcycle, stopped in the middle of the street near Cedar Elementary School.

An officer was dispatched to the scene, said Beatrice Police Captain Gerald Lamkin. The motorcycle passed the officer along W. Court Street.

"The individual turned around on the motorcycle, he immediately accelerated and the chase was on,” Lamkin said.

As the motorcycle led the chase through town, Lamkin said the officer recorded that the motorcyclist's speed was 75 miles per hour, as he ran through stoplights. The chase followed down Highway 136 into Johnson County.

The Beatrice Police officer was assisted in the pursuit by deputies from Gage and Johnson counties, Lamkin said.

The motorcyclist stopped on Highway 136 at 613 Avenue near the small town of Vesta. He was taken into custody by Gage County Sheriff’s deputies and taken back to the Beatrice Police Department.

“He was interviewed, he asked him why he ran, he said he didn't know,” Lamkin said. “He said it was dumb, he should have just pulled over. Because I don't believe he's motorcycle qualified.”

Lerma was arrested on five counts, including fictitious plates. The plates used were registered to him, but were registered for a different motorcycle.