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Council approves Beatrice liquor licenses

Six Beatrice businesses were approved for liquor licenses by the Beatrice City Council on Monday night.

While the recommendations still have to go to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission for final approval, the city council agreed unanimously to send its approval to the state board for four Casey’s General Store locations in town, the Beatrice Pizza Hut and Vintage Venue, which is scheduled to open at the location of the former Radio Shack on Court Street.

The council first approved a Class I liquor license for Vintage Venue, owned by Colleen and John Schoneweis. A Class I licence allows the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption on the premises.

Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang said the standard liquor license application didn’t show anything that would preclude approval and Beatrice building inspector Rob Mierau said that approving the license wouldn’t lead to any negative effects on the neighborhood.

The board also approved a Class C liquor license for the Beatrice Pizza Hut, which will allow for beer, wine and distilled spirits to be sold for consumption on and off the premises.

Lang gave the department’s recommendation and Mierau said that Pizza Hut was just making an update to their licensure.

“They’ve maintained a liquor license for several years, this is just an upgrade in their license,” Mierau said.

The city council also approved four Class D liquor licenses for all four Casey’s General Store locations in town, which would allow for sales of beer, wine and distilled spirits for consumption off-premises in the original package only.

Mireau said the licenses would not have any foreseen negative impact on the surrounding area, and Lang said the department didn’t find anything that would preclude a license for any of the businesses.

All of the Casey’s locations tend to be referred to by their location in town, and upon discussing the approval of the license for Casey’s North, Lang joked that four Casey’s is enough.

“We've informed them that they can't add any other stores in town because we've got east, west, north and south,” Lang said. “We wouldn't know how to find them. That was a joke.”

All liquor licenses were approved unanimously by the council.

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SCC hosts ag competition

Hundreds of students gathered in Beatrice to compete in a variety of ag-related events during an annual competition hosted by Southeast Community College.

The Beatrice campus hosted the career development day on Tuesday, marking more than 30 years that FFA students have been invited to SCC’s Beatrice campus to compete.

Students from 31 high schools participated in areas that included food sciences, welding, ag mechanics, agronomy, ag sales, ag biotechnology, farm management and other categories.

Annie Erichsen of SCC coordinated the event with the high schools.

She said the FFA students who participate not only enjoy the event, but get a glimpse of SCC’s campus and offerings in Beatrice.

“We use it as a recruiting tool to bring students on campus, show them what the campus looks like and the benefits of coming to Southeast Community College, no matter what program they want to go into,” she said. “They get to see all aspects of it.”

Mark Duffek, an ag mechanics and agronomy instructor at SCC, said a variety of instructors and professionals oversee the competition and judging, but the event wouldn’t be possible without current SCC students.

“SCC students help monitor the contests,” he said. “We couldn’t do it without student help. There’s just too much to manage and, as an instructor, I actually need about 12 students helping me.”

Erichsen said current SCC students are happy to help with the event. In fact, many of them participated in the annual event themselves while in FFA as high school students.

“As far as our students, they’ve competed in these contests all through high school,” she said. “Now they get to see the other side of it and what it takes to put together this contest. A lot of our kids talk about how they were on the other side of that and they remember doing that contest.

“When they sign up for contests, they usually sign up for ones they’re familiar with and we see a lot of the kids come back.”

Duffek added that the event does help recruit students to SCC, and he’s recognized a few faces of new students over the years from participating as high school students.

“It gets the students on campus and shows them what the ag program is all about,” he said. “That way, it gives them exposure and hopefully we get a lot of these students to come here for post-secondary education. In the past, I’ve had students in these contests who actually come to school here and I recognize them from the high school FFA contest here. That’s pretty cool.”

Duffek estimated that more than 600 students from the area attended the one-day event at SCC-Beatrice on Tuesday.

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City council mulls workforce housing

The Beatrice City Council considered fronting $250,000 to invest in workforce housing on Monday night.

With an application date of March 30 looming, the council discussed the pros and cons of putting up some of the town’s LB840 funds to apply for grants that could quadruple that amount, which would be used for a revolving loan fund.

City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer discussed LB518, which passed the Nebraska Legislature in 2017 and put aside $7 million in cash for rural workforce housing. The city can apply for up to $1 million worth of grant funds, he said, and cities that put in funds can see that money matched by the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority as well as the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

“So, if the city put in $250,000, NIFA would match $250,000,” Tempelmeyer said. “You now have half a million dollars, which you apply to DED for a half million dollars, you'd walk away with a $1 million revolving loan fund from your initial $250,000 investment.”

The funds would have to be used for workforce housing, Tempelmeyer said, which is defined as a single family residence up to $275,000 or multiple family living units that can cost up to $200,000 per living unit. The funds can be used for things like building new homes, renovating existing homes, creating upper floor living spaces in a downtown area and for infrastructure, he said.

The city would have to run the revolving loan fund through a non-profit development organization like the Southeast Nebraska Development District, he said, as the city does not have NDO status.

“The concern is that this is short timing,” Mayor Stan Wirth said. “But it's a tremendous return on our investment if we want to set up a revolving loan fund.”

Councilman Ted Fairbanks said he wondered if the city wouldn’t be better off going it alone, rather than going in with several communities through SENDD.

Since everyone has a vote, Fairbanks asked NGage Executive Director Walker Zulkoski if the dollars end up some place else instead of Beatrice.

“I'm conflicted because it's a group and you don't know what the agreement is between the other communities,” Fairbanks said. “You're still competing, so how do you make me feel better about that, Walker, so I'm going to vote for this, because at this point, I'm not.”

While some of the money could be spent in other places, Zulkoski said, he still thinks Beatrice will have more opportunities.

The point is to make the fund grow, he said. It’s not a grant program, Zulkoski said. It’s all cash that’s lent out and comes back to the pool.

“You're talking about economic development,” Zulkoski said. “We're the cowboys that are always going out and trying to get these crazy things, but this is a great opportunity. Maybe that's where we come at it from two different points, I see just a ton of opportunity here.”

The first step, Tempelmeyer said, is to set up the rules with the other communities. It’s like starting a business, he said, and it needs structure.

Wirth said that there are a lot of communities after the dollars, and once the money allocated by LB518 is gone, it’s gone.

Councilman Phil Cook said that while it might be scary to be going into an investment pool with several communities, there’s encouragement to work together.

“To me, if we're going to do this, we're all going to be in the same boat and we've got to play together,” Cook said. “We're going to be on the same team, I don't see why one would try to slit the throat of the other one.”

The pool would be a consortium of four or five different communities, Wirth said, and each community would have a vote. He said he thought it would be more project-driven rather than based on the size of the community.

Zulkoski said there’s a push in Nebraska, as well as around the country, to think more regionally. This, he said, would be a chance for Beatrice to become a regional partner.

At NGage, he said he’s seen manufacturers and other companies around the community, and many employees travel into town from quite a distance. So, even if housing was to be built in a place like Auburn or Geneva, people could be commuting from there to Beatrice.

“If we get it, that's great, but if not, it still helps everyone,” Zulkoski said. “It's just kind of a rising tide raises all ships.”

The city will have about $600,000 in the LB840 fund—which is collected and appropriated from local tax dollars for economic development purposes—by the end of the year, Wirth said.

The council will meet on March 19 to vote on whether to approve.

Hickman man injured after colliding with cattle on Highway 77

A Hickman man was injured after his car collided with a group of cattle on Highway 77 outside of Cortland.

At about 8:40 p.m. on Monday, the Gage County Sheriff’s Office, Clatonia Fire and Rescue and Cortland Fire and Rescue responded to an injury accident involving cattle in the roadway.

Paul Bade was driving around the curve south of Cortland when a herd of cattle wandered onto the highway just east of SW Second Road. Bade’s Ford Taurus collided with several cows that had gotten loose from a property adjacent to the highway, causing extensive damage to the vehicle.

Bade was transported by Clatonia Rescue to Bryan LGH West in Lincoln for treatment of neck and head injuries, which were not believed to be life-threatening.

Both north and southbound directions of Highway 77 were closed by emergency crews for an hour while crews worked to remove debris from the highway and to investigate the crash. The Nebraska State Patrol worked to divert southbound traffic east on State Highway 41.

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least six head of cattle could still be seen dead on the side of the highway, with one in the center median, but Gage County Sheriff Millard Gustafson said he wasn’t sure if they had to be put down and, if they were, who had done it.

“We wouldn't know that because that would be after the fact,” Gustafson said. “It wouldn't surprise me because they said he rammed a bunch of them, so I'd imagine some had to be put down because that had to be a pretty good hit.”