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Senator proposes $1B property tax relief plan

The countdown begins.

Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard dropped his proposal for a billion dollars in property tax relief into the legislative hopper on Thursday as supporters of a backup plan prepared to launch a petition drive to place the issue on the November general election ballot.

Next week, Gov. Pete Ricketts will come before the Legislature to outline an alternative tax plan that would combine property tax relief with personal and corporate income tax reductions.

"Here we go," Erdman said as he left his desk to present his bill for introduction on the second day of the 2018 legislative session.

And so the stage is set for an election-year tax reduction debate.

Erdman's bill (LB829) provides for property tax relief distributed through a state income tax credit or refund equal to 50 percent of local school property taxes paid by Nebraska taxpayers.

Erdman has estimated that will provide about $1.1 billion in property tax relief, beginning in 2019.

As the western Nebraska senator formally introduced his proposal, Trent Fellers of Lincoln completed preparations with the secretary of state for circulation of initiative petitions that would place the property tax issue on the November ballot for voter consideration if the Legislature does not act.

Fellers, who is executive director of Reform for Nebraska's Future, said he expects to begin circulating petitions within the next few weeks and gathering signatures.

Ricketts is planning to unveil some details about a renegotiated tax proposal that would add more property tax relief to a stalled bill (LB461) that is weighted more to personal and corporate income tax reduction.

That measure, as it now is framed, centers its property tax reduction feature on a new method of ag land valuation.

While raising strong concerns last week about the cost of the Erdman proposal, Ricketts has been engaged in negotiations to add more property tax relief to the pending legislation that he supported last year.

Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, chairman of the Legislature's Revenue Committee, suggested this week that, although he is encouraged, the revised proposal appears to have "a very, very narrow path" to legislative approval.

Erdman said Thursday he has been encouraged by expressions of increasing support from urban homeowners for his own proposal.

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The season for freezin': The last few weeks have been busy for area plumbers

As sub-zero temperatures are blasting the Midwest and as words like “bomb cyclone” and “polar vortex” are being tossed around, this is the time of year that’s hardest on pipes, and the busiest time for Gage County plumbers.

With more sub-zero temperatures on the horizon, here are some tips to prevent pipes from freezing during the cold winter days ahead.

Todd Hydo of Lammel Plumbing in Beatrice said that, with the mild fall and winter temperatures that lingered late into 2017, the sudden, extreme plummet into negative temperatures came as a bit of a shock to both residents and water pipes.

Between Christmas and New Year’s, temperatures dipped down to 20-below in some areas, leading to frozen pipes.

“This year just fell at a really bad time, where we had two holiday weekends and two weekends where we had record lows,” Hydo said. “That was kind of the odd thing this year.”

Frozen pipes can be caused by different factors, Hydo said, including recently-shifted or cracked foundations. Many older houses may have settled in the warmer months, he said, developing cracks where cold, wintry air can get into low places like basements and crawl spaces.

Those low places, Hydo said, are where a house’s plumbing usually sits.

“My best advice is to tell people to go in their basement or crawl spaces when it's a nice, bright sunny day, and if they can see daylight from cracks, they need to fill them, spray foam them, insulate them,” he said. “If cold air is getting in there enough to freeze the pipes, that can't help with your heating bill also.”

Other than filling cracks, pipes with the potential to freeze can be wrapped in insulation or heat tape, though that would only offer a temporary solution, he said.

Roy Lauby of Lauby Plumbing, Heating and Air in Wymore said that letting water run through the pipes is a good idea, but it’s important to remember a scientific quirk about water.

“Hot water usually freezes before the cold,” Lauby said. “You need to leave a steady drip to a slow dribble when it gets down to zero and in that area.”

And, while letting water flow through the pipes is a good way to keep them from freezing, Hydo said that it can be a bit of a double-edged sword when the temperatures get perilously low.

“If you have water slowly dripping down your sewer line, you have a much bigger pipe that's just as cold,” Hydo said. “We actually had that happen here this week a couple of times, where the sewer line actually froze solid. Thawing a sewer line is much, much harder because you have no pressure behind it, plus it's a much larger line.”

When the sewer line freezes, Hydo said, it takes heat, and lots of it, to fix it. Workers may apply heat guns to the pipes and bring in industrial space heaters to try to warm crawl spaces up to 80 or 90 degrees. In one more extreme case this week, Hydo said his team had to pour rock salt into the sewer line to let it eat away at the ice.

Lauby said he’s noticed another problem in which furnaces are dying in the extreme cold. When furnaces are pumping out heat full-blast, that can take a toll on a heater.

For plumbers like Lauby and Hydo and those who work for them, the coldest days of the month are often the most challenging. In the nearly 25 years he’s been in the business, Hydo said this is easily one of the top three busiest seasons he’s had.

Hydo said he hasn’t had a day off in about three weeks, and area plumbers have been working weekends and late night shifts to keep up with demand.

“It's another way we stay busy year-round,” Lauby said. “We worked all day New Year's Day, all day the day before, all day the day before that, all day the day after and ever since. All day Christmas--I worked 14 hours Christmas Day.”

Hydo said he’ll probably get to enjoy the holidays once he’s retired, but until then, this is the busiest time for him.

“Plumbing and the holidays,” Hydo said. “Between plugged sewers and frozen pipes, it's usually a bad season for us.”

Blue Springs tower talks continue

Gage County is evaluating its options regarding a failing communications tower in Blue Springs, including leasing space on a different tower for its equipment.

Multiple tower companies have declined to perform maintenance on the tower near the ball fields in Blue Springs as a result of safety concerns.

The tower has failed recent inspections and equipment on the tower was damaged during storms last spring.

The County Board is considering a proposal to purchase new repeaters and equipment that may be installed elsewhere in the southern part of Gage County, and is continuing to look for options.

Gage County Emergency Management Director Lisa Wiegand said that, since the last regular County Board meeting, another company has come forward with interest in the tower.

“At the time that I reached out to the committee, I did receive a call out of the blue from Clear View Tower,” she said. “They had heard through the press that we had a tower we have some problems with. I sent our inspection to them and it said that after a review of the tower, it appears the tower needs to be decommissioned.”

Under a proposal from Clear View Tower, they would take down the tower. They would then build a new tower that they would own and lease back to the county to put communication equipment on it.

County Board members encouraged Wiegand to hear out the proposal and come back to the board when there were firm cost estimates in place, though board member Erich Tiemann cautioned that the county has received different opinions on the state the tower is actually in.

“Keep in mind, the people who said it could be repaired were not people trying to sell us a tower,” Tiemann said. “It’s a tower sales company. Our tower’s always bad, but they can sell us a new one.”

The tower was built around 1970 and was last painted around eight years ago.

Wires on the tower are no longer covered, and Tiemann said the elements have taken a toll on it. The lights on the tower were also knocked out after it was struck by lightning.

The tower serves departments in the general southern part of the county, south of Highway 136.

It’s been previously stated that a new repeater and the corresponding equipment that would be installed in the dispatch center in Beatrice would cost approximately $27,000.

Wiegand said all options will be considered before a decision is made regarding the tower.

“You have to study all your options,” she said. “The important part that you’ve expressed is getting safety and service to everybody. I’ll keep researching the facts and presenting the information to you.”

Beatrice man to be sentenced in March for hitting someone with car

A Beatrice man who hit someone with his car and left the scene will be sentenced in March.

Clyde N. Rice, 73, entered no contest pleas to three charges in Gage County District Court Thursday as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors.

On March 1, he will be sentenced for second-degree assault, terroristic threats and leaving the scene of an injury accident.

Rice was initially charged with attempted second-degree murder, use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony, terroristic threats and leaving the scene of an injury accident.

Beatrice police were dispatched to the 100 block of High Street last August for a report that Rice had hit a man with his vehicle and pepper sprayed him.

According to Gage County court documents, witnesses told police that Rice pulled up in a vehicle, got out a pink can of pepper spray and sprayed the victim in the face.

Rice then got back inside his vehicle and turned around in a circle. He allegedly struck the victim with his vehicle, sending the man approximately 30 feet before he came to a rest.

He then allegedly said, "Now you know how it feels," and sped off.

Rice called police to state the victim jumped on his hood while he was leaving the scene.

Damage to the vehicle was consistent with witness statements, and Rice had a can pepper spray in his pocket when contacted by police.

The victim was taken to a hospital for medical treatment and sustained cuts and bruises on his leg and advised he was in pain from being hit by the vehicle.

Scott Koperski /   

Clyde Rice