At a work session on Monday night, the Beatrice City Council discussed potential changes to the city’s junk motor vehicles ordinance.
The matter has been up for discussion several times in the past, oftentimes with members of the public expressing concerns about what effect changes to the ordinance might have on automotive businesses around town.
Beatrice legal assistant, Abby Stark, said that was a big focus for the most recent updates to the ordinance. With that in mind, she said, the city looked into exemptions for certain businesses and individuals.
“Businesses like tow companies or body shops, places like that, where you would expect to see a lot of junk motor vehicles are just completely exempt,” she said. “Other than that, as long as it's a legal, operating business, they can have a business exemption for as long as the number of vehicles they have business exemptions for does not exceed 10 percent of their total vehicles, or one, whichever is greater.”
A junk motor vehicle, according to the city’s definition, is any motor vehicle that is inoperable, meaning that it’s damaged, defective, dismantled or otherwise deteriorated to the condition that it is incapable of being driven. The definition also includes vehicles that can’t be driven because they are currently unlicensed.
The revisions presented to the council also included exemptions for hobbyists who fix up a car. That exemption would allow for two vehicles, the first being the car being fixed and the second being the car that’s being parted out to fix it. The hobbyist exemption would be for a period of six months, but could be renewed for another six months.
There’s also an exemption for race cars, provided that the vehicle has the traits of a traditional race car, including a roll cage, a five point harness and a driver’s window net or no glass in the windows.
City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said that with the business exemption, the city is trying to address businesses that have a company vehicle that breaks down—he used a delivery truck for an example—and will give them an opportunity to get it fixed. Right now, he said, the business exemption is for two years and is not renewable.
“In two years, if that company hasn't fixed that vehicle, they're likely not going to,” Tempelmeyer said. “At that point, they've got to get rid of the vehicle.”
Some council members thought that two years was too long and suggested that maybe the exemption should be for one year at most.
Once a person is given a notice to remove their vehicle, they must come into compliance with the ordinance within a matter of 21 days, which could lead to some problems, Tempelmeyer said, especially with a new car, as state law gives the owner 30 days to get it licensed.
“Technically, your brand new car that you bought can become a junk motor vehicle before you get it registered,” he said.
Several council members recommended the compliance time be brought up to 30 days as well.
Stark also said that Beatrice Police Chief Bruce Lang and Captain Gerald Lamkin were in favor of a city impound lot, but creating one would still involve finding a location to put it.
The ordinance is a work in progress, Tempelmeyer, and it will be revisited in the near future before any changes are made. He said that fine tuning the ordinance would take time, even after it is official.
“We're going to come out with this and we're going to find the first guy who finds the first loophole, and we're going to come back and try to tighten it up a little bit more,” he said. “It's going to be a cat and mouse game as we go back and forth.”
A patch of relatively warm January weather was interrupted on Monday when Beatrice caught the southern tail of a storm that left much of Nebraska covered in a few feet of snow.
While Beatrice was spared a lot of the heavy snow that blanketed areas farther north and west, the city received enough snow that area schools were closed on Monday and for the first two hours of Tuesday.
A light dusting started to fall on Beatrice early Monday morning, but the temperature was warm enough that it didn’t start to stick until just before noon. The snow storm really got going just as commuters made their way down Highway 77 during rush hour.
Starting at 7 a.m. on Monday, the Beatrice Street Department was already beginning their blizzard preparations, as crews sent out trucks to de-ice the streets before snow could start piling up.
For Street Superintendent Jason Moore, a storm like the one on Monday is a challenge that requires not just keeping the roads free from slippery ice patches and drifting snow, but also making sure that every truck and worker is in the right place at just the right time.
The eight-member street crew worked from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Monday, laying down a salt layer ahead of the snow to create a slushy salt brine on the road, Moore said. Then plows began scraping away the snow after it started to accumulate.
At 5 p.m., a second crew of five temporary workers came in to plow until 11 p.m. before the street crew came back at midnight.
“Last night, we were able to scrape everything down as thin as possible,” Moore said. “Then, overnight, the guys came out and treated everything one more time with a light coat, and by 5:30 this morning, most of the streets were cleared.”
With the streets ready for the morning commute, the street crew still had the task of cleaning up after themselves, as they opened up storm drains, washed the trucks and unloaded unused salt. Moore said the street crew used about 80 tons of salt for Monday’s storm.
While there wasn’t a huge amount of traffic on the road during the storm, Moore said, he still recommends staying off the road when the weather is bad, unless it’s absolutely necessary.
“Honestly, for a plow operator, the less traffic that's on the road, the better,” he said. “We get snow on our mirrors, you've got big blind spots, and when you're plowing snow, the last thing you want to do is have traffic stacked up behind you.”
After the first shift went home, Moore said he got behind the wheel of a plow Monday night. Downtown was nearly free of parked cars, which helped crews cleaning up after the storm, he said.
With forecasts pointing to sunshine and temperatures reaching up into the mid 50s, Moore said there’s a warming trend coming as the January thaw begins.
“It hasn't been a hard winter, but it's been a cold winter,” Moore said. “I think everybody's ready for it to start tapering down. Hopefully, we'll get lucky and get a couple of weeks of nice warm weather.”
On Monday night, the Beatrice City Council discussed potential revisions to the city’s building codes, and foremost among them were pool barriers and weed control.
The council first discussed the city’s policy on swimming pool barriers.
City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer said that, in the past, the rules for swimming pools said that any pool capable of holding more than 24 inches of water had to have a barrier around it, which at various times has been interpreted to mean a fence, a cover or even a removable ladder on above-ground pools.
Chief Building Inspector Rob Mierau said that a good starting place, from a safety standpoint, would also be to only allow pools in back yards rather than on the street side of homes.
The council seemed to be in agreement that in-ground pools should have barriers around them, while above-ground pools don’t necessarily need them.
“I think that might be a sensible place to land,” said council member Bob Morgan. “I don't know how you're going to police all the other pools.”
Also being discussed on Monday night were weeds and how long they can to be present before the city steps in.
“How tall does grass and worthless vegetation need to be before you want to have us start sending out notices and have people become in violation?” Tempelmeyer asked the council. “Our current rule today is 12 inches.”
Once grass gets to 12 inches high, Mireau said, the city notifies the resident that they are out of compliance. Once a resident is contacted about mowing their grass, either in person or by certified mail, they will have five days to bring their yards into compliance.
The city does have some habitual offenders, Mireau said, and there are problems with compliance when the homeowner is deceased or if a home is in foreclosure, but if the yard isn’t maintained, the city will mow it and charge the resident for the labor.
Some council members said they’d like to see the length much shorter, at either 8 or 10 inches, but requiring that short of a length would make enforcement difficult, Code Enforcement Officer Chet McGrury said.
“I wouldn't go any lower than 10 if you're going to lower it,” McGrury said. “You get into springtime and you've got grass growing fast. I can't get around town fast enough to keep up with all these.”
No action was taken at Monday’s work session, and the revisions to both pool and weed codes will be worked on and brought back to the council for discussion at a later date.
A second non-incumbent candidate has filed for a seat on the Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education.
Eugene Fiester filed this week for a seat on the School Board in the 2018 election. Fiester said he’s not a politician and hopes to be someone the public can talk to about their concerns.
Fiester said there needs to be more of an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs in Beatrice schools, and stressed the importance of programs like coding and the impact they can have on a student's ability to get jobs in the future.
“The possibilities that we could give our children in coding is just immeasurable,” he said. “(Beatrice Public Schools’) saying is ‘striving to be among the best in the nation.’ It doesn’t take new buildings to strive to be the best in the nation. It takes the teachers and the community to help the students become valuable young men and women. Not only for our community, but also our nation.”
If elected, he said one area he would focus on is enhancing music in the schools.
“I’m an advocate for music, whether choir, band or orchestra, and I’m seeing a bad chain of events that we are doing away with music and keeping sports,” he said. “I have nothing against sports, but there are more benefits to the music if the children have music in their life.”
He added that music helps develop language and reasoning, and can also promote craftsmanship and a good work ethic.
Fiester works at Mead Lumber in Beatrice and is a veteran. He has four children and has lived in the area for around 10 years.
Two of his children went to Cedar Elementary School before it was converted into a preschool-only facility, a restructuring decision the board made that Fiester didn’t agree with. He said that if the board was set on making one of the four elementary schools a preschool facility, there were better options than Cedar.
“When they took the elementary out of the west side, they were taking away the value of the west side and everything else as far as community,” Fiester said. “Lincoln or Stoddard are at the center of the city and would have been more beneficial for parents who work in the industrial park or in the city.”
Fiester also addressed a prison sentence he served in 2009. Court records indicate he was convicted of sexual abuse of an inmate while working at the jail in Gage County.
“I served 2 ½ years,” he said. “It was a mistake that I made. I’ve done some therapy and things like that. My strength has been through my family. My wife has stuck through me through thick and thin, and saw day by day how I have turned my mistake into a positive thing. I’ve apologized numerous times to not only (the) sheriff’s department, but the person involved in the incident, and moved on.
“Anyone who knows me can say I’m not that person anymore. I’m centered on family, community and God.”
Fiester is the second candidate to file for a seat on the school board, following fellow non-incumbent, Eric Book.
The School Board currently has six members, though beginning in 2019 a seventh will be added.
Three current board members are up for re-election, and with a seventh seat being added, there will be four spots up for grabs in the 2018 election.
Board members whose four-year terms are up include Nancy Sedlacek, Jon Zimmerman and Doris Martin.
The election system for the School Board is structured so the top four vote-getters will be elected.
If there are more than double the number of open seats, the election will be featured on the May 15 primary ballot.
Therefore, if nine or more candidates file for the four open seats, the race will be included on the spring ballot and the top eight vote-getters will advance to the Nov. 6 general election, where the four candidates with the most votes will be elected.
If eight or fewer candidates file for School Board seats, they will all automatically advance to the fall ballot.