This Week's Editorial
No vote needed PDF E-mail

The Hamilton County Law Enforcement Center serves a critical function in our community and is in dire need of an expansion/remodeling project now being proposed.

There can be little argument, really, if you take a look around the 42-year-old facility that officers with the Sheriff’s Department, Aurora Police Department and Nebraska State Patrol need more space to do their jobs. A structure initially built to accommodate eight officers and a jail now houses as many as 30 officers in extremely cramped quarters.

In addition to serious security concerns, there are issues involving handicap accessibility, privacy for investigations/interviews, safe prisoner movement/transportation, storage and workflow efficiency. The simple conclusion is that more space is needed, sooner than later.

County commissioners have been talking about this concept since October, offering more specific detail in public meetings since February. The estimated cost has gone up several times, which is normal for any kind of home or office renovation project. The final price tag comes in at an estimated $900,000.

It was decision time last week, and the decision to go forward was made based on the obvious need for more space. It was a good decision.

On the funding issue, commissioners contemplated whether to put the question to a vote of the people or use statutory authority and issue a levy of up to 5 cents on tax obligation bonds.

Though normally we support public input whenever possible, it made more sense in this case to move ahead without a public vote. This is not new construction, nor is it an extravagant renovation plan. The project will solve immediate needs and should serve the community for decades to come.

Taxpaying citizens have been alerted to this project for several months and few if any have offered feedback or concerns. With interest rates as low as they are, delaying the project for a vote would have cost at least one construction season, and more if voters said no. That would only have raised the cost of work that must be done.

As for the city’s involvement, paying 40 percent of the bill seems appropriate, though there could have and should have been more public discussion about where that money will come from. Just a year ago auditors were reporting that paying for the new swimming pool would stretch the city’s resources to the limit, and yet funding a needed, though unexpected, $350,000 portion of the LEC expansion was approved without breaking a sweat. That deserves better explanation.

Bottom line: This project makes sense for Aurora and Hamilton County and should go forward as planned.

Kurt Johnson

 
Bruning, Dinsdale stand out as top choices in primary PDF E-mail

It’s decision time, finally, and in two of the more hotly contested primary elections I believe Jon Bruning and Sid Dinsdale have set themselves apart as men uniquely qualified to lead and represent Nebraska.
In the race for governor, Bruning seems poised to take the baton from Dave Heineman and keep the state on a positive, progressive, fiscally conservative path. That’s a formula that has served Nebraska, and Nebraskans, well.
Though a late entry in the GOP field, Bruning clearly has the leadership experience and background to be an effective governor. He knows the ropes of the Legislature having served six years in the Unicameral, and for the past 12 years has done an admirable job as the state’s Top Gun lawyer. He’s been a bulldog when necessary in that capacity, challenging Obamacare and the Environmental Protection Agency on what has become a troubling trend toward Washington overreach.
We have also been impressed with his attention toward water policy, beefing up his staff in the attorney general’s office to deal with this most important issue. That priority perspective, and experience, will become critical with each passing year.
Nebraskans know what they would be getting with Jon Bruning, in other words, and they can vote with confidence that he would get the job done.
In the race for U.S. Senate, Dinsdale strikes a tone that fits Nebraska like a glove. He’s a small-town guy with tremendous business experience who seeks a voice in Washington with a simple message -- the federal government has gotten too big and too controlling of our lives.
Many candidates may endorse that philosophy, but Dinsdale would bring a refreshing, common sense approach to the table. He has no goals to be a long-term politician, just a sincere commitment to fight for our liberty and against overregulation.
Dinsdale also took the high road in the primary campaign, running positive ads funded with money donated primarily from Nebraskans. That’s appreciated, though clearly not business as usual this day and age.
In a Senate field I believe is as strong as we’ve seen in years, Sid Dinsdale is the clear choice. Again, Nebraskans know what they would be getting with their vote, which means a lot when the fur starts flying in D.C.
In one other race of note, Lincoln attorney Doug Peterson gets my vote to be Nebraska’s next attorney general.
Peterson has experience in the AG’s office, as well as strong rapport with county attorney’s across the state, which means he would hit the ground running with a sense of what the job entails. His pledge not to seek other political office, ever, also tells Nebraskans he is focused on one job and one job only -- being the state’s lead lawyer.
Most importantly, I urge area residents to vote, whether by mail ballot or at the polls next Tuesday, making your own voice heard on these and other important decisions of our time.
Kurt Johnson

 
Let it pour PDF E-mail

If it has to be a lion, let’s hope it’s a thirsty one.

The familiar old adage of “in like a lamb, out like a lion” looks to be holding true this year. We may be just a couple weeks away from the official arrival of spring, but the weekend’s winter storm sent yet another chill down the spine. We’re hearty soles here in the Heartland, but this deep freeze phenomenon is getting old.

The bigger issue at play in the weather watch these days is not so much the temperature, but what comes with it. We need moisture, and lots of it.

It’s more than just spring fever in the air as we anxiously await the arrival of what used to be predictable spring rains. A lot of things seem less than normal about the global climate patterns these days, but that’s another conversation for another day.

What we do know is that the stakes are incredibly high now in terms of measurable moisture. Last year’s annual rainfall was better, but 2012 was a brutal drought year across Nebraska and much of the nation. Its impact is still being felt, even here in Hamilton County, long known as the deepwell irrigation center of the nation.

It was a banner year for crop yields, but only because irrigation systems were pumping at full tilt. Records show that a whopping 12 acre inches of moisture were applied across the Upper Big Blue NRD, which eventually dropped the groundwater table an estimated four feet.

Based in large part on the 2012 drought, the Upper Big Blue NRD passed new regulations effective Feb. 1 which put a lot of weight on spring groundwater level readings for the foreseeable future. If the district hits a trigger level with a three-foot drop, which is not expected this year, area farmers will face water restrictions for the first time ever.

For the first three years, the limit would be 30 acre inches, or 10 inches per year, then drop to 45 inches for the next five years, or nine acre inches per year. That’s pretty serious language with potentially serious consequences which would ripple through the local economy.

All of which could be avoided if Mother Nature does its job and lets it pour. We need moisture, and lots of it. Snow. Rain. Sleet. Ice. In whatever form we’ll take it, and bite our tongues if it makes our lives a bit more challenging on any given day.

Kurt Johnson

 
Golden moments PDF E-mail

It’s a spectacle unlike any other.

Every four years, we tune in to watch drama, national pride, emotion and intense stories of personal sacrifice play out on television under five familiar rings. The torch of the XXII Olympic Winter Games is out now, but while it was burning in Sochi we were reminded again how sport can rise above the politics of our times.

Heading into these Olympic Games, it seemed that controversy could trump the competition. There were severe security concerns, reports of shoddy construction in the Olympic village and as always threats by some nations to boycott the Games in protest of the host nation’s policies. Reports that a suicide bomber may have entered the Olympic village just days before the opening ceremonies made the world hold its collective breath that something horrific wouldn’t happen on center stage.

The cost to welcome the world and host this historic event is in and of itself disturbing, quite frankly. Russia’s president seemed hell bent on proving that his country could wow the world and Sir Vladimir was Putin on the Ritz to the tune of a staggering $52 billion price tag. That topped Beijing’s $44 billion bill in 2008, both of which were ridiculous. The bidding process and concept that you have to build all new everything to host these Games needs revamped in a big way.

But all that conversation faded, fortunately, once the flame was lit. Over the past two weeks we’ve been captivated by the tension, pure emotion and unbelievable talent on display in sporting events that aren’t normally even on the radar. In many cases, young teenagers poured their heart and soul onto the ice or snow with fearless abandon, melting away pre-Olympic turmoil and perhaps, even if temporarily, a bit of global angst.

Though Nebraska’s own Curt Tomasevicz didn’t win gold this time around, we cheered him on, as we did all the young men and women who wore the USA uniform. Knowing his story more in detail and the sacrifice he has made for so many years just to get to that starting gate makes us swell with pride. He looked thrilled to claim the bronze, as well he should.

That’s the beauty of the Olympic spirit, a feeling rekindled every two years between the winter and summer Games. The looks on those young faces lightened our own spirits in the midst of a cold Nebraska winter, if only for a moment.

Kurt Johnson

 
Serious safety issue PDF E-mail

Texting and driving don’t mix.

You know it. I know it. Young drivers should know it too, though some seem oblivious to the notion.

Law enforcement personnel know it all too well, unfortunately, but they are currently handcuffed in their ability to cite violators for putting themselves and others at risk by focusing on their phones rather than the task at hand -- driving.

Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff has been on a mission to address this issue and his priority bill this year (LB 807)  would take a giant step forward in that regard.

Harms proposed LB 945 in 2010, a measure which made texting while driving illegal. It passed, though its impact has been limited by a provision that said law enforcement could only cite violators if they were pulled over for another reason.

Violators have been fined $200 for the first offense, $300 for the second and $500 for the third and subsequent offenses.

Four years later, Harms suggests it is time to put more teeth in the law by making it a primary offense, and we agree.

The research on this issue is stunning. Sending and receiving text messages takes drivers’ eyes off the road an average of 4.6 seconds, which at 55 mph is the equivalent of driving the length of a football field. If you are on the road much at all, you can see this problem with your own eyes on the streets here in Aurora as well as up and down Interstate 80.

There seems very little reason not to make this change, though Sen. Annette Dubas, who chairs the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee which will decide whether or not to advance this bill, says it has “an uphill climb.”

“The majority of the committee isn’t looking favorably on this bill due to a concern with enforcement,” she said in a town hall meeting last week in Aurora.

That’s discouraging to hear, frankly, because other states are reporting that enforcement is not apparently a problem. Officers who suspect a driver is texting can use phone records to help determine if a violation was made, which is perhaps one reason why all but four states in America now consider texting while driving a primary offense.

It’s time for Nebraska to upgrade its tech-related approach to driving safety. Our state’s highways and byways would be safer if fewer people were so tempted to send text messages while driving, and this bill would help heighten public awareness of a dangerous situation by giving consequences to those who do.

Kurt Johnson

 
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