Nebraska lawmakers took a positive step this year in an effort to protect, preserve and better manage the use of one of our state’s most valuable resources.
No matter where you reside or what you do for a living, water is the lifeblood of Nebraska. From the streets and sewer lines of Omaha to irrigated cornfields to the Republican River Valley and everywhere in between, it is a necessity of life, as well as a source of political controversy. We are blessed to have an abundant Ogallala Aquifer underfoot, but historically have not addressed water sustainability from a statewide perspective -- until now.
When LB 1098 was signed into law, it earmarked $32 million for a Water Sustainability Fund that is long overdue. State policy makers have talked for years about the need to address all kinds of water issues, but typically stopped short of committing the financial resources needed to do the job. That was perhaps due, in part, to the fact that there were and are so many varied interests in how Nebraska’s precious water is used.
Farmers contend, and rightly so, that the state’s No. 1 industry should be a priority when it comes to water use, though even in that sector there are varied interests between groundwater and surface water users. When you factor in domestic uses, municipalities, industrial uses, flood control concerns, outdoor recreation and wildlife conservation, it’s easy to understand why unanimous support for any water policy has been hard to find.
On that note, however, the final vote on LB 1098 was 48-0, which spoke volumes. In other words, though there may be significant diversity of water users, lawmakers recognized a shared and vested interest in better managing water use as a whole.
This new law creates a mechanism to help fund that effort, though it will be a challenge going forward. Toward that end, the Natural Resources Commission will be expanded from 16 to 27 members, inviting more stakeholders to the table as the real work begins to address water policy on various fronts.
We applaud the Legislature for taking this bold step. Creating a new Water Sustainability Fund and bringing more voices to the table will not in of itself lead to immediate solutions, but it is a significant step in the right direction.
Quality staff, vibrant community earn ANR statewide recognition
The News-Register made some headlines of its own this week, winning statewide recognition as a strong weekly publication dedicated to the community it serves. Paula and I were proud to represent the staff at the annual Nebraska Newspaper Association awards ceremony this weekend in Grand Island. We took the reigns of a strong newspaper tradition 14 years ago when we bought the paper from Butch and Nancy Furse, and remain humbled today realizing what a wonderful staff we have working on your behalf to continue that tradition each and every day. Our business has changed dramatically since we came to Aurora, with the Internet and social media revamping the landscape in terms of how people get information that’s important to them. What hasn’t changed is our commitment to covering Aurora and Hamilton County like nobody else can, which makes a huge difference when you’re looking for a credible source of news about your hometown. Judges in the Omaha World-Herald’s annual Service to Agriculture competition put a nice feather in our cap, honoring the News-Register for its coverage of the state’s largest industry. Former manager editor Laurie Pfeifer took that mission seriously, coordinating a local ag-based news or feature story each week, even in the dead of winter when it may seem like there isn’t a whole lot to write about. Laurie helped the News-Register win this prestigious award for the past nine consecutive years and 15 of the last 16. We tip our hat to her and vow to carry on her commitment to in-depth agricultural coverage. This publication was also cited as the top newspaper among the state’s largest weekly publications, which again is a tribute to our staff. We now have a mix of long-time veterans and relative newcomers, including advertising manager Dave Bradley, production superintendent Marc Russell, composing staff members Karla Senff and Jill Bartling, advertising sales representative Dani Lemburg, production assistant Dave Adams, circulation staff member Bill Clements and reporter Steve Marik. I’m also convinced that one of the main reasons this newspaper holds its own in statewide competition is that we are merely a reflection of a vibrant community. There is a lot going on in Hamilton County and it’s a privilege to bring you the news of the day, telling a local story that deserves to be told. Kurt Johnson
Nebraska’s primary election is just over a month away now, with several contested races to be decided on the local level.
The deluge of television commercials, mostly for U.S. Senate and Nebraska governor, leaves little doubt that voters will soon be asked to make some choices. That gets old in a hurry, frankly, though fortunately we don’t see that kind of overkill or negative campaigning here on the home front. Thank goodness.
In fact, candidates for local office typically run fairly low-profile campaigns, in essence letting people know they are ready and willing to serve. A lot of good folks have thrown their hat in the ring this year, and we applaud them for their willingness to help make a difference.
In an effort to let the voting public learn a little more about who is running, and why, the News-Register will launch a series of pre-election profile articles beginning next week. Considering the fact that many voters will fill out their ballots early and drop them in the mail, the time is right to do a little homework.
April 16 -- First up on the calendar is a look at the proposal to build a new city hall in Hampton. The village board is asking Hampton residents to give a thumbs up or down on a plan to demolish an aging city hall and replace it on the same spot with a new city hall and maintenance/storage facility. If approved, the cost would be approximately $700,000.
April 23 -- Three races for Hamilton County Commissioner will appear on the Republican ballot in May. Ivan Hongsermeier is challenging Tim Bergen in Dist. 5, with the winner to face Democrat Roger Nunnenkamp in November; Richard Nelson is challenging Wally Driewer in Dist. 2; and Becky Richter is challenging Doug Andersen in Dist. 1.
April 30 -- A field of eight candidates seeking three spots on the Aurora 4R School Board will be narrowed to six in the primary. The field includes incumbents Sue Mitchell and Pat Shaw, along with challengers Christine Bellis, Cyndi Muilenburg, Daniel Pachta, Jacy Todd, Cory Ohlson and Scott Scheierman.
Also on April 30, we’ll ask Marquette village leaders to explain how revenues would be used if voters there approve keno gambling. No other local races will appear on the primary ballot, thanks to a new auto-advance policy in Nebraska.
We tip our hat to the men and women seeking public office, and urge voters to take the time to make informed decisions.
No vote needed
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.
Bruning, Dinsdale stand out as top choices in primary
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