The Dawson County Board of Commissioners met to tackle a heavy agenda on June 21st.
The final agenda item was most likely the heaviest of the agenda items as it involved the Assessor’s Office in the Dawson County Courthouse.
Ruth Sorensen, State Property Tax Administrator for the Nebraska Department of Revenue addressed the commissioners about phone calls her office has been receiving from constituents expressing concerns about assessments and taxes since February.
“When we receive frequent calls about similar issues our ears perk up,” said Derrick Niederklein, a state field operations supervisor who appeared with Sorenson and works with county officials.
An investigative visit was made to the Dawson County Assessor’s Office on May 30th, and misinformation in record keeping was found.
Sorenson said improvements on some parcels had not been assessed. For example, one property that had sold for $300,000 in February 2017 showed a valuation of $32,000 that same year.
Sorenson said that delays in recording information, including on the county parcel website, affect public trust.
“If it doesn’t change, it creates a very stressful situation for the county assessor and for our office,” Sorenson said.
Another member of Sorenson’s team, Cyndy Hermsen, did a random check of 17 sales that showed 35 percent had errors. Additionally, some of the records she requested could not be located in the office. 
Sorenson said that sales are to be reported to the state within a month and haven’t been and that the record keeping appears to be sloppy in the office.
The investigation also showed failure to provide timely valuation notices. Apparently a printing glitch led to 1,000 valuation notices being sent out late.
Commissioner Dennis Rickertsen asked, “What do we do about this?” All five of the commissioners agreed that they wanted to work with Sorenson and her team to rectify the situation.
Commissioner Bill Stewart shared concerns that Moore holds an elected office and that no one on the board has the authority to run the assessor’s office.
Stewart asked if the county had the authority to go back and collect taxes if it found errors.
“I would go forward from this point,” Sorenson responded. 
Sorenson explained that more efficient record keeping needs to be carried out on a daily basis and transfers need to be done in a timelier manner.
She and her team are willing to help County Assessor John Moore clean up the office and ensure that everyone is being assessed fairly and monitored more closely in the future.
Sorenson did say there was no determination that errors found were intentional, and that Moore told them that he had made attempts to change the work flow during the investigation.
Moore was present at the meeting, but did not speak. Sorenson did report that Moore and his office staff were more than willing to cooperate with her team in rectifying the situation. 
“There are webinars available for education and reorganization of the office,” Sorenson said.
“The bottom line is we are willing to do whatever and whenever to correct this,” said Board Chairman Dean Kugler. 
In other business, Official’s Receipts were filed as submitted: $408.00 – County Clerk; $25,522.39 – Register of Deeds; $15,801.13 – Clerk of District Court and $4,437.50 – Surveyor. Treasurer’s Receipts were approved as presented in the amount of $900,270.05 and claims were approved as submitted for $1,090,878.52.
Under Committee Reports, Commissioner Butch Hagan reported that the Opioid Crisis was discussed at the State Commissioners Workshop that he attended. The State recommends that county governments DO NOT enter into contracts regarding this. Commissioner Hagan also reported that CDL testing is being conducted at the Dawson County Fairgrounds. He noted that the landfill is going good and that the restrooms at the fairgrounds are also going good but are facing a shortage of funds since they are not eligible for matching funds.
Emergency Manager Brian Woldt reported that he would be seeking bids for roof replacements on a section of roof on the south part of the courthouse that was damaged by recent storms. 
“The present roofing is a flat rubber roof that is over 30 years old and we will want to replace it with asphalt,” Woldt said.
Dawson County Sheriff Gary Reiber presented the May crime reports. There were 1,041 Total Services and 1,838 LEC Dispatch Calls for Service during the month. 186 new inmates were booked into the Dawson County Jail. 
“The number of contract continues to be higher each month than our local population of inmates which is a good thing,” Sheriff Reiber noted.
Total revenues for the current fiscal year come in at $1,766,791.53 as compared to $1,437,810.29 for one year ago.
Dawson County Weed Superintendent Marty Craig appeared to recommend that a contract between Two Rivers Health Department and Dawson County for mosquito trapping be approved. The commissioners voted to enter into the contract with Two Rivers Health Department.
Discussion took place concerning a resolution to sign a project program agreement for a 2018 underwater bridge inspection agreement between Damson County and the State of Nebraska. The commissioners questioned why the county pays 20 percent of this cost when the county doesn’t own them. Deputy County Attorney Jared Dean and Roads Superintendent Mark Christiansen will study the resolution further and make a recommendation at the July 2nd meeting.
Randy Deans, Miller & Associates, opened three bids for two county bridges. There were three bid schedules available: Schedule A for one bridge project, Schedule B for the second bridge project and Schedule C for both bridge projects.
Saul Ramos Construction, Shelton bid $124,431.15 for A; $23,897.75 for B and no bid for C.
VanKirk Bros Contracting, Sutton bid $390,999.40 for C with no bids for A or B.
MidLand Contracting, Kearney also didn’t bid on A or B, with a bid of $425,625.26 for C.
Deans will bring back a recommendation to the July 2nd meeting.
A motion was made and seconded to approve installing ‘In God We Trust’ signs at the entrance of the east door outside of the Commissioners Meeting Room and at the west side, top of the 2nd floor by the Courtroom in the county courthouse. The motion carried with the cost of the signs being donated by Commissioner PJ Jacobson.
Pamela Mann, Executive Director of Region II Developmental Disabilities Services and Vickie Prillaman and Kylie Joyce from South Central Developmental Services in Cozad appeared with an agency update.
The agency serves 17 counties in Southwest Nebraska including Dawson, Frontier and Gosper counties. There are area agencies in North Platte, McCook, Ogallala and Cozad that provide direct services in the areas of vocational and residential training and supports. 171 individuals received services region-wide in the past year with 47 of these being from Dawson County. One half of these individuals live in group homes.
The agency’s Governing Board is comprised of one County Commissioner from each of the 17 counties formed under Interlocal Agreement. Commissioner Jacobson serves on the board from Dawson County. 
The state provides the majority of the agency’s funding with the county providing 1.5 percent of the budget that amounted to $43,487 this past year or $1.80 per capita.  
The commissioners commended Mann, Prillaman and Joyce on the continued exemplary service they provide to these individuals and pledged their continued support.
Prillaman told the commissioners that Joyce would be replacing her as Director of South Central Developmental Services when she retires after 33 years of service to the agency in August.
Veteran’s Service Officer Steve Zerr appeared with two recommendations for the Veteran Service Committee; both were approved.
Dick Prasch is reappointed to serve on the Veteran Service Committee and Robert Schwanz was appointed to fill the vacancy on a term ending in 2021 on the Veteran Service Committee that was vacated by Andy Cowan. Schwanz will be sworn in at 9 a.m. at the July 2nd meeting.
At 8:45 a.m. Chairman Dean Kugler opened the public hearing regarding a Special Use Permit made by Country Partners Cooperative to operate a temporary Grain Storage Facility.
CEO Tod Clark, Scott Hillius and Scott Bonine, Country Partners Cooperative and board member Seth Gruber spoke in favor of the storage facility. Clark explained that they need to adjust their grain storage capacity to accommodate six million bushels of corn and help time the shipments of the corn for maximum benefits to farmers and the cooperative. 
Alice Peters and Penny Thorman spoke against it. They both expressed concerns with issues of dust, noise and lights on after dark that would affect those who live in farmhouses near the proposed facility. They also opposed the increased truck traffic that would occur if the facility was approved for the permit.
Dawson County Surveyor’s Office Zoning Administrator Pam Holbrook reported that the Dawson County Planning Commission had approved the permit request at their May 29th meeting.
Commissioner Dennis Rickertsen made a motion to approve the special use permit that was seconded by Commissioner Bill Stewart. The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the permit.
A resolution was approved for Transfer Budget Authority: Planning Administration - $641.03, District Judge - $2,405.26 and State Institution – $48,868.31.
Dan Schwartzkopf and Jason Boyd, representing the Krull Agency appeared in regards to the employee health insurance update and renewal. The commissioners voted to accept the renewal from Mid American Benefits for the employee health insurance, July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019.
The next regular meeting for the Dawson County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Monday, July 2nd beginning at 8:00 a.m. in the Dawson County Courthouse in Lexington, Nebraska.
When a commodity is exported, those dollars flow through the economy an estimated 2.5 times and the impact ripples through local communities, the state and nation.
That was point driven home by panelists last Thursday night at an International Trade Town Hall in Lexington. “Each and every one of you are impacted by exports, more so than you will ever realize,” stressed Don Hutchens of Johnson Lake, former executive director of the Nebraska Corn Growers.
One day before U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods were set to begin, five panelists representing the corn, ethanol, beef, manufacturing and commodity marketing industries put the spotlight on trade issues that should be every citizen’s concern. Organized by the Lexington Council for Economic Development (CED), the speakers, all with local ties, addressed the impacts of trade on the area economy.
“No one wins in a trade war,” said Hutchens. “Jobs are lost and consumer costs increase. Tariffs lead to retaliatory measures and they hit ag first, they know our strength.”
Even though steel and aluminum tariffs weren’t in place, just the threat of those tariffs caused a material price increase of 50 percent since January 1st at Orthman     Manufacturing, said panelist and Orthman President John McCoy. “That 50 percent contributes to a 30 percent loss in profit,” he said.
“If we are going to remain sustainable and profitable, we have to maintain export markets,” noted Craig Uden of Elwood, immediate past president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “With 95 percent of the world population living outside the U.S. that is where our market is.”
Uden noted that Dawson County engages in $118 million in international trade and that translates to a per farm value of $146,000. “That divides into $41 million for beef, $42 million for corn, $6 million for pork, $27.4 million in soybeans and $2 million for wheat,” said Uden.
Put another way five percent or 437 jobs in Dawson County could be directly attributed to exports in 2016, he said.
Panelist Scott McPheeters of Gothenburg, who serves on the Nebraska Ethanol and KAPPA Cooperative Boards, noted trade disagreements could disrupt a huge flow of Nebraska corn and corn by-products.
“Mexico is a top importer of Nebraska corn. Nebraska is a net exporter of fuel, 2.1 billion gallons of ethanol annually,” he said. “Nearly 700 million bushels of corn are ground annually for ethanol and as a result over 13 billion pounds of distiller’s grains are produced. China imports 40 percent of the distiller’s grains produced in the United States.”
With the U.S. exporting ethanol to 57 countries around the world, the impact of trade on the corn market is huge, said McPheeters. “Over 60 nations have a renewable fuels policy. We don’t have a starch shortage in this country so we take starch and make fuel out of it, which leaves us distiller’s grains as a protein.”
Paul Mussman of Holdrege, president of Ag West Commodities, an ag marketing firm noted that 20 percent of the ag sector produces in the U.S. is exported. “Eighty percent of growth in agriculture in the last decades has gone to export trade,” he added.
While the threat of trade wars with more than one country make people nervous, Mussman cautioned it should not be viewed as all doom and gloom. “We need to remember we have a high quality, consistent product,” he said. “Do we dismiss it or do we improve it? It is not in our mindset to do less, so we should focus on moving it up.”
At the conclusion of the town hall, Lexington CED member and town hall organizer Earl Lindeman noted, “ We’re (the CED) usually pretty quiet, except when we need to be and this was one of those times. International trade is a very important part of our economy. This is about people, we’re all connected.”
In an effort to communicate with policy makers at the state and national level, Lindeman noted they formulated a non-partisan petition to encourage policy makers to pursue legislation, policies, executive actions and regulations to foster greater access to foreign markets. 
The CED’s goal is to collect at least 1,000 signatures to send to Nebraska’s Congressional delegation in Washington, D.C.  The overall goal is to get influencers on both the state and national levels to support trade.
In addition, the CED hopes their initiative will prompt other Nebraska counties to undertake similar projects.
The CED will have the petition available for signing at upcoming area events, including the Dawson County Fair. Anyone interested in signing the petition may contact Lindeman at 308-325-6127.
The Cozad City Council met for a regular meeting on Monday, June 18th.
Mandy Swanson and Brenda Lambert, officers for the Cozad B.I.D. (Business Improvement District) Board appeared to request recycling funds for their light project downtown.  
The B.I.D. Board meets monthly and is always looking for creative ways to beautify the downtown area. They have purchased the benches, trash receptacles and planters on the intersection of 8th & Meridian and are responsible for keeping up the flowerbeds and trees, including the purchase of the plants, bushes and trees as well as the labor to maintain it. They also purchase the Christmas trees, lights and decorations for the intersection during the holiday season.
For 30 months the board has been working on a plan to install LED lights on top of every building within one block of 8th Street and Meridian.  Permission to install lights has been received from each business owner and a bid has been obtained from Joel Pflaster of Flash Electric for $18,000 to install the lights and timers
“We began our installation with the Waypoint Bank building for demonstrative purposes, and have received numerous positive comments,” Swanson     explained.
The board has made this project a priority over the past two and one half years and has $10,000 to fund the  $27,000 project upfront. 
“We are requesting $10,000 in city recycling funds,” Swanson said.
City Attorney Scott Trusdale informed Lambert and Swanson that the Wilson Foundation had met and agreed to donate $5,000 to the project.
“We have applied for a no-interest loan at the CDC and we can borrow up to $5,000,” Swanson said. “We would rather not have to borrow unless absolutely necessary and we are hoping that we can count on funding from the recycling for this downtown beautification project,” Swanson continued.
Council member Brian Montgomery questioned the project. “How will this help our downtown business that shut down at 5 p.m.?” Montgomery asked.
“I think that there are better ways to spend $27,000 and I just know that the city will end up taking care of and maintaining the lights once they start having problems,” he continued.
Council member Deb Leahy made a motion to give $5,000 from the City Recycling Fund to B.I.D. for the lights project Charlie Block seconded the motion. Council members Leahy, Block and Ron Olds voted yes with Montgomery casting the lone o vote.
“We receive $10/month from each business owner and will use this continued funding to provide the upkeep and maintenance on the lights,” Swanson assured the council. 
Under Reports, Lights Commissioner Britt German reported that they are trying to finish up their work at the former Kildare Lumber site so that Paulsen’s can start their work on the alley project east of New Life Interiors.
Water Commissioner Dallas Nichols reported that the sewer project out south of town had been completed and pressure tested. His department is working on routine summer maintenance.
Cozad Police Chief Mark Montgomery reported that the evidence room in the city building in not air-conditioned. 
“Items in there get really smelly such as blood-stained clothing, “ Montgomery said.
“I am going to check into the costs of taking out the old door and building a new wall to get an airtight evidence room and submit this as a budget item for next year,” Montgomery continued.
Montgomery also reported that the pick-up was built on June 11th and that it will be shipped when all of the extra-added equipment is added.
Montgomery noted that the city had mowed the area surrounding the former Monroe Auto Building and that from now on Steve Gomez will be doing the mowing.
Mayor Nancy Meyer reported that she had met with State Senator Matt Williams concerning the tax rebate for Cozad’s volunteer firefighters. City Attorney Scott Trusdale has been requested to write an affidavit to be sent in and Fire Chief Travis Lee has been asked to supply the number of qualifying firefighters for this rebate for 2016.
The next regular meeting for the council is scheduled for Monday, July 9th at 7:30 p.m.