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Kearney, Nebraska

June 17, 2003

7:00 p.m.


A Townhall Meeting of the City Council of Kearney, Nebraska, was convened in open and public session at 7:00 p.m. on June 17, 2003, in the Council Chambers at City Hall.  Present were:  Bruce Blankenship, President of the Council; Michaelle Trembly, City Clerk; Council Members Randy Buschkoetter, Galen Hadley, Don Kearney, and Jose Zapata (arrived at 7:16 p.m.). Also present was newly appointed Council Member Stan Clouse.  Absent: None.  G. Allen Johnson, City Manager; John Prescott, Assistant City Manager; Wendell Wessels, Director of Finance and Administration; Kirk Stocker, Director of Utilities; Rod Wiederspan, Director of Public Works; Dan Lynch, Chief of Police; Ken Tracy, Fire Administrator; Jeanne Saathoff, Library Director; Neal Lewis, Director of Parks & Recreation; Colin English, Airport Manager were also present.  Some of the citizens present in the audience included: Ron Tillery, Roger Jasnoch, Jon Abegglen, Marv Reichert, Barry Sherman, Steve Buttress, Jerry O’Rourke, Pete Kotsiopulos, Dan Bahensky, Tom Henning, John Anderson, Jim McKenzie, Earl Rademacher, Tom Tye, John Shafer, Cyndy Forbes, Mike Konz from Kearney Hub, Mike Cahill from KKPR Radio, and Dave Jenner from KGFW Radio.


Notice of the meeting was given in advance thereof by publication in the Kearney Hub, the designated method for giving notice, a copy of the proof of publication being attached to these minutes. Advance notice of the meeting was also given to the City Council and a copy of their acknowledgment or receipt of such notice is attached to these minutes. All proceedings hereafter shown were taken while the meeting was open to the attendance of the public.


Mayor Blankenship stated that this Townhall meeting is an opportunity for Kearney to become a better community.  The only way that City government gets any better is when people get involved and he welcomed questions and comments.  There are many positive things happening in the community. Recent reports show Kearney’s retail sales are booming well above the state average; unemployment is at records low which means Kearney’s employment is at records highs.  There is a great deal of activity going on in Kearney, new homes being built almost everyday, building permits are on pace to break record numbers, there are business grand openings and ribbon cutting virtually every week, plus important infrastructures are being built.  Kearney’s property tax asking is the second lowest in the state.  You put all this together and the quality of life in this community is second to none.  He believes that Kearney is a very healthy and vibrant community and one that is very much the envy of others in the state.


The goal of this forum is for the community to tell the Council and Administration what it wants them to do and what it wants them to do better. Over the years, the City has tried a number of means to seek citizens’ input on budgeting and long-term strategic plan process.  Some of the things they have done in the past were conducting surveys at the Mall, surveys sent as bill stuffers, and telephone surveys.  He stated that this type of a forum is the best way to seek some direct input.  The hope is that the result from this meeting will be some ideas, concerns, and priorities that will be incorporated into next year’s budget and future budgets as they do strategic planning.


The last Townhall forum was held last year in March and many of those ideas that came from that forum were incorporated into the budget.  Over the years, there have been reoccurring themes as input is gathered from the community.  Some of those reoccurring themes are traffic which is always at the top of the list, air transportation, public safety with the Fire and Police Department, Park and Recreation programs, enhanced library services, water quality and supply, recycling, and population growth.


On the traffic side a number of things have been completed and work continues on others. The Avenue M/N Overpass has been opened which handles about 4,500 vehicles per day. The widening of 56th Street from 2nd Avenue to Avenue N has been started. Later this year widening of 39th Street from 22nd Avenue to 30th Avenue will be completed.  A new traffic signal will be installed at 39th Street and 11th Avenue and at 2nd Avenue and 25th Street. The environmental assessment study on the Cherry Avenue Overpass is complete, and the City is seeking state and federal funding. The City has received an $80,000 federal grant to initiate a new traffic study that hopefully will result in better traffic flow for our community.


A great deal of progress has been made on Park projects.  Mayor Blankenship noted that a number of partnerships have made some of these projects happen.  Centennial Park Swimming Pool opened two weeks ago.  There is new lighting at the West Lincolnway complex and ballfield improvements.  West Lincolnway is used daily and will be hosting state and regional tournaments this summer.  The Hike/Bike Trail, Phase III is coming up for bid and will be completed later this summer.  There are several projects that will be up for bid in July for completion before the new budget year which is in October.  These projects include Pioneer and Harmon Park restrooms, Harmon Park tennis courts, Dryden Park ballfield lights, and a new ADA restroom and shelter at the new Nina Hammer Park in southeast Kearney.


The Utilities Department continues to be a “shining star”. Ground was broken for the new Recycling Center that will allow more recycling opportunities and will open in November of 2003. The water system facility has been expanded with a 2 million gallon water tower on 48th Street. There are major sewer improvements being done in southwest and northeast Kearney that are an important component of the growth in those areas.


The Library continues to be an outstanding facility, but is too small for our present population. The Library Foundation commissioned a feasibility study and with an expert consultant and architect a plan is being designed to expand that facility. When this will be done is uncertain. 


Regarding public safety, the Law Enforcement Center has been fortune enough to acquire a building next door that will allow for expansion. This is being remodeled now and will allow the LEC to have more equipment and a larger facility to better carry out their jobs in terms of law enforcement. 


The Fire Department has replaced the aerial ladder truck ($633,000).  He believes that everyone agrees that the Volunteer Fire Department needs to have the best equipment available in order to provide the best protection for the community. 


The major accomplishment at the Airport is achieving the Part 139 Certification.  This certification is a federal standard that is the beginning of separating Kearney from some of the other airports across the country. This certification allows the City to get more federal grants and provide more services for the people of this community. The Airport also acquired a new rescue vehicle necessary for the safety of the aircraft landing there. The Volunteer Fire Department has stepped forward and taken the training and will be staffing that vehicle. The 8-foot security fencing has been completed around the perimeter of the Airport to enhance security. It appears that based on enplanements, Kearney is going to get another $1,000,000.  The numbers have decreased a little which is to our advantage.  If things continue as they have this year, Kearney could get an additional $1,000,000 in federal money to allow for more improvements at the Airport.


The current Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1996 with five revisions since that time. There will be another revision made this summer. The Unified Land Development Ordinance is now one year old and working very well; however, some revisions are being made as some challenges have been found along the way. 


Mayor Blankenship stated that this laundry list of things has been completed and still kept property tax at the second lowest level in the state of Nebraska. He stated that is an achievement that City staff can be proud of, and he takes pride in that as a Council member.


All of the City Department Heads were in attendance at the meeting and available as resource people to answer questions, and introduced each department head and Council member including Stan Clouse who is replacing Jose Zapata. He introduced Gene Koepke as the facilitator for the meeting.  Mr. Koepke has 32 years of involvement and leadership with this community.


Mr. Koepke began by saying that this meeting is a very special opportunity for the people in the community of Kearney to carry on a conversation with the Council. It is an opportunity that not every Council provides for citizens of their community. 


He stated that the theme for the meeting is “What does better look like to you?” What they wanted to hear from the public were good ideas to give the Council guidance and direction so that they take Kearney through the course of the next year. He stated that his role is not to be a representative of anyone. He would not be voicing any opinions. His job is to keep the meeting moving, on course, and organize time.


The issues that were brought up and discussed were as follows: traffic, parks, library, recycling, Charter Communications, bond issues, economic development, housing standards, and miscellaneous matters.




Director of Public Works Rod Wiederspan stated Administration has met with the State Department of Roads regarding the exit from Rolling Hills and Equestrian Hills onto Highway 30. The Department of Roads is in the process of programming a project to widen Highway 30 to a 4-lane road going west to Cottonmill Road. They also will be conducting a study to possibly reduce that speed to 45 m.p.h. The Council approved Equestrian Hills, but any further development in that area would require an extension of 39th Street and a second exit onto 39th Street. The developer has not requested any additional ground to be developed so there will be nothing done at this time. City Manager Allen Johnson encouraged citizens to contact the State Department of Roads with their concerns and requests.


Mayor Blankenship addressed the urgency of continuation of the beltway to relieve 2nd Avenue. Although Kearney has made a number of improvements that have helped the traffic situation, he agrees that the second Interstate exit is necessary. Kearney needs more than one direct route north and south through Kearney. He thinks that the Cherry Avenue is the best opportunity primarily because the State identified that area several years ago. The State has partially bought into this area as the next location. Work is being done now with our State and Congressional representatives to get some State and Federal funding for that project. These are tough economic times in terms of State and Federal budget, but hopefully that will come to pass. He suggested that immediately after Cherry Avenue is approved that the City start looking for the next option. 


City Manager Allen Johnson stated that both a west and an east exit have been identified in our Comprehensive Plan and the State Department of Roads is aware of that fact. 


Director of Public Works continued to address traffic issues. Regarding installing traffic signals or signs at the Avenue M/N Overpass, a traffic study must be completed on all four legs. Traffic studies are warranted. They cannot be taken at a time when traffic is disrupted because of other construction. At present, 56th Street is closed from Avenue E to Avenue N and part of 39th Street is closed. These street closings would skew the numbers and would not be valid. When the construction is completed this summer, the count will be taken and if it is warranted then a project will probably be programmed for next year.


Regarding the question of retiming the turn signal light on 39th Street and 2nd Avenue, the State determines the traffic signals on 2nd Avenue and Highway 30.  They have talked to the State about restructuring a number of signals in town, and 39th Street and 2nd Avenue is one they are in the process of trying to get changed.  These signals are on the State highway system and they take care of the timing, determine location, but the City maintains them. 


One phase of the Comprehensive Traffic Plan is to have Olsson’s study the synchronization of traffic signals on 2nd Avenue.  From the north, they are practically spaced since it is a newer area and they have been planned to be synchronized. Between 39th Street and 25th Street is another phase and the spacing is different. There are three different phases on 2nd Avenue so they cannot be synchronized all the way through town.


Mayor Blankenship stated that a common misconception is the City determines where stop signals can be placed. The fact is that the State determines when a traffic signal is warranted and where it is to be place. If the traffic count and accidents do not meet those warrants, the State will not take the liability for a traffic signal. 


Traffic on Avenue E was addressed since it is heavier than normal. 56th Street is closed from Avenue E to Avenue N, and they have encouraged traffic to use 2nd Avenue to 39th Street as an alternate route, but currently the traffic is using Avenue E. Removing the parking of cars on either side of Avenue E poses the problem of how to decide which side to remove, and the fact that it is the only place to park for most residents. In addition, it would promote a higher rate of speed because there would be a wider open stretch for traffic flow. The City is in process with the State to enter into an agreement to install a left turn signal at 25th Street and Avenue E.  This intersection does meet the State warrants and is in the process of programming it into the City and State budget.


Council member Hadley suggested that partnering with The Nebraska Safety Center here in Kearney and looking at a safe driving program for Kearney is a good idea. 


Director of Public Works stated that the stop sign by the railroad crossing east of Avenue N on 39th Street was originally in the County. There were a couple of vehicles that actually hit the trains and as a result of a County study, a resolution was passed to put the stop signs there. The staff will take this under consideration.


The temporary stop signal at 31st Street and Avenue A has received many positive comments and has slowed the traffic and made for a better street.


The City received a compliment about keeping the brick streets in downtown Kearney. Council member Hadley commented that he is very impressed with the downtown area and the fact that the storefronts are occupied.  He is proud that Kearney has kept that tradition.


No pedestrian crosswalks on south 2nd Avenue by the motels was an issue. Director of Public Works stated there is a pedestrian crossing signal that has been installed on Talmadge Road on 2nd Avenue.


Another issue 11th Street needs to be fixed to handle heavy trucks, the concrete is breaking up.


It was suggested that the Peavey trains that block intersections at 8:00 a.m. should move trains in the middle of the night.




Compliments on the Cottonmill Park facility and the new pool at Centennial Park were shared.


Director of Parks & recreation Neal Lewis stated that the Activity Center at Harmon Park has been on the 5-Year Plan and the Long Range Goals. It was in the proposal for an increase in sales tax and the bond to replace it. They estimate that construction is two to three years down the road. They are in the process of replacing the restroom in Harmon Park which is designed to remain as part of the new activity center. With the Council approving funds for the restroom, they have taken the first step to replace the activity center.  It is estimated that the cost of the activity center is almost $1,000,000.


He also addressed a skateboard park which has been on the plan for a number of years. This year’s budget proposes a basic design and an engineering study to look at the cost. They would get the skateboarding public together to get their ideas of what it should look like. About a year ago they considered land north of the golf course, which is called “Meadowlark Park North”. Currently located there is a remote control car park, gardens and a tree nursery. They have made a master plan for that area and they believe one of the things that would fit well there is a skate park. They have some money dedicated (if it is approved) in this year’s budget to take that first step. They need to have the young people to come together to find out what the components they would like to have in a park.


Rental fees for the park facilities was addressed. The minimal fee for shelters in the parks is to reserve them and guarantee that are available for the activity that is planned. The theory is if you are going to take it out of the general public use, then you should pay a fee. If no one reserves it, than it is available on a first come basis.


A suggestion was made to work in collaboration with the University of Nebraska at Kearney for grounds keeping of the parks. Director of Parks & Recreation stated that the Parks Department, at this time, is working almost at capacity. They have an excellent staff but taking on additional things would be a real challenge. They would be willing to work with UNK in an advisory capacity, but than it gets back to the funding issues. Mr. Koepke stated that he believed the suggestion was more than asking the City to do this on their own. It would be an opportunity to share some economies. The two could share staff and merge offices and do it better collectively than separately.


The issue of parking in the parks was an issue that was addressed. Mayor Blankenship agreed with the suggestion there should be more parking area at West Linconway Park. However, the problem is how to fund the cost. At West Lincolnway they are looking at some adjacent land. They also might encourage people to park on the new thoroughfare road going down and do some off parking.


Director of Parks & Recreation responded to more parking at Baldwin Park, that more emphasis was put on the field and greens than on the parking in the past. The usage has overwhelmed the parking available and people do use the residential area.


Director of Parks & Recreation agreed paved sidewalks around perimeters of parks, such as on 11th Street by Centennial Park and Trails and Rails Museum would be good. Sidewalks were a component of the pool that they put into their infrastructure package; however, concrete is very expensive.  Sidewalks are important but they had to make a choice about what was a priority to do at this time.


A comment was made on the City supporting the drag strip and Cruise Nite. Mayor Blankenship commented regarding the drag strip located on Airport property. Individually, the Council and staff are very supportive of the businesses in the community. Other than having a lease agreement with the drag strip, he was uncertain what the involvement of the City in the operation of a private business should be.  He thought that it would be more for private investors or Chamber of Commerce.


With regard to Cruise Nite, Chief Dan Lynch stated that the police force would invest about 400 man-hours on the Cruise night event for that one day. The gambit will go from downtown to an event at the Arena in the evening that will have officers involved in traffic control for most of the day.  He stated that Cruise Nite is a wonderful event for the community and for the state. There have been other communities across the state that has been unsuccessful in such an event. Administration and the Police Department have already had meetings with the Cruise Nite Planning Committee and have been very supportive of this event.


Charter Communications


Mayor Blankenship stated that Charter Communication is a free enterprise system. If another cable company decides to come to Kearney, his guess would be that they would also be granted a franchise.  It is no different than two or more of any other type of business.


Council member Kearney stated that the franchise is for the easements and is not an exclusive franchise for Charter Communications. The FCC does not allow the City to control the rates or the content. At the present time, the only alternative is a satellite dish.


Council member Buschkoetter stated it costs millions of dollars to lay all the cable and install equipment and that is a substantial investment. It would be difficult to have two cable companies in any city that would be economically feasible. Even with the size of Lincoln and Omaha, it is rare there is more than one cable company.


Assistant City Manager addressed the question about how the Council meeting can be viewed other than on Cable Channel 7. They have researched a “webcast”. The quote was it would cost between 24 and 28 cents a minute.  There are 24 Council meetings a year that average an hour and a half so that would make the cost prohibitive. He was not certain if equipment would have to be purchased in addition to that cost. The Council could discuss running the tape a second time on the cable channel. The tapes of the meetings are also available at City Hall and can be viewed from the tape. 


Sales Tax Issue – Industrial Development


Mayor Blankenship stated by law they could hold the next bond issue election in September.  He believed that the next bond issue should come from a “grass roots effort”. He believed the last bond issue had too many components and frankly they did not sell it very well as a community. 




Director of Utilities Kirk Stocker reported that the Recycling Center would be completed this fall. The plan is to start twice a month collection of all recyclables in January of 2004. The City provides the container and the recyclables are picked up free of charge at this point. The fee of $25.00 a month is charged for once a week collection of a container of cardboard from commercial establishments.


Economic Development


It was suggested that the two areas we need to develop are the industrial tract, both technical and manufacturing, and make sure lots are available that have infrastructure in place. 


Council member Bushkoetter stated he attended an industrial leaders meeting this month and came away with the sense that what is good for our community as a whole tends to also be good for the industrial areas. He believes that if the City makes things good for industry that will also make things good for the community. He suggested they could be very specific in platting areas when looking at the Comprehensive Plan. He believed that making the community a better place also helps to recruit people and bring talented individuals back to Kearney.


City Manager Allen Johnson stated that questions could be directed to his office or any of the department heads. They continually try to gather input from questionnaires and surveys and each member of the staff takes that input very seriously. There are time when an entire department head staff meeting is devoted to going over this type of input to make sure that it is included in the One and Six Year Plan for roads and utility planning. He wanted to assure the community that the kinds of comments and information we receive from letters and phone calls is processed and does not get dropped. Another source to get questions answered is to contact any of the Council members. The City staff is very responsive in getting answers back to the Council members.


Council member Zapata stated that development drives the infrastructure. At the last Council meeting, there were three presenters who complemented the City on their ability to be flexible and work with them. If there are other developers that want to come here, but the City does not have the infrastructure, the City is willing to work with them.




Council member Hadley stated that any community that is growing like Kearney needs a progressive library. He agrees that Kearney needs to look beyond the physical needs of the building and to provide a gateway to the information age.


The issue of installing a drive up window was addressed. Library Director Jeanne Saathoff stated that the money raised by “Friends of the Library” and the budgeted funds are still available for this project. The decision is not to use that money until the plan is completed for the expansion of the library or a new building. They are working on the contract with the architectural firm at this time, and cannot move forward until that is in place. They will start looking at the design with community involvement.


The drop off exit to the library is now directed to the north because of its location to the parking lot. It will be addressed in the new library design.


A suggestion was made to partner the City Library with the University Library.


Housing Standards


The fire/life safety issue was raised for single family owned homes that do not meet minimum standards. Director of Public Works stated that legally the City could do very little about very old single family home (owner occupied), where there has been no change of ownership or other activity. If the outside is a nuisance or dilapidated to a certain point, then the City can take action.


The UDO did try to bring up to standard some of the structures that were illegally converted in the past to address life safety issues. New construction or remodeling needs a permit and must adhere to City Building Codes.


Director of Public Works stated, regarding infrastructure in established neighborhoods, that some of the sewer systems in the older part of Kearney have been upgraded. There was a project on Central Avenue that has just been completed. The City has a policy that if a neighborhood wants to totally reconstruct their streets, a district can be created and the City will pick up the initial 25 percent of the cost and assess the balance to the property owners.


The issue of a vacated building on Grand Avenue was addressed. Mayor Blankenship stated that the 9-plex located on Grand Avenue has been vacated for a number of years and is the owner’s responsibility. The City has done all they can legally do. The building itself is secured and the owner continues to mow the yard and maintain the area.  He has not elected to fix it up.


Chili Dipper’s Building


The issue of the building located on 2nd Avenue and 11th Street was addressed. Director of Public Works stated originally they had talked with the owner about removing the Chili Dipper’s building completely, reconfiguring the frontage road and bringing it back to Avenue A. It was been determined that the cost of that was greater than the benefit it would provide. Since then they have been working with the owner to clean up the site. The owner had indicated to the City that the shingling is complete and a firm has been hired to re-stucco it, paint the outside, and replace the windows. He has had difficulty getting someone to do this work.  The lime and sand have been delivered so the work should be in progress.   


Humane Society


Mr. Koepke stated that there is a movement in Kearney at the present time to try to develop a “humane society”. Council member Kearney stated that fund raising has just begun for that cause.


Performing Arts Center


Director of Public Works commented that the plan for Kearney Performing Arts Center is still in the fund raising and design stages.  As the plan develops, they will need to come before the Council to address parking needs.  They have preliminarily discussed improving the alley behind Central School and the exit onto 22nd Street where there is a traffic signal.  Number of parking stalls will be address at that point.


Cell Phones


A suggestion was made that a policy for cell phones in city vehicles and for vehicle cell phone use in general was needed.


Moved by Hadley seconded by Zapata that Council adjourn at 9:06 p.m.  Roll call resulted as follows:  Aye: Blankenship, Kearney, Zapata, Hadley, Buschkoetter.  Nay: None.  Motion carried.



                                                                                    BRUCE L. BLANKENSHIP

                                                                                    PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL

                                                                                    AND EX-OFFICIO MAYOR