June 17, 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The temporary stop signal at 31st Street and Avenue A has
received many positive comments and has slowed the traffic and made for a
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
OF THE COUNCIL
MICHAELLE E. TREMBLY