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Scottsbluff Finance Director Named Finalist for Grand Island Position

The city of Grand Island has announced a finalist in its search for a new finance director.

City Administrator Marlan Ferguson said this morning Renae Griffiths, who holds the same title in Scottsbluff is a good candidate for the job. Griffiths has served in her current position since 2002. If hired, she would oversee Information Technology and the Finance divisions and serve as a liaison between the city and various community boards.

The position has been vacant since November 2014. William Clingman has been serving as the interim finance director. The job could be filled as early as next month.

State Fair Income Way Up in 2015

Officials say the Nebraska State Fair has seen success and growth since the event moved to Grand Island.

Fair executive director Joseph McDermott told the Grand Island Rotary Club on Tuesday that the fair's income has increased 103 percent, while expenses are up only 18 percent since the fair moved to Grand Island in 2010.

McDermott also said that entertainment revenue increased from about $216,000 to about $1.5 million since the move. The director said that the Keith Urban concert this year was a big reason for the revenue jump.

McDermott said the event is only about 15,000 visitors away from hitting the 2 million visitors mark for the years it has been in Grand Island. Officials expect to make that achievement on opening day 2016.

Mega Millions Ticket Sold in Kearney

The Nebraska Lottery says a Mega Millions ticket worth $1 million was sold at a Kearney convenience store on Tuesday.

The lottery said Wednesday that the ticket matched all five numbers in Tuesday's drawing, but not the Mega Ball number or the megaplier. The top prize Tuesday was $25 million.

The lottery has not announced whether the winner has stepped forward.

The ticket was purchased at Thirsty's Convenience Store at 3004 West Highway 30.

UNK Student's Video Game Wins Business Idea Contest

A new virtual reality game developed by a University of Nebraska at Kearney student has won the Central Nebraska Business Idea Contest.

Samuel Middleton of Kearney won the $1,000 first prize for his Oculus Rift video game, which is a virtual reality headset gaming device. The game involves a player surviving on a motorcycle while avoiding walls and artificial intelligence. Players use the Oculus Rift to look and feel like they are actually riding the bike.

Middleton is a junior applied computer science major at UNK. He plans to have a finished version of his game ready for commercial release in the next six months.

CCC Named "Best for Vets" College

A top Military news magazine has named Central Community College the "Best for Vets" for the third year in a row.

CCC earned four-star rankings by Military Times for academic support, staff support and extracurricular activities. CCC's Military Services Director Travis Karr says their centers work to connect veterans with appropriate resources when facing financial, housing and health care challenges.

The veteran student graduation rate at CCC has risen from 21 percent when the program began to 61 percent today.

More Industrial Development Coming to Kearney

On Tuesday, the city council approved an agreement with Two Sisters Farm Inc. to purchase an additional 40 acres of land at Tech One Crossing for approximately $794,000. Software developer Xpanxion plans to build a new facility in the tech park and Infigen Energy, a solar power company has also signed an option lease agreement for the building.

The council also set aside $42,000 in NorthWestern Energy funds on behalf of Marshall Engines for use at their new facility located at the southeast corner of Cherry Avenue and the Union Pacific Railroad crossing. The company hopes to create 12 full-time positions.

Stolley Park Road Reconfiguration Moves Forward

Grand Island is moving forward on a reconfiguration of Stolley Park Road.

The city council on Tuesday unanimously decided the project should go ahead. It will be reconfigured into a three-lane road primarily, with a turn lane and expand to four lanes from Webb Road to just west of Brentwood Blvd. where it would be five lanes. By adding the turn lane, the city hopes to reduce the number of rear-end accidents on Stolley Park Road.

The city will pay approximately $170,000 and according to G.I. Public Works Director John Collins, the project will be 90 percent federally funded. Work is expected to begin next summer, with the project completed in late 2016.

Fire Officials Investigating House Fire Near Minden

Fire departments from Minden and Axtell were called to a report of a house fire early Wednesday morning just off Highway 10 south of Minden.

Shortly after 5 a.m., the Minden Volunteer Fire Department responded to a report of a blaze at a two story home located at 1261 K Road. The Axtell Volunteer Fire Department was also called in to provide mutual aid.

Officials say no one was home when the fire started.

It took firefighters a little more than an hour to bring the fire under control. Firefighters remained on the scene for several hours.

An investigation is underway to determine how the fire started.

Fence Debated as City Council Approves Dunkin' Donuts Application

Following more than an hour of discussion Monday, the Hastings City Council approved the application for a new Dunkin Donuts restaurant to be built at 708 North Burlington Ave.

The council approved an amended resolution last night after councilwoman Sarah Hoops brought in several amendments including a required eight foot high fence on the east side of the property line. That amendment passed 5-4 with Mayor Vern Powers casting the tiebreaking vote. The plans currently call for a vinyl fence to be erected, but nearby resident Craig DeWalt insisted the need for masonry fencing instead.

"Yes there is traffic noise from Burlington. We planted trees and they don't stop noise. Noise is like water, it flows through cracks and open spaces. The only effective noise barrier is masonry fence," he said.

The debate raged on to who would pick up the bill for such a costly fence. Neither the city, nor developer Bryce Bares seemed interested, although tax increment financing was discussed to help mitigate some of the cost. Councilman Chuck Niemeyer said he believes that issue should lie with the residents.

"I know there are covenants within this planned district but it's not the council's job to enforce the covenants. If Planning and Zoning says this fits and it fits within our C-2 guidelines then I'm obligated to allow it. Any other civil covenants that need to be enforced need to be handled by the residents in that area and not by us," he said.

Other amendments by Hoops included requiring the business to be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., lighting and signage only on the west side facing Burlington Ave. and a pedestrian walkway.

Hastings attorney Bob Parker, representing the Bank of Doniphan told the council he believed they were duped by Mr. Bares because he found a loophole to speed up approval of his project.

"The bank spent $130,000 on a masonry fence and spent a lot of money on this building. To see this thing fast tracked through in a place where your citizens took this thing in a fighting way, I still think there's going to be a traffic issue there. You're going to grant carte blanche tonight and I guess he's going to do whatever he wants," Parker said.

Franchise owner Bryce Bares says he looks forward to bringing his business to Hastings. It will be the only Dunkin Donuts location between North Platte and Lincoln.

Draper Sentenced For Role in Grandson's Death

A Naponee man convicted of contributing to the death of his two-year-old grandson in 2012 was sentenced to 60 years to life in prison in Adams County District Court this (Monday) morning.

In October, Peter Draper, 50, was found guilty of child abuse resulting in death and child abuse resulting in serious injury in the death of his grandson, two-year-old Joseph Rinehart Jr.

Draper was sentenced on one count of intentional child abuse resulting in death and was also sentenced to 49 to 50 years in prison for one count of intentional child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. The sentences will be served consecutively.

Today's sentence is the same one that was handed down during Draper's original trial in 2013.

Hastings College Art Center Ahead of Schedule

The new Jackson Dinsdale Art Center on the Hastings College campus is well ahead of its construction schedule. Officials broke ground on the new facility in April. Initially thought to be done by November 2016, it is now anticipated to be completed by July.

Tom Kreager, professor of Art at Hastings College says the new facility, once completed, will be unlike anything other art facility in the region.

"Ours is going to be pretty unique in the sense that it's a one floor building and there's nothing else in it but art. The glass studio I'm guessing will be one of the top five facilities in the country and the sculpture's going to be one of the tops in this region of the country," he said.

The college currently offers glass blowing, sculpture, print making, drawing, painting and ceramics. But Kreager says the new facility will also allow them to expand to other areas as well.

"We're going to go into some computer courses, some media classes where students can do video and film, we're looking to get more into the computer arts and make a push to use more technology," he said.

The facility is about an $8.5 million project. Part of the project is being funded by a $5 million legacy gift from the Dinsdale family.

State Lawmakers Preparing for Possible Budget Shortfall in 2016

Nebraska lawmakers are preparing for a tight budget in next year's session, with a projected $110 million revenue shortfall that could force them to cut services or tap the state's rainy-day fund.

That gap could grow or shrink when the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board meets in February, but lawmakers still have to balance the budget in next year's session.

Speaker of the Legislature Galen Hadley says he's concerned about the shortfall and isn't yet sure whether it's just a "blip" in the economy or a sign of trouble ahead.

Senator Heath Mello of Omaha, whose committee oversees the budget, says he's confident lawmakers will find a way to balance the books but acknowledges it could be more difficult if the shortfall widens.

Wilcox-Hildreth FFA Breaks Ground on New Ag Building

On Saturday, members of the Wilcox/Hildreth FFA Chapter broke ground for a new 60 by 100 foot agriculture building being built across from the Wilcox school in the coming weeks.

Local FFA members and school officials were able to fund the project by selling banner space to area businesses.

In addition to serving the local FFA Chapter, the building will also accommodate students in district shop classes.

The building is expected to be completed and ready for use in the next few months.

Bertrand Man Killed in Weekend Collision

Authorities say a Bertrand man has died in a collision with a semitrailer in south-central Nebraska's Phelps County.

The accident occurred around 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Nebraska State Patrol says the collision occurred on Nebraska Highway 183, about three miles north of Holdrege.

The patrol identified the vehicle driver who died as 60-year-old Randall Kuck. The semitrailer driver suffered only minor injuries.

The accident is being investigated.

Grand Island Couple Displaced After Weekend Fire

A Grand Island couple is without a home after an accidental fire broke out Saturday afternoon.

The home, located on East 7th Street is being deemed a total loss after the fire spread from the living room throughout the house causing significant fire and smoke damage. The two residents were home at the time, but were not injured in the fire.

The American Red Cross is assisting the couple who will not be able to return to the home.

Donuts and Utility Budget Headline Hastings City Council Agenda

Donut lovers in Hastings will soon learn the fate of a proposed Dunkin' Donuts location to be built north of the 7th and Burlington intersection. The Hastings City Council is expected to vote on approval of the application at tonight's meeting.

The land originally was purposed for non-commercial use, but has sat vacant since that decision was made in 2005. It has since been repurposed for commercial use.

Franchise owner Bryce Bares with Galaxy Ventures of Omaha has said that the site is a prime location for such a business because of the traffic that goes by each day in and out of downtown Hastings. He says based on the company's business model they've found their restaurants typically flourish in areas like that because they are a convenience purchase.

Nearby neighbors have voiced concerns that the restaurant could bring additional congestion and noise since it would sit just west of a residential area. There have also been concerns of lighting in the parking lot. Bares has agreed to some changes that have been drafted by city officials.

The Hastings city council will also hold a public hearing tonight discussing the proposed Hastings Utilities budget for 2016. The budget includes a 5 percent increase on electricity rates in order to generate an additional $1.2 million in revenue. HU is forecasting about $4.7 million less this year than was budgeted for.

The budget also calls for a 12 percent rate hike on water rates and an 8 percent increase on sewer rates. The increases will help pay for the city's upcoming water treatment project.

Tonight's city council meeting begins at 5:30 p.m.

Revised Development Plan Approved for Proposed Dunkin Donuts

The Hastings Planning Commission has approved a revised development plan for a proposed new Dunkin Donuts north of 7th and Burlington.

The developer, Bryce Bares of Omaha said Monday he had received a signed easement with Great Western Bank. While plans are all still preliminary, City Planner Lance Lang said the revised plans include several conditions that have been agreed upon, including an 8-foot high PVC fence for the east side of the property, a monument sign and downcast lighting.

During Monday's public hearing resident Craig DeWalt who lives to the east of the property said the land wasn't intended for commercial use.

"We're very concerned that it doesn't keep with the character of the historic district in Hastings. I think it's very important that we continue to maintain that integrity," he said.

His wife Jeanette DeWalt, says she was selected by her neighbors to be the voice against the project and slammed the developer for not reaching out to concerned residents.

"I haven't heard a thing the last month. I think it's a bit disconcerning that Mr. Bares didn't bother talking to any of the neighbors that live there and have lived there over 10 years," she said.

The DeWalts say they favor economic development in the city, just not at that location.

The Planning Commission approved the revised development plan by an 8-0 vote. They also voted to approve a conditional use permit for the new First Street Brewery, located downtown.

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