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Authorities release name of homicide suspect

The suspect in a June 27 homicide killed himself early Friday evening as law enforcement officers closed in on the Schuyler residence he was inside.

According to the Colfax County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement officers, including a Nebraska State Patrol SWAT team, were serving an arrest warrant at the apartment unit in the 700 block of E Street shortly before 6 p.m. Friday when they heard a pair of gunshots from inside the residence.

A State Patrol robot was sent inside the residence, confirming the male suspect died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a release from the county attorney’s office, which identified the man as 55-year-old Fidelgarin Valdez.

The attorney's office release says Valdez is originally from Cuba, but lived and worked in Schuyler.

No law enforcement officers were injured in Friday's incident.

The suspect, described to law enforcement by eye witnesses, was wanted in connection with a homicide that occurred shortly before 2 a.m. June 27 at the Schuyler Inn.

Janner Ramon Torres Diaz, 33, suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the shooting.

Schuyler Police officers responding to the emergency call at the motel at 222 W. 16th St. found Torres Diaz on a second-story balcony and performed CPR before the victim was transported by ambulance to CHI Health Schuyler, where he was pronounced dead.

Schuyler Inn owner Javier Arizmendi said the victim worked at the local Cargill plant and had lived at the motel for a few months.

The Schuyler Police Department, Colfax County Sheriff’s Office and Nebraska State Patrol were part of the homicide investigation.

Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl also credited Colfax County dispatchers and Cargill staff and management for their assistance in gathering information related to the case.

“They did a great job,” she said.

Friday’s incident is being investigated by a separate Nebraska State Patrol troop than the one involved in serving the arrest warrant. State law requires a grand jury investigation any time a suspect dies while being apprehended.

Law enforcement is still investigating what led to the June 27 shooting.

Library, high school projects taking shape

The new Schuyler Public Library building is taking shape.

The foundation has been poured, steel is raised, the roof is on and some of the cement work for the parking lot and driveway is complete.

“We don’t have a real definite timeline when it will be complete, but things have definitely picked up the pace, so we are happy with that,” said Library Director MeMe Smith.

Ground was broken last summer on the roughly $2 million facility located along the east side of Colfax Street between 18th and 19th streets.

Fundraising and donations, including a $1.5 million contribution from former Richland resident James Sindelar on behalf of himself and his wife, have more than covered the construction costs. Another $250,000 came from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development.

Money not needed for the building construction will be used to fund library programs and events.

Smith said the approximately 11,300-square-foot building will be roomier for library patrons.

“It’s double the space that we have now,” she said.

Spaces inside the building are designed for multiple uses, serving as meeting and conference rooms when they're not needed for library events. There will also be a reading area with a fireplace and study area.

“Libraries are now much more active spaces than they used to be, so people who want a quiet place to study will have that,” Smith said.

She said there aren't immediate plans for a makerspace lab — something that's become popular for libraries — but one could be added in the future since there's space available.

In the meantime, Smith said the library could take advantage of a traveling makerspace program provided through the Nebraska Library Commission.

There will also be a push to promote the new library. A digital sign will likely be installed on the building to let the public know about library events and programs.

“No matter how much we try to spread it around, some people won’t know about it,” Smith said.

The new location should give the library a boost.

“I think that people who might not be used to using a library will see the new structure on a new thoroughfare and will want to check it out,” Smith said.

Another ongoing construction project in the community is an addition to Schuyler Central High School.

Work began in April on the approximately 8,000-square-foot, $1 million project that will add six classrooms and a music room to the southeast side of the school. The addition will eliminate the need for portable buildings and accommodate a growing student population.

The foundation has been poured and steel erection should begin soon, according to Schuyler Community Schools Superintendent Dan Hoesing.

“We are pretty much on schedule. The floor is in, so there is nothing that will slow us down now,” he said.

Construction will be ongoing during the upcoming school year with portable buildings used until the addition is complete and ready for use, which is expected around the first week in October. After that, the portables will be removed to provide more parking space.

Bierman Contracting Inc. of Columbus is the general contractor for both the high school and library projects.

County fast tracks bridge removal

Colfax County commissioners put a bridge that collapsed into Maple Creek southeast of Howells on the fast track for repairs last week by authorizing the county’s top roads official to seek informal price quotes for removal of the damaged structure.

The bridge on the heavily traveled Road 17, located about 5 miles southeast of Howells, failed because of severe soil erosion problems along the creek and was closed to traffic in the spring.

The three-member board voted to give County Highway Superintendent Mark Arps the authority to bypass the county’s normal competitive bidding process and seek price quotes from contractors who have the equipment and are capable of removing the 100-ton bridge deck.

Arps said the closed bridge poses significant public safety concerns and threatens to continue erosion damage to the creek’s banks and bed. The county doesn’t have the manpower or equipment to get the job done, he said.

“It’s the biggest soil erosion problem we have. It’s sunk 15 feet down, it’s nasty,” said Arps.

The roads official said he already had one contractor’s quote of about $34,000 for the deck removal, but would like to get two more. The availability of the contractor to do the work will determine how fast the removal can be completed, he said.

“That price is just for the removal of the deck,” Arps said. Rebuilding the bridge at a projected price tag of $800,000 is expected to happen next year.

The county board has been looking at bridges along the creek from southwest of Howells running east to the Dodge County line that have been scoured out, especially during years of widespread flooding in 2008 and 2010, endangering the structures’ safety and life spans.

A bridge on Road R, between roads 16 and 17, is another target for rebuilding, but several other structures along the creek have sustained severe erosion around pilings.

A bridge on Road 17, between roads N and O, failed because of erosion and the road was closed in the last year.

Arps said the county’s Lincoln-based engineering firm has suggested using bundled rock to hold back soil pressure on the upstream banks and employing steel sheeting to strengthen the creek bed and banks downstream of bridges.

The engineering firm plans to use that design as a model for further bridge improvements along the creek.

Board gives direction on county pay raises

Colfax County commissioners gave elected officials direction on what pay increase figures to use in the weeks ahead while preparing their 2017-18 budgets.

Chairman Gil Wigington asked officials to prepare their annual spending blueprints with an eye toward giving the county’s 53 hourly employees an average 2 percent pay bump with a ceiling of 35 cents an hour.

The 35-cent ceiling is based on the average pay for the county’s hourly employees, which is $17.50 an hour.

The board requested elected officials use a pay raise figure of up to 3 percent for themselves and their deputies while writing their budget proposals.

The salary increases, which are tentative until finalized in January, are primarily used for the county’s budget-writing process to make sure the funds are in county coffers for next year.

The county’s hourly employees received, on average, a 1.75 percent pay increase effective in January of this year with a ceiling of 30 cents an hour for the 2016-17 budget. Commissioners can adjust the pay raises in January based on the Consumer Price Index numbers for November.

Elected officials are expected to turn in their budget proposals by Monday to County Clerk Rita Mundil’s office, with commissioners then spending weeks tweaking the spending blueprints for individual departments.

Commissioners will finalize the county budget after getting certified property valuations by Aug. 20 and are scheduled to adopt a spending plan Sept. 12. The county’s new fiscal year began July 1.

Commissioners have trimmed the county’s tax levy for five years in a row.

The county’s 2016-17 budget included a property tax levy of .29921 per $100 in valuation, down from .33179 in 2015-16. The county’s levy has dipped almost 9 cents per $100 of valuation over the last five years.

The county property tax tab for the owner of a $100,000 home was $299.21 in 2016-17. The same property owner’s tax bill was $331.39 a year earlier.