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Farrell ready to grow Schuyler

Schuyler Community Development Board President Lonnie Kitt said Jackie Farrell's attitude stood out while she was interviewing for the group's economic development coordinator position.

"Her energy level seems to be high," Kitt said. "Her enthusiasm for the position was evident throughout the interview."

Farrell's selection to fill the joint role of economic development coordinator and Schuyler Area Chamber of Commerce director was announced last week — and she's ready to go.

"I’m very excited," she said. "I can’t wait to get started and start meeting some people and hit the ground running."

Farrell said she applied for the position because she wants to be part of the growth and change she's seeing in Schuyler.

"I love the community of Schuyler," she said. "It's where we’re excited to be. I’m excited about what’s been started in Schuyler with growing the community and revitalization of downtown, and that’s what I want to be part of."

Farrell grew up in Utica and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned a bachelor's degree in family and consumer science and master's degree in leadership development. She worked at Extension offices in Nebraska and Texas before taking a position at East Central District Health Department, where she is currently the WIC coordinator.

Farrell said those positions equipped her with skills such as conducting needs assessments, moving initiatives and programs forward and event planning.

Kitt said her education and experience match what's needed for the new position.

"She's just a well-rounded applicant that fit the realm of what we’re looking for," he said.

Kitt said housing development and downtown revitalization will continue to be priorities for Schuyler Community Development, along with some new initiatives coming up.

"We have some really nice projects that are still in infancy, but they look very promising," said Kitt. "Some of them we can’t disclose yet, but there are some big possibilities that’ll come into fruition in the next year."

After the board's strategic planning sessions in September and October, Farrell said she'll have a clearer idea of where the organization is going. But she knows she wants to see more Latinos and other segments of Schuyler's population involved.

"I’d like to see everyone working together," she said, "more involvement on the board and getting more input on community development and on the chamber and draw more ideas for what we can work on together."

Farrell will start her new position Oct. 1.

Schuyler pastor 'always had a call'

There's no better way to welcome someone than with brownies, ice cream and camaraderie.

Pastor Dennis Wheeler assumed his position at Christ United Methodist Church in Schuyler at the beginning of July and members of the congregation held a Sundae Sunday last weekend to formally welcome him to the community.

Some of the church members are familiar faces as Wheeler served as a part-time pastor for one year six years ago.

“I was just a rookie,” he said. “I was just learning.”

Wheeler, who grew up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, was the youngest of 10 children in an Irish-Catholic family. His grandmother paid for him to attend parochial school.

“My whole life I wanted to be a priest,” he said. “I've always had a call.”

He married his wife Marta, who was raised Presbyterian. They were living in Lincoln at the time and started attending St. Mark’s United Methodist Church.

“The Methodist faith does not ask people to be re-baptized. They accept all baptisms, which was huge to me because to get re-baptized is like saying you were wrong,” Wheeler said. “So I loved it and I just fit.”

Wheeler worked as a building materials salesman for 38 years while he and Marta raised three children.

Several years ago, Marta decided to go into the ministry. Her first assignment was with a church out west.

“I just loved being around the people and the church,” said Wheeler. “So one day I just was out and it was like God was saying, 'OK, it’s time to do what you were created to do.’ So I answered the call.”

Marta is an associate pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Omaha. Last year, Wheeler was assigned to Calvary United Methodist Church in Fremont and Faith United Methodist Church in Hooper. He will continue to serve those two congregations along with Christ United Methodist Church in Schuyler, splitting time between houses here and in Omaha.

“I have a parsonage and I need to be here with the people I serve,” he said.

Wheeler said he's looking forward to being part of the community.

“(They’re) very inviting, gracious people that accept one another in a unique way,” he said. “It’s real easy for me being a newcomer. They accepted me, too, and it’s just very welcoming.”

He’s also excited about living in a community as diverse as Schuyler.

“You can see the world here going to the grocery store or just downtown,” he said.

Wheeler already has experience working with immigrant and refugee families.

“We adopted 22 immigrant families when I was at First United Methodist Church in Omaha,” he said. “We helped them find their ways and how to give and how to become part of the system of families, how to become citizens."

His goal is to create an atmosphere of love and acceptance.

“It's not to change them, it’s to celebrate who they are,” he said. “That's what we do — I celebrate people for who they are.”

Habitat house on hold as committee seeks funding, family

The lot for the future Habitat for Humanity house at 510 Gold St. will sit empty for longer than expected.

Initially, the Schuyler Hospitality and Housing Committee and Habitat for Humanity of Columbus hoped to break ground on the project in late summer or early fall of this year.

However, that date has since been pushed back to spring or early summer of next year.

Representatives from Christ United Methodist Church, St. John's Lutheran Church, First Presbyterian Church, the local Pinnacle Bank and Habitat for Humanity of Columbus, which is partnering with Schuyler on the project, are now brainstorming ideas to bring in more money to build the house and more applications from families who want to live in it.

During a recent meeting, a few organizations and businesses presented donations for the project: Homestead Bank donated $500, Christ United $1,250, First Presbyterian $2,500 and Pinnacle Bank $2,500. Cargill in Schuyler has pledged $10,000 for the project.

The women's group at St. John's Lutheran, Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, donated $616 raised by a quilt raffle. Sharon Schurman, Lemay Anderson and Karen Henry spent a month creating a large, purple quilt with hearts then sold raffle tickets from Feb. 28 until Aug. 3, when the winner was selected.

Nearly $38,000 has been raised for the Habitat house, more than half of the $60,000 goal.

“We were hoping by purchasing the lot and getting the big corporate donors, that might spur others to donate,” said Jamie Snyder, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Columbus.

The process of finding a family for the home has also taken longer than expected. Snyder said 25 families expressed interest during two orientation meetings held in July.

To qualify for a Habitat house, an applicant must earn within 30 to 60 percent of an area’s median annual income, which for Schuyler would be $19,530 to $39,060 for a family of four.

Applicants also must put in hours to help build the house and prove they're capable of making loan payments.

Another hurdle is interested families must apply for a housing loan through a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development program. The local Habitat team chose this route so they won't have to wait 25 years to receive the money and can start on a new project sooner.

So far, less than a handful of people have filed the initial one-page application to be considered for the Habitat house. A lengthier application follows if the initial form is approved.

The hope is that more donations for the project will come after a recipient family has been selected.

Habitat for Humanity of Columbus will hold a dedication ceremony at 11 a.m. Sept. 30 for its latest house at 1358 45th Ave. in Columbus.

Snyder said this house has a similar layout to the one planned for Schuyler.

County tax levy dips slightly in proposed budget

Colfax County commissioners put the finishing touches on a proposed $21.5 million budget for 2017-18 that asks for about $12,000 more from property taxpayers compared to the prior year.

The three-member board voted unanimously last week to schedule a public hearing for Sept. 12 to unveil the spending blueprint that would slice the county’s tax levy slightly for a sixth straight year.

A couple of big-ticket items in the 2017-18 budget include an exterior renovation of the nearly century-old courthouse that's expected to cost more than $800,000 and replacement of a couple of road bridges.

The courthouse renovation has been planned for by the board for nearly three budget cycles, Chairman Gil Wigington said following last week's meeting.

The county will spend an estimated $1.1 million to replace the bridges, including one on Road 17 that fell into Maple Creek.

Spending on employees’ salaries and insurance goes up just about every year, but the budgets of individual county offices and governmental subdivisions the county has authority over have held pretty steady, Wigington said.

The 2017-18 budget proposal calls for a county property tax request of more than $5.5 million and a tax levy of 29.616 cents for every $100 in valuation, down from 29.921 cents for 2016-17. The county’s levy has dipped about 10 cents per $100 of valuation over the past six years.

The county property tax tab for the owner of a $100,000 home would be $296.16 for the coming year.

Tax bills for individual properties vary from year to year depending on annual revaluation numbers. The county’s valuation for 2017-18, as certified earlier this month by the assessor’s office, is nearly $1.87 billion, an increase from more than $1.84 billion last year.

The commissioners also set levy limits for the county’s rural fire districts, agricultural society and Platte Valley drainage districts. Levies for the county and governmental subdivisions make up the combined county levy, which would be 37.62 cents per $100 of valuation.

Counties can set a maximum combined property tax levy of 50 cents per $100 in valuation. The levy ceiling for the combination of jurisdictions such as an ag society or rural fire district is 15 cents.

The county maintains a $4 million-plus balance in the inheritance tax fund. These funds are used for emergency expenses only. The county also carries $2.34 million in cash reserves.