Red Willow County commissioners purchased real estate and updated themselves on a wind study being conducted in the county during their regular weekly meeting Monday morning.
Commissioners voted un-animously to purchase the two-story frame white-and-gray apartment house at 524 Norris -- on the corner north of the courthouse in McCook -- for $50,000 from Stannis and Kenneth Spencer, McCook.
Three of five apartments are rented; tenants have until the closing date (on or about) Feb. 1, 2010, to find other homes. County attorney Paul Wood said tenants were given notice Nov. 30 and have 60 days to move.
Commission chairman Earl McNutt said that the Spencers no longer want to be in the rental business and want the county to have the property. McNutt said they offered it to the county for $50,000, although it is valued at $76,000 for tax purposes.
McNutt said the county is buying the property because, "Sometime, there will have to be expansion at the courthouse," especially if 93 Nebraska counties are ever consolidated into 20 or 44 "county units" and Red Willow/McCook is declared a "consolidated county center."
"That's the toughest part of this job," McNutt said, "looking into the future and determining what the county may need."
McNutt said money to purchase the house will come from the budget's jail sinking fund, although, he said, that doesn't necessarily mean that that's where commissioners may build a jail.
Commissioner Leigh Hoyt said he is unaware of restrictions about building a jail close to churches or schools. St. Alban's Episcopal Church is across the alley west of the courthouse and the apartment house, Memorial United Methodist Church is across Norris Avenue to the east and McCook Public Schools Central Elementary is within a half-block to the west.
McNutt said commissioners considered keeping the property as a rental until deciding how to ultimately use it, but thought better of that plan with Wood's advice. "The county would have to pay taxes on the rental income," McNutt said, "and we'd need someone to maintain the building. We (the county) would be better off not getting in the rental business."
Hoyt urged commissioners to make a decision by at least next summer about the disposal of the apartment house and the former beauty salon next door to the courthouse (that commissioners purchased in early 2008 for $79,500), wanting to avoid the natural deterioration of unoccupied buildings. McNutt suggested offering them for sale to be moved.
The apartment house at 524 is a two-story house turned into apartments, and is the former home of Ralph G. Brooks, superintendent of McCook Public Schools and president of McCook Junior College in the 1950s and Nebraska governor from 1959 until Sept. 6, 1960, when he died in office. Brooks was born in Eustis in 1898. He was a Democrat throughout his political career, and was elected governor by a popular vote in November 1958. During his tenure, Brooks endorsed a comprehensive traffic safety program and promoted industrial growth for his home state.
The house at 524 Norris is marked with a blue and white historical marker placed by McCook historian and former McCook resident Linda Hein and other McCook historian/supporters who created a project called "Heritage Square." A "Heritage Square" marker designates homes of McCook's prominent politicians -- Nebraska Sen. George W. Norris (1861-944), Nebraska Gov. Frank B. Morrison (1905-2004), Brooks and Nebraska's current U.S. Senator, Ben Nelson.
Wood said that the house is not listed on any state or national registry of historic homes. "There is nothing of record that it's an historically-registered home," Wood said. McNutt said that was commissioners' first priority, to determine that the county was not purchasing a historically-registered property.
The large apartment house in between the former beauty salon and the white-and-gray apartment house on the corner is owned by Greg and Janet Hepp of McCook.
Commissioner Steve Downer updated fellow commissioners on a wind study whose proposed turbine towers have been determined by the Federal Aviation Administration not to be a hazard to air navigation.
Downer said that David Malleck of Malleck Farms and Wind Ventures LLC, located at the McCook Airport, erected a 196-foot tall test tower and guy wires in August, on land owned by Wayne and Maxine Goodenberger six miles south of Indianola. The tower does not have turbine blades on it, Downer said, but is equipped with instruments to record wind velocity and direction.
Malleck is proposing to build a wind farm of 28 wind turbines no taller than 398 feet. Brenda Mumper, a specialist with the FAA, indicated in an Oct. 18 letter that any height exceeding 398 feet "will result in a substantial adverse effect and would warrant a determination of hazed to air navigation."
All towers will have to marked and/or lighted in accordance with FAA-approved white paint and synchronized red lights.
Commissioners said they may have to take action following the holidays on a county loan that is, as of Monday's meeting (and again by 8:30 a.m., today), three months delinquent.
Betty Kenner of Accents Etc., in downtown McCook, has not made her September, October or November payments of $989.37 each, due the 10th of each month.
In August 2006, Kenner borrowed $70,000 from the county's revolving loan program to buy out partners and continue the gift, flower and antique shop in the 300 block of Norris Avenue. The loan, at 5 percent interest, will be paid off in seven years.
In April 2009, commissioners approved a loan modification that allowed Kenner to move two delinquent loan payments (plus their interest) to the end of the loan and remove the job creation criteria for one year.
Two other loans from the county's revolving loan fund, to the now-defunct Pawnee Aviation, are in foreclosure. Owner Ron Willocks owes the county $300,000-plus in back loan payments and interest.
All other accounts are current as of today.
McNutt is disillusioned by the county's revolving loan program. "I wish the county wasn't in the money-lending business," he said. The program was funded originally in the mid-1990's with proceeds from state/federal loans to two dairies built northeast of McCook.
Downer agreed, adding, "These businesses could apply to the (Nebraska) Department of Economic Development and leave us out of the loop."
McNutt is also upset that the county is most often third in line -- behind banks and the Small Business Administration -- when it comes to being able to recover its funding if that becomes necessary.