New Faces on Papio NRD Board of Directors

 

 

The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District Board of Directors will see some new faces this year following the 2018 General Election.

Tim McCormick, owner of a bridge and heavy civil construction company, takes over John Conley’s seat in Subdistrict 4. Conley retired after serving 19 years on the board.

Kevyn Sopinski, a financial adviser, replaces David Klug in Subdistrict 10, who chose not to run for re-election to focus on election to the Sarpy County Board of Commissioners.

Longtime incumbent Tim Fowler, who has represented Subdistrict 8 since 2003, will hold onto his seat after defeating challenger Jim Kusek.

Incumbents Jim Thompson in Subdistrict 6 and Fred Conley in Subdistrict 2 ran unopposed.

Additional members of the Papio NRD Board of Directors include Ted Japp (Subdistrict 1), Larry Bradley (Subdistrict 3), Richard Tesar (Subdistrict 5), Patrick Leahy (Subdistrict 7), Mark Gruenwald (Subdistrict 8), and John B. Wiese (Subdistrict 11).

The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District Board of Directors is an 11-member board that sets policy for Papio NRD programs and projects and oversees a $72 million annual operating budget.

Papio NRD Budget Process Transparency for Public Education

In the District’s continuing efforts to enhance transparency, responsiveness to its constituents, and to educate stakeholders and the general public about the intricacies of the budgeting process, John Winkler, general manager of the Papio NRD, reviewed and provided the following feedback on the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom’s (NTF) Issue Paper.

Papio NRD Addresses Organization’s Budget Analysis for Public Benefit

After a more detailed review of the “findings” of the NTF analysis management thought it prudent to directly respond and correct some of the inaccuracies and misconceptions the issue paper contains.  I for one very much appreciate the input the District receives not only on the budget but any project or program we undertake.  The District consistently strives to be the most transparent, responsible and responsive government entity not only in the State of Nebraska but in the entire country.   In order to achieve these lofty goals it is incumbent upon the District to ensure accurate information is presented at all times.  Furthermore, in the future we will seek to establish additional proactive strategies to educate the public in not only general public budgeting process but the internal budgeting processes of the District as well.

CORE Missions

One of the “criticisms” of the NTF analysis is the District “over budgets” revenue every year and over spends on items outside of its CORE responsibility. Fact: The NRD has 12 statutory CORE Missions given to it by the Nebraska Legislature.  These CORE missions are broad and encompassing to protect life, property, wildlife, the environment, the economy, our natural resources and the very future of our communities.  Every District project and program is authorized and funded by an elected Board of Directors and has a direct link to the agencies 12 CORE missions and statutory responsibilities.  The District historically does not spend all of the funds allocated in the annual budget.  There are several factors that impact the expenditure of funds any given year.  A great majority of District projects and programs are multi-year efforts and are reliant upon factors outside of the Districts control.

For example, District projects and programs often experience weather delays, delays in securing state and federal permits, delays caused by utilities or other conflicts, delays caused by partner agencies and many other unforeseen events can delay the completion of projects which ultimately delays the expenditure of funds.

Cash On Hand

One of the most perplexing NTF criticisms is the District’s cash on hand is too large and fuels increases in the budget and an increase in property taxation. Fact: These statements could not be more inaccurate and are possibly generated by a general lack of understanding of the budgeting process and public financing.  The cash on hand at the end of each fiscal year does not contribute to increased budgets or increases in taxes, actually it is quite the opposite.  Any cash on hand from the previous budget year is transferred to the next budget year to be utilized as a beginning balance, before tax requirement are calculated, for those projects and programs that did not get completed the prior fiscal year. In fact the project reserve fund actually contributes to a reduction in the required property tax requirement as these funds are the first to be budgeted/allocated in the budget process.  Simply, the unused funds are carried over from one fiscal year to the next and utilized as a baseline in the next budget; the budget doesn’t start from zero, especially in light of the fact that many District projects take years to construct.  It is stated in the NTF analysis that 33.8 million was over budgeted from last fiscal year and only 55% utilized.  Obviously, when the District budget funds for a project or program it expects to expend those funds that fiscal year, however, due to the delays pointed out earlier many projects get delayed from one year to the next.  Once again, this unused revenue funds are carried over to the next fiscal year as a beginning balance for that project or program which did not get completed and many times no additional new revenue is needed.

Generated Revenue

The NTF indicated that the NRD spent 110.9% of property tax budgeted from General Fund an “embarrassing amount”.  Fact: These funds are not property tax funds but is revenue generated through lease payments, fees, donations, and other miscellaneous revenue.  In fact these funds assist in reducing the property tax requirements of District taxpayers and the District has done an outstanding job maintaining and increasing revenue streams from leases, camping fees, user fees etc.  Another fact is the District only collected 83.5% of anticipated revenue due to delays in project completion or progress.  As only one third of the District’s total revenue is property taxes the District does an extremely commendable job securing additional revenue streams that greatly limit the property tax requirements of District constituents.

Budgeting for Projects

The NTF analysis called out two expense accounts that were over budget and others that were “woefully” under budget, which in their opinion pointed to “poor budgeting”.  Fact: The two expense accounts over 100% of the budget were projects that were ahead of schedule and additional work was able to be completed in the fiscal year which not only adds increased value to those we serve but saves money by completing the project earlier.

Health Insurance

The NTF analysis identifies the 5% health insurance premium increase as a need for employees to pay more of their health insurance costs.  Fact: The NRD health plan is a self-funded plan administered by the NRD’s and its Directors and employees.  The NRD health plan has experienced record low increases in health insurance premiums over the last 7 years and is anywhere from 30 to 50 percent below market premium increases compared to other health insurance plans each and every year.  I am a member of the NARD Benefits Committee and steps are taken consistently to keep premium costs down and to spread any increases to employees and employer.  The committee recently raised the prescription drug co-pays for employees and is looking at other plan modifications to save money.  This health insurance plan has been a huge savings to the taxpayers of the District compared to other entities.

Line Item Designation

The NTF analysis indicated that several line items under Special Planning/Engineering/Recycling are not defined clearly.  Fact: All Special Planning/Engineering/Recycling are clearly designated on page 5 and 43 of the budget.  Our budget worksheets are one of the most detailed and transparent budgeting documents in the State of Nebraska.

Carryover Funds

The NTF analysis identifies “identical amounts” for office carpeting and office painting appear in the last fiscal year, so these expense carryovers boost the property tax requirement. Fact:  As discussed earlier carryover funds do not boost property tax requirements and these funds were carried over because the leases with USDA, NRCS, FSA and the Corps of Engineers were being reviewed for work space requirements and thus the lease not finalized.  In fact, the District will be receiving increase lease fees and internal work efficiencies by utilizing current space more efficiently and effectively thus saving even more taxpayer money.

Operating Reserve Funds

The NTF analysis assumes the cash on hand funds and operating reserve boost the property tax load and resembles “a slush fund”.  Fact: The operating reserve is less than one month of District operating expenses and is woefully underfunded compared to similar operating reserve funds like the City of Omaha, Douglas County, State of Nebraska and every school district in the State of Nebraska.  Like any “rainy day” fund the operating reserve should contain 3 to 6 months of operating expenses.  The other assumptions of cash on hand and carryover funds has been explained.

Southern Sarpy Watershed Partnership

The NTF analysis states the Southern Sarpy Watershed Partnership continually shows a bloated reserve.  Fact: The SSWP has a large cash balance because of private development fees that have been collected by the SSWP partners and distributed to the District.  The majority of these funds were paid by the new Facebook Data Center.  The collection of these private fees further reduces the burden on the District taxpayers.

USACE Re-study

The NTF analysis states there is not “justification” for the $500,000 for the USACE Papillion Creek Watershed re-study.  Fact:  The USACE re-study is a 50-50 cost share federal study of the Papillion Creek Watershed which upon completion could open the door to tens of millions of dollars of federal funding to complete the Papillion Creek Watershed Plan.  The study was discussed multiple times and approved by the NRD Board of Directors at a public meeting and was extensively covered in the media and at past Board meetings.

Information Support Programs

The NTF analysis states the information support programs “over budgeted” the last fiscal year.  Fact: Information support programs were not completed last fiscal year due to the retirement of Emmett Eger, Program Manager, and the subsequent hiring of a new Program Manager and other department personnel.  These unused funds were carried over into this year’s budget and will be redirected to new and updated information and education programs.

Omaha Levee Certification and Western Sarpy Clear Creek

The NTF analysis states the Omaha Levee Certification and Western Sarpy Clear Creek was “over budgeted”.  Fact:  The City of Omaha Levee Certification is authorized and budgeted for $500,000 a year up to a total of $2,000,000 maximum District contribution.  Omaha simply did not spend the full $500,000 budgeted last fiscal year as they were unable to complete as much work as they wanted and thus they were not able to request the full reimbursement from the NRD.  Therefore, $500,000 is budgeted again this fiscal year and the unspent funds are rolled over into the next fiscal year and all of the maximums remain in place. It was anticipated the NRD would need to reimburse the Corps of Engineers $700,000 for the Western Sarpy Clear Creek Levee Project expenses, however, due to NRD staff’s professional relationships and competent negotiation skills the $700,000 payment was not required.  Consequently, this saved the taxpayers of the District $700,000 in property tax funds.

Flanagan Lake

The NTF analysis was “disturbed” that funds were budgeted for Flanagan Lake so soon after completion.  Fact: Flanagan Lake was recently completed and opened in July of 2018, however, due to the amount of precipitation and extreme rain events that occurred this year some of the seeding and other erosion control measures didn’t have time to properly establish, consequently, those erosion issues must be addressed to properly protect the public from danger and the structure from further damage.

Water Quality Basins

The NTF analysis questioned the budgeting of funds to dredge an SID Lake.  Fact:  The NRD has an established program that was approved and funded by the Board of Directors to allow municipalities including SID’s to apply for cost share funds to dredge small Water Quality Basins.  These Water Quality Basins protect main stem flood control reservoirs from silt and pollutants.  The continued functionality of Water Quality Basins will ultimately save the taxpayer money as the main stem reservoirs will not need as much future maintenance.

State Grants

The NTF analysis was disappointed in the amount of state grants that were or weren’t collected the last fiscal year.  Fact: Since the NRD just received federal permits on a number of large projects, now work can begin to construct those projects.  State grant funds are only reimbursed to the District when qualified and eligible project costs are performed and those costs are incurred by the District.  State grant funds are held by the state until the work is completed, the state is invoiced and the work is verified as being completed by the state.  No state funds were lost, the work and reimbursement is simply delayed.

Construction Bid

The NTF analysis believes the construction bid on the new equipment shed is too expensive.  Fact:  A competitive bid was solicited on the equipment shed and the Board of Directors approved the lowest and best bid.  This shed will ultimately save the taxpayers of the District money and it will protect District equipment and extend the life of that equipment.

Development Fees

The NTF analysis identifies that developer fees collected in the PCWP are not meeting estimates from nine years ago.  Fact:  PCWP development fees have lagged from original estimates, however, fees are starting to increase over the last few fiscal years as the housing market booms and development races forward.  Development fees will be addressed in the upcoming five year PCWP Plan update.

The District appreciates the positive points outlined in the NTF Issue Paper and will review and take under advisement the NTF suggestions.  Perhaps in the future District staff can engage the NTF to discuss public budgeting and the internal NRD budgeting process in greater detail.   I believe a lot of these concerns are based on misinformation, a general disagreement or opposition to District projects like reservoir construction or a general lack of understanding of NRD budgeting processes and techniques.

 

Respectfully,

 

John G. Winkler
General Manager
Papio-Missouri River NRD

 

 

 

 

Low-Flying Helicopter – Not to Alarm Public

The Papio NRD and ENWRA (Eastern Nebraska Water Resources Commission) have low-flying helicopter flights taking place in late June and July over Eastern Nebraska to collect and record geologic measurements to learn more about buried aquifers. We want to public to be aware so they will not be alarmed if they see a helicopter mounted with instruments in their area.

Below is a news release from ENWRA with more information.

Eastern Nebraska residents should not be alarmed if they see a low-flying helicopter over areas of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (P-MRNRD) in June and July.

Beginning in late June and lasting approximately two to three weeks, instruments mounted below a helicopter will collect and record geologic measurements to learn more about buried aquifers (glacial sands and gravels, sandstones and other water-bearing materials).  The P-MRNRD and other members of the Eastern Nebraska Water Resources Assessment (ENWRA), a coalition of six NRDs in the eastern third of Nebraska, have planned the flights with help from the Nebraska Water Sustainability Fund, through the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission.  According to Katie Cameron, coordinator of ENWRA, “The flights will improve our understanding of available ground water and its possible connections with surface water in an area of the state made more complex by the presence of glacial deposits.”

Aqua Geo Frameworks (AGF), of Mitchell, Nebraska will oversee the flights, process data and produce a final report.  The equipment can collect data at a speed of more than 50 miles per hour and explore to a depth of more than 700 feet below the ground surface.  The helicopter will fly over parts of Dakota, Thurston, Burt, Washington, Douglas, and northwestern Sarpy Counties within the P-MRNRD.   Cameron said the flights will be a continuation of ENWRA flights conducted during summer 2016 and will focus with more detail on several areas within the P-MRNRD.  Scientific equipment is towed about 100 feet below the helicopter in a ‘spider web’ array and is designed to map geologic structures beneath the surface of the earth.  The helicopter will be manned by experienced pilots specially trained for low-level flying with this equipment.  Similar flights have been made across Nebraska since 2007, according to Cameron, as NRDs seek to better understand and manage ground water resources.

For more information, please contact:

Contact:
Katie Cameron, PG
UNL Survey Hydrogeologist / ENWRA Coordinator
PH: (402) 476-2729

PH: (402) 419-4798 cell
kcameron_enwra@lpsnrd.org
www.enwra.org

 

Recycle Your Pesticide Containers

Pesticide Container Collections for Dakota and Thurston County

Dakota and Thurston County farmers and pesticide applicators will again have the opportunity to recycle pesticide containers to help protect water and air quality in our area.  One collection site will be staffed for inspection and the collection will be open to the public each Wednesday during June and July as follows:

South Sioux City – Central Valley Ag (Junction of U.S. Hwy 20 and NE 110)

11:00 a.m. to Noon

 In addition to the 1, 2 and 5-gallon plastic containers, the 15, 30 and 50-gallon plastic drums will also be accepted for recycling.  All plastic pesticide containers and drums must be properly cleaned and prepared to be acceptable for recycling.  This includes being triple-rinsed or power washed and have the plastic caps and wrappers removed.  These containers and drums must be free of visible chemical residue on the inside and outside.

This activity to help protect the environment is possible through the cooperation of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa, the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (NRD), UNL Extension, four agri-businesses, the Nebraska Loess Hills Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council, and the Agricultural Container Research Council (ACRC).

During 2017 more than 13,000 plastic pesticide containers (nearly 4 tons) were inspected, collected and shredded to make more pesticide containers, parking lot stops, pallets, and plastic lumber.  Since 1995 more than 232,000 (102.5 tons) containers have been recycled in Dakota and Thurston Counties and kept out of landfills.

For more information about recycling plastic agricultural pesticide containers contact your local NRD, RC&D, Extension office or USDA Service Center.

 

156th Street Trail Closure

Starting Monday May 21st, the section of trail along the old 156th street right-of-way inside the Chalco Hills Recreation Area will be closed in order for crews to remove the existing asphalt trail and replace it with a wider section of concrete.  This section of trail will be closed for approximately 3-4 weeks.

 

 

New Groundwater Management Rules and Regulations Effective March 1

Following the adoption of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District’s (P-MRNRD) new Groundwater Management Plan in February, new rules and regulations go into effect on March 1, 2018.  While this may seem ominous, the new rules don’t require everything to change all at once.

For instance, requirements to follow new fertilizer application dates won’t apply until after the 2018 crops are harvested.  Once crops are harvested, organic and low-level non-organic nitrogen fertilizer (<40 lbs N per acre) can be applied in all areas of the District.  Application of higher levels of non-organic nitrogen fertilizer (>40 lbs N per acre) must wait until after March 1, 2019, in the Platte and Elkhorn River valley (HCA area) and until after November 1, 2018, across the rest of the NRD (Non-HCA area).

The main requirement that does go into effect March 1, 2018, is that anyone within the District proposing to construct a high capacity well (those pumping over 50 gallons per minute) must submit for a Water Supply Well Permit from the District.  The application form for the permit is available online, or can be printed and submitted via email, fax at 402-896-6543, or by mail.  Please visit our Groundwater Quantity page for instructions and more details.

 

 

Finally, the District will be reviewing and considering a new Groundwater Management Program cost-share policy at its Subcommittee and Board of Directors meetings on March 6th and 8th respectively.  This policy would make cost-share available from the NRD to landowners to improve irrigation efficiency and help landowners in Phase II Groundwater Quality Management areas pay for soil nutrient testing.  It would also provide cost-share for up to five years for irrigators in the Platte and Elkhorn River valley to purchase and install flow meters.  After five years, flow meters will be required on all irrigation wells in this area.

It is also the intention of the NRD to continue to offer educational opportunities about the new Groundwater Management Plan in areas across the District.  Topics will include irrigation management, nutrient management, domestic well groundwater testing and wellhead protection.

 

 

The Time to Plan a Windbreak is Today

The past few years, northeast Nebraska, as well as other parts of the Midwest, have experienced some extreme weather conditions.  From flooding, to blistering heat, lack of rainfall, and strong winds have all taken a toll on the land, livestock, and wildlife that make this area of Nebraska unique.  Nature provides us with a tool that we can use to help protect against extreme weather forces and that tool is trees!

Trees provide several benefits for landowners and producers.  Trees provide protection for crops and livestock.  They protect soil from wind erosion, and well-designed shelterbelts can distribute drifting snow more evenly across the fields.  Trees can provide shelter in the winter and shade in the summer which can lessen the stress on livestock.

 

 

Trees can also provide benefit for humans.  Trees can reduce home heating and cooling costs by up to 30% by planting a good shelterbelt.  They can minimize snow drifts in roads, driveways, and around the house or farm.  Trees can even be used to help with noise reduction.

Trees also provide numerous benefits for wildlife.  Shelterbelts can provide habitat for wildlife, and they can also provide stream bank stabilization for streams and rivers.  Steam bank stabilization helps protect aquatic habitat, and trees can also help remove contaminants that would otherwise get into our water.

The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (NRD) would like to encourage landowners to start planning now.  Orders are currently being taken at all NRD and USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices for planting in the spring.  Landowners can order from a list of some forty-one species of trees and shrubs.  The price for 25 seedlings is $22.

For more information about tree orders, planting or the NRD cost-share program, contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and NRD office located at 1505 Broadway in Dakota City or by phone at (402) 494-4949.  A listing of all conservation trees and shrubs are also available online at www.nrdtrees.org

 

Public Hearings for New Groundwater Management Plan

Three public hearings are scheduled across the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District (P-MRNRD) to gather community feedback on the District’s new Groundwater Management Plan.

The current P-MRNRD Groundwater Management Plan for the six-county NRD area including Sarpy, Douglas, Washington, and Dakota Counties plus the eastern portions of Burt and Thurston Counties in Nebraska, acknowledged a lack of existing information about groundwater quantity and quality. Since 1994, P-MRNRD has gathered a significant amount of hydrogeologic information on the distribution of groundwater aquifers across the district. Furthermore, with over 30 years of groundwater monitoring data, information on specific areas within the district with water quantity and quality issues have been identified.

Topics to be discussed at the public hearings include:

– Who would be affected?
– Proposed rules and regulations
– What are the benefits of the new plan?
– What would change?
– What portions of the District may be designated as a Groundwater Management Area?

More than 750,000 people live in the Papio-Missouri River NRD area and many rely on clean groundwater as their drinking water supply, for irrigation, and various industrial uses. The new Groundwater Management Plan has been prepared with more recent data, as well as input from stakeholders across the District who represented groundwater users in the NRD. The new Groundwater Management Plan is expected to replace the existing plan.

Public Hearings

The public hearings in Dakota City, Tekamah, and Omaha are scheduled as follows:

  • November 30, 2017 @ 6:30 p.m. – Dakota City Field Office, 1505 Broadway, Dakota City, NE
  • December 7, 2017 @ 6:30 p.m. – First Northeast Bank of Nebraska, 2nd Floor Conference Room, 448 South 13th Street, Tekamah, NE
  • December 14, 2017 @ 7:00 p.m. – Natural Resources Center, 8901 S. 154th Street, Omaha, NE

Cost-Sharing Conservation Plans Available to Farmers and Ranchers

Farmers and ranchers interested in soil, water and wildlife conservation are encouraged to sign up now for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).  EQIP is available from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).  Those interested in applying for fiscal year 2018 program funds are encouraged to sign up before October 20, 2017.

EQIP is a voluntary conservation program available to private landowners and operators.  Through EQIP farmers and ranchers may receive financial and technical help to install conservation practices on agricultural land, such as examples pictured below.

Grassed waterway on the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) tract south of Macy on the Omaha Indian Reservation.

According to Craig Derickson, NRCS State Conservationist, there are several options available to producers through EQIP.  “EQIP is one of our most versatile programs.  It offers cost-share and technical assistance to apply conservation measures on cropland and rangeland, as well as for animal feeding operations and establishing or enhancing wildlife habitat.  There are many opportunities available, and NRCS staff can help landowners and operators sort out their EQIP options.”

Individuals interested in entering into an EQIP agreement may apply at any time, but the ranking of applications on hand to receive funding will begin October 20, 2017.  The first step is to visit your local NRCS office in Dakota City or Walthill and complete an application.

 

Installation of a water pipeline on the Gerald Bousquet farm north of Hubbard, Nebraska, using an underground boring machine instead of a trencher to prevent possible erosion along the steep hillside.

 

For more than 75 years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has helped agricultural producers design and install conservation plans.  NRCS Conservationists work with landowners on their farm or ranch to develop a conservation plan based on resource goals.  Conservation planning assistance is free and does not require participation in financial programs.

For more information about the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and other conservation programs, visit your local NRCS field office or go online at www.ne.nrcs.usda.gov.

 

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