Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Sydney Yalshevec

City Council holds public hearing on rail spur funds


Sydney Yalshevec

Arnie Christensen addresses the city council.

The rail spur project is no longer going to be completed due to the cost of the project increasing significantly over time and the bond originally put aside not being enough to complete the project. The city council must decide what to do with the funds that have been and are to be collected.

Since it is the residents of Kimball who voted "yes" on the taxation of property for the rail spur funds, it is once again going to be up to voters. However, the voters will be voting for or against whatever the city decides to put on the ballot.

In order to better understand what the public wants to become of the rail spur money, the city council held a public hearing so that residents could come and voice their opinions and concerns.

Although the rail spur project is one that is on the minds of many in Kimball, only two residents showed up to the hearing to speak their piece concerning the project and its new direction.

Mayor James Schnell opened the public hearing explaining the situation.

"The prices have gone up since the planning for the rail spur project, making the funds that were set aside not nearly enough for the project to be completed. We want to develop a plan to bring forward on the ballot for the public to vote on in November which would be an amendment to the present plan which allows a taxation that goes toward the rail spur project. The purpose of the public hearing is to gather ideas from the public on what they would want to see done with the funds that have been collected," Schnell said.

He called the meeting to order and Kimball resident Arnie Christensen, 85, stepped up to the podium to ask questions concerning the project and what it would be asking of the voters.

"You're asking us to approve the continuing tax without any specific project in mind," Christensen said.

Schnell, while acknowledging that the issue presented on the ballot might not be very specific, also explained some of the ideas that have been previously mentioned on different occasions.

"We have a few projects in mind but we wanted the public input. We'd like to develop the golf course out there with homes. We have developers that have spoken with Wilson (Bowling) about going out to the east interchange that would start infrastructure out in that direction. We have people that have suggested doing downtown improvement projects all of these are out on the table, so we decide in November what we're going to put before the public and we need the time to educate the public on what is on the ballot prior going to the election," Schnell said.

Christensen shared with the board his concern for whether or not the projects planned would create jobs or even see the light of day. His fears are shared by others in the community. If the rail spur project failed, who is to say another project won't go down the same path, Christensen pointed out.

"Let me explain where I'm coming from. I'm 85 years old, and it's looking like I could be paying these taxes for the rest of my life and never see anything out of them. I'd like to speak for the people who are paying taxes on their homes and can't afford them. I don't think we need another tax," Christensen said.

After this comment, Mayor Schnell addressed the reasons for the preference in choosing to use less specific language on the amendment that will be brought up on the November ballot.

"That's something that we kind of have to watch on our side because I realize that you're worried about how vague it can be but if we get it real specific then every three years we have to pay for another election in order to present a new project on the ballot," Schnell said.

The other Kimball resident that attended the public hearing to express his concern was Joel Linn.

"I would like to see us just drop and do away with, get rid of the taxation for the rail spur. I think that it was a bad project to start with. It was lumped in with economic development, and I think, if it had been outside and separate, it wouldn't have been passed to start with. I think that the rail spur just needs to come to an end. We made a mistake. We spent how many thousands on engineering, on studies, this kind of thing. Pay them off if we haven't already and just cancel it. I think there's a lot of people in Kimball that would say for once we put an end to a taxation expense that we didn't need, and I think that that would be a real plus on the feelings that people have toward the city council," Linn said.

Linn also shared his idea that the money should in someway be given back to the residents in the form of a tax credit or utility credit.

The rest of the public hearing was spent discussing the reality of whether or not the rail spur funds would be enough money to complete projects the city council has been showing interest in working toward. For example, working toward taking infrastructure out to the east interchange. The hope being that it will bring businesses and develop much like the Sidney east interchange.

However, it was brought up that the businesses probably won't look to buy if there isn't already some sort of building and other necessities.

After Christensen and Linn reiterated their stances on the matter once more, Mayor Schnell closed the public hearing.

The plan for the rail spur will be prepared to appear on the November ballot for the residents of Kimball to vote on. Mayor Schnell encouraged any and all with ideas to approach and get ahold of any of the council members, Daniel Ortiz, or Wilson Bowling. Despite his best efforts to portray an open arms type of situation, many residents don't feel comfortable sharing ideas, and Arnie Christensen reflected that sentiment.

"How am I supposed to get in to talk with anyone with a locked front door? It's a transparent city council with a locked front door," Christensen said.


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