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

County declines to join economic development group


The Kimball County Commissioners declined to join the Western Nebraska Economic Development Group and looked at a potential plan for ending smoking on county property at the July 7 meeting.

After a brief discussion, the commissioners voted unanimously to not join the WNEDG at this time.

Commissioner Tim Nolting said he spoke with several individuals about the effort, and there were many concerns with the group.

“Their opinion was that it was a duplication of effort, no real clear direction of what they’re going to do for all these other individual entities that they’re asking to join, that’s it’s primarily a Scotts Bluff County initiative and they don’t see why there’s a reason to repeat the efforts that PADD is doing,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Engstrom said if the group simply duplicated the work of the Panhandle Area Development District, there was no need to join.

Board attorney Audrey Elliott said the two cities she represents, Lyman and Minatare, have also not joined the WNEDG at this time. She expressed their concerns as the same as the county’s, being the duplication of the work of PADD, no clear cut vision and the main focus as a need to redevelop Scotts Bluff.

“In order for them to generate funds, it has to be based on dues paid by those who join,” Nolting said. “It’s going to be just like PADD, based on your population. The programs they want to administer are the same programs PADD is currently doing.”

The commissioners also heard a proposal regarding making county property tobacco free, but took no action on the proposal.

Jessica Davies, wellness coordinator for the Panhandle Public Health District, told the commissioners that approximately 50 companies with 10,000 employees have joined the district’s worksite wellness council to end smoking in some fashion. Some entities have banned smoking within 15 feet of the door, while others have banned it completely. She said the ban could also include smokeless tobacco.

Davies said the program is not heavy-handed and does not force employees to quit smoking, but helps them if they want to quit.

“People really will be supported,” she said. “It’s not a heavy-handed practice. We understand it’s an addiction and really want to be able to help with that.”

One example she gave was that of Chadron Community Hospital, which moved to disallow smoking on its property. She said weekly emails were sent to employees in advance of the ban going into effect. Resources offered to those who wanted to quit smoking included a tobacco free quite phone line, website, a texting service and more - all of which is free to the employee.

Davies said 20 percent of Nebraskans smoke, which is just above the 17-18 percent average nationwide. However, she added more smokeless tobacco is seen in the state. Davies also said smoking costs and average of $630 spent per person each year in Nebraska.

When asked about how people have responded to the smoking bans, she said it has gone well as long as the entity has approached it with support and education.

“Our goal truly is the public’s health,” Davies said. “That’s truly what we want to do. We want to get our resources and services out there.”

Nolting said the issue was recently brought up in an employee safety committee meeting, and most there were positive about the possibility - even among those who smoke.

County clerk Cathy Sibal said she thought it would be well received if presented positively as a wellness issue and if people were given time to adjust.

The commissioners also:

- Rescinded a motion for a public hearing regarding designating some roads as minimum maintenance. This may be looked at again once a school bus route schedule is known.

- Agreed to push back the purchase of a tar pot. The tar pot was to be jointly purchased with the City of Kimball, and City Administrator Daniel Ortiz said the city would need to push back the purchase for as much as 18 months due to roads that need urgent repair in the city.

- Agreed to pay the Pine Bluffs Ambulance Service for a one-time use of an ambulance during an emergency call.


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