Community leaders outline State of the Valley

Scottsbluff mayor Raymond Gonzales shares information about the city during the State of the Valley on Wednesday at Hampton Inn.

SCOTTSBLUFF — Municipal officials from around the community outlined the progress their governments have made in the last year during Wednesday’s annual State of the Valley luncheon.

The annual event is sponsored by the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Committee. Speakers included Mayor Ray Gonzales and City Manager Nathan Johnson of Scottsbluff, Mayor Tony Kaufman of Gering, City Administrator Lonnie Miller of Terrytown and Scotts Bluff County Board Chairman Ken Meyer.

Gonzales said the annual event is an opportunity to keep in contact with the residents and business community of the city.

“It’s been an exciting and challenging year,” Gonzales said. “Our sales taxes have been trending downward but are starting to come back up. It’s vital to our entire operation.”

With about $4 million in its LB 840 economic development fund, the city of Scottsbluff continues to look at its regional economic development plan to implement as much of it as officials can.

Recent improvements that Gonzales outlined were completion of the 42nd Street project, the solar panel project north of town at the Landers Soccer Complex, continued improvements to the downtown 18th Street Plaza, East Overland façade renovations and expansion of the 23 Club baseball field.

Scottsbluff City Manager Nathan Johnson also said that Tax Increment Financing (TIF) has been important for the city.

“Over the past year, we’ve done several TIF projects and the council has approved another $12 million,” Johnson said. “Some of them had been the new Scooter’s Coffee location, expansion of the Platte Valley Bank campus, and Aulick’s truck stop. We’re trying to be aggressive as we can to keep moving forward.”

Lonnie Miller, city administrator and treasurer for the City of Terrytown, updated luncheon attendees on progress of the city’s continuing $3 million water project, which will completely upgrade the community’s water system and hook up water meters for all residences and businesses within the city limits. The project should be completed later in 2020.

Before Gering Mayor Tony Kaufman presented, he remembered the late Don Overman, who he says made a big impact on his professional career.

Gering High School recently cut the ribbon on its new expansion, which prompted Kaufman to point out that education is a vital part of growing a workforce for the community.

He also said the city needs to continue reinventing itself to generate even more economic development. Some of the recent projects include the downtown Gering Civic Plaza and a strengthened tourism effort that will bring the National Hot Air Balloon Championships to the area for the next two years after a successful inaugural event this summer.

Another tourism jewel he pointed out is the Western Nebraska Pioneers baseball team, which he said brings an average of 1,100 fans in for every home game during the summer. That attendance number puts Gering atop the league records, even though the city is the Expedition League’s smallest market.

“The community has really rallied about the Pioneers,” Kaufman said. “They bring in some 36,000 visitors from across the region. That’s a big asset.”

Ken Meyer, chairman of the Scotts Bluff County Board of Commissioners, was the last to speak.

“We just passed a $46 million budget, but we’re only asking for $12 million from the residents, so that’s the good news,” he said. “Our accountant did a great job of getting the budget down to where it needed to be.”

One of the big projects the county currently has in the works is a replacement of the 50-plus year-old communications tower which has sat atop the county court building.

The new 150-foot tower will be moved to a location immediately west of the former county jail building. The new location will provide even better coverage for the county’s emergency communications, Meyer said.

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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