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FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star file photo 

Nebraska's Isaiah Roby scores after getting fouled by Cal State Fullerton’s Kyle Allman (bottom right) in the second half Dec. 22 at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

editor's pick
Plans underway for 2 more Lincoln fire stations, in addition to 4 now being built

With work still underway on four new fire stations, city officials are already planning for two more, which they say will help keep pace with Lincoln's growth.

Those plans, still in the preliminary stages, call for Lincoln Fire and Rescue's 17th and 18th stations to take shape near 40th Street and Yankee Hill Road in 2022 and near 112th and A streets in 2025.

The plans aren't a priority for the department, which is focused on replacing its aging fire rigs and completing work on the four stations currently under construction.

"We’re trying to play chess many moves ahead,” Fire Chief Micheal Despain said.

Despain and Public Safety Director Tom Casady said the fire department's experiences as it sought to build stations over the last two years have reinforced the importance of acting early.

"My experience has been, try and plant your flag early,” Despain said.

The city can reliably predict its population growth, and buying land well in advance, before an area is heavily developed, can help secure a lower purchase price and save taxpayer money, he said.

The chief said land for stations needing immediate construction can cost six times more than it would if purchased years in advance.

No money has been committed to acquiring parcels for the new stations. City officials expect parcels in those areas to cost $500,000 and $551,000, respectively. 

Staking an early claim also helps gives neighbors advance notice.

"When you are siting something like a fire station, there are people out there who don’t want to live next door," Casady said.

Last year, the fire department encountered opposition to its plans to buy land to relocate Station 12 near 84th Street and Pioneers Boulevard.

Casady and Despain wanted to move the station there from 84th and South streets to better cover the growing city, but some homeowners there worried about noise, especially late at night, and the big rigs barging through residential streets en route to Nebraska 2.

City staff held at least three meetings with neighborhood representatives to allay their concerns and nixed plans to buy one lot due to their objections.

Resistance also surfaced when the fire department eyed land along North 98th Street for Fire Station 16. The station is being built on the south end of the Waterford Estates neighborhood.

And Despain saw similar issues play out when officials sought to close a fire station in the Fresno, California, area before he became Lincoln's fire chief in 2016. 

"You’re trying to serve the community and now you’re upsetting the community," he said.

Even if the city purchases the land, sometimes prior planning must adapt when projected city growth and actual development differ, Casady said.

One project that could reshape Lincoln and affect the distribution of the city's fire stations is the opening of the South Beltway.

State transportation officials will begin purchasing land soon, and construction on the highway connecting U.S 77 and Nebraska 2 south of Saltillo Road could start in the spring of 2020.

Highways typically increase rescue calls for car crashes, Casady said, and along with typical roadside commercial development, the South Beltway could spur a wave of new rooftops on the city's southern edge.

Plans for Fire Stations 17 and 18 account for construction of the South Beltway, but the speed at which the new highway drives development may change plans.

"I have a feeling that there’ll be some real growth," he said.

top story
'It's just a gnarly sport' — go-kart drivers get adrenaline fix at Lancaster Event Center

Spectators at the Lancaster Event Center on Sunday afternoon were treated to high-speed racing from go-karts big and small, with even a few remote control cars getting moments in the spotlight. 

The event center was home to the ninth annual Indoor Speed-Dash National Championships over the weekend, with racers of all ages competing.

Nine-year-old Avari Thornton was one of them, driving a "caged kart" — No. 21 with a bright pink racing suit and matching helmet with the name "Miss Attitude" written across the top. 

She finished third in a race Sunday, and afterward bragged that she can go faster than the boys.

"It was a smooth but rough race," she said. "I like to think about how I can improve when I am out there."

She's not alone in that regard, as almost all the drivers spent the time between races in the pit area, tuning and testing their highly customized vehicles. 

Avari's mother, Paige Thornton, said Avari has been racing since she was 4 years old.

"(Watching Avari race) is scary, but it is a great feeling when she goes out, and she improves every year," Thornton said. "We spend several hours a week doing maintenance so we can race full time."

Avari, like another young racer Caleb Woodard, said their dreams are to someday become professional drivers.

"It is a very big thing I have been wanting to do since I was 3 or 4," said Woodard, who is now 14. "My dad used to race, my grandpa used to race and so did my great-grandpa. It has been a generational thing. It's been our life, really."

Woodard drives a "flat kart," which is only a few inches off the ground with no roll cage. It's made of fiberglass, and Woodard said the kart could go up to 50 mph on the event center track but can go 60 on larger tracks. 

The flat karts also have no seat belts, and are designed to eject the driver if they were to flip in a race, which Woodard said is rare.

"I started when I was 7 years old, and it is pretty crazy out there," Woodard said. "Everybody is just taking their chance at first, and you just have to be there."

Brandon Lorence brought his son to the event and said he races his own go-kart and remote control cars.

"This weekend here brings the best from a big area, probably several states, to this event," Lorence said. "(The community) is big, huge. Most dirt tracks around have go-kart races of some sort. They're still out there."

Lorence said go-karts give kids with an interest in racing a chance to get behind the wheel.

Not all competitors are kids, though.

Hickman native AJ Flodman, 22, races as a weekend hobby.

Flodman said he started racing in middle school, and said his caged go-kart can go up to 50 mph.

"I try to calm my nerves when I go out there," Flodman said. "You have to worry about all the other drivers around you, and you have to be cautious of your surroundings."

With all the variables in each race, Flodman said the difference between winning and losing can come down to a single loose bolt or nut.

"You inspect your kart every time before you go out and race, but freak things happen," Flodman said. "One little thing can decide who wins the race. It is a game of inches."

Flodman said to first-time viewers, go-kart racing is a thrill.

"A lot of people see this as a joke, but they haven't been out here," Flodman said. "In the moment, you understand just how crazy it is and just how fast these things go, and people don't think it is a competitive sport. If you want to see some dirt-track racing, this is where it is at. It's just a gnarly sport."

Photos: Go-kart drivers of all ages compete at Lancaster Event Center

editor's pick
So far, giving to nonprofits mostly up despite changes in tax code

Several local nonprofits say donations are up slightly so far this year despite changes in the federal tax law that provides less incentive for charitable giving, but the final figures — including the all-important holiday weeks — aren’t in yet.

“It’s something I think about and worry about a little bit,” said John Mabry, development director for the Food Bank of Lincoln. “Right now — fingers crossed — people have been very kind and have been giving in a very similar way to last year. We’re holding our breath a little bit.”

Giving is up about 3 percent over last year at this time, he said, but November and December are traditionally very big months — a common refrain among local nonprofits trying to navigate a new tax landscape.

A provision in the 2017 tax law nearly doubled the standard deduction, which the Congressional Budget Office projects will mean 31 million fewer households will itemize their taxes next year — eliminating the tax incentive for charitable deductions for those families.

Still, donations are up compared to this point last year at both the People’s City Mission and HopeSpoke, the new name of the Child Guidance Center. Donations also were up during this year's Give to Lincoln day.

“Lincoln is such a generous place,” said HopeSpoke Development Director Jenny Cardwell. “Philanthropy is at the top of people’s list.”

That follows a national trend: Charitable giving was up 2.6 percent during the first nine months of the year compared to the same time last year, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project of the Association of Fundraising Professionals at the Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute.

But there appear to be some shifts.

The increase of about $39,000 in gifts to HopeSpoke — which provides mental health services to children and families — compared to this time last year is due in part to some larger gifts of $1,000 or more given through foundations, Cardwell said.

Some of those gifts come through charitable IRA accounts or from donor-advised accounts. Paula Metcalf, general counsel and vice president for gift planning at the Lincoln Community Foundation, said there’s been an increase in donor-advised accounts because they allow donors to give larger sums, which can be held at the foundation and dispersed to individual organizations over time.

“It’s a great tool,” Metcalf said.

Some donors have considered bundling donations so they can itemize — giving bigger amounts every other year, said Wendy Van, president of the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools. That possibility has also been considered by some United Way donors.

Brian Wachman, executive director of the United Way of Lincoln and Lancaster County, said that’s not a great thing for his organization, which relies heavily on annual donations.

United Way donations will likely be down about 3 percent this year, Wachman said. Many factors play into that decrease, he said, and it’s unclear how much tax code changes play a part. Much of the United Way’s support comes through workplace campaigns and some businesses have downsized, while others have opened their gift-giving campaigns to other groups, Wachman said.

However, a United Way group for larger donors grew by about nine members, he said.

Still, about 85 percent of their gifts are under $500, Wachman said, and the national United Way organization predicted the tax code changes will result in a 5 percent dip in giving, though it could take a few years before that happens, he said.

Nationally, while charitable giving is up overall, the number of donors is down 4 percent and small donations under $1,000 are down slightly. Tribune News Service reported that gifts from bigger donors are up more than 3 percent, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

HopeSpoke has seen some new donors, Cardwell said, but they’ve seen a slight decrease in some gifts under $1,000.

Although giving is up about 5 percent at the People’s City Mission so far this year, about 40 percent of the gifts come in the last two months of the year, said mission CEO and Pastor Tom Barber, and the vast majority of donations come from individual donors who give fairly small amounts.

That makes the tax code changes worrisome, especially since the need — not only at the Mission but at other nonprofits like the Food Bank — keeps growing.

“The need is growing faster than the donations,” Barber said.

Because of that, Barber said, he’s trying to increase the business side of the mission — a recycling program that has nearly made their help center self-supporting, and a contract with the state to house those on probation.

Mabry, with the Food Bank, said he’s been more worried about the volatile stock market in recent weeks. He thinks part of the reason donations have continued to come in at similar levels is that people were feeling good financially.

“People are really watching that with a little anxiety,” he said.

Last year at this time — with the tax code changes looming — the Food Bank saw some large donations come in at the end of the year. Mabry doesn’t know if that will happen again, but he and other nonprofit leaders are cautiously optimistic.

“I would say our best and most loyal donors are that $25 a month that keeps on giving,” he said. “It’s been really pretty promising that we haven’t seen a real downturn so far.”