Governor Pete Ricketts made a stop in Fremont to participate in a groundbreaking ceremony for the Midtown Crossing housing development on Thursday.
The project, which is a mixed-use housing development that looks to include 300 apartment units when it is completed, is the first recipient of funds from the Greater Fremont Development Council’s Dodge County Investment Fund which was created to spur workforce housing projects throughout the county.
Morningside Crossing, which is being developed by Pure Properties, LLC., is planned to be located near the intersection of U.S. Highway 275 and Morningside Road across from Fremont Contract Carriers and Eagle Distributing.
The mixed-use development is planned to be completed in three phases including a first phase 108 unit apartment complex and totaling 300 units upon build out.
The development will include a walking trail, dog park, resort style pool, and other amenities as well as commercial development.
“We came to Fremont because of the stability of the community,” developer Spencer Lombardo said at the groundbreaking. “There’s a lot of great employers here, a lot of recession-proof employers here, which we think is great for our business but also for Nebraska.
Our goal is to provide quality housing for the people of Fremont, I don’t think Fremont has seen an apartment complex this size or magnitude in about twenty years.”
The project received $1 million from the Dodge County Investment Fund, which is a revolving loan fund developed by the Greater Fremont Development Council.
Along with contributions totalling $1.03 million from area businesses and government entities, the Dodge County Investment Fund also was also funded through a $850,000 matching grant from the State of Nebraska through the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund which was created with the passage of the State Legislature’s LB 518 Rural Workforce Housing Fund Bill in 2017.
“The timeliness of Governor Ricketts and the State Legislature’s LB 518 Rural Workforce Housing Fund Bill, served as a direct catalyst for the creation of the Dodge County Investment Fund,” Greater Fremont Development Council Executive Director Garry Clark said. “We are excited to welcome this first project of what we hope to be many more throughout Fremont and other Dodge County communities.”
Local contributors to the Dodge County Investment Fund included the City of Fremont, Lincoln Premium Poultry, Fremont Beef Company, Fremont Contract Carriers, First National Bank, and the Fremont Area Community Foundation. The City of Scribner also donated to the fund.
“To have so many local and area contributors is a testament to the ability of Fremont to mobilize, organize and collaborate on projects like workforce housing which has long been a need,” Clark said.
Mayor Scott Getzschman also spoke about the need for workforce housing in Fremont and Dodge County citing a housing study administered by the city that found the area needed to add 1,000-1,500 homes in the near future.
“Over two years ago we started planning because we knew that with the Costco plant coming on and the other businesses that were beginning to locate in Fremont and Dodge County that housing was going to be an issue,” he said.
Gov. Ricketts spoke about the passage of LB 518 and the creation of the Rural Workforce Housing Fund — which was designed to allow cities and towns to apply for matching grants to support the development of workforce housing in rural communities throughout the state.
“We invested about $7 million and created a grant program for communities to be able to apply to get money to be able to help with developers to create workforce housing,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that communities had skin in the game and were going to be part of that overall solution for how they create that workforce housing.”
Ricketts added that Fremont was one of 14 communities across the state that has received grant dollars from the Rural Workforce Housing Fund.
“It just demonstrates that not only is Fremont growing, but that you are earning it,” he said. “You are out there working hard together to not only attract companies like Costco to the community but making sure you’ve got that workforce housing to be able to accommodate all those families and continue to think down the road.
It really represents all the great things about your community.”
Editor’s Note: This is a true tale of two brothers, whose family became the first Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity homeowners in 1994. The brothers — Dr. Trino Nuño, a dentist, and Jose Nuño, a physician assistant — have become medical professionals. This second story features Jose Nuño.
In a photo, Jose Nuño is shown leaning over a patient during an operation.
Nuño, a former Fremonter, is a physician assistant in Norfolk, where he works mostly in cardiovascular care — including surgery — at Faith Regional Health Services. On weekends, he takes shifts in urgent care.
Someday, Nuño would like to return to Fremont to give back to the community where he grew up.
And where his family became the first Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity homeowners in 1994.
The son of Mexican immigrants who became U.S. citizens, Nuño was a little boy when his family moved to Fremont.
His dad, Trino Sr. and mom, Maria, came to town with Jose and his older brother, Trino Sr., and their younger sister, Esmeralda. Their siblings Jessica and Moises were born here.
The Nuños and their four oldest children first lived in a tiny, rented apartment on Jackson Street.
Through some mentors, the Nuños applied for a Habitat home.
Habitat for Humanity International is a nonprofit Christian organization that works to provide decent, affordable housing for families.
Besides a down payment and monthly mortgage payments, homeowners invest hours of their own labor into building their house and those of others, states data from the organization’s website.
Nuño remembers when they struck ground for the new Habitat home to be built.
“That was probably one of my fondest, earliest moments,” he said. “Especially for my parents, it was the fulfillment of the American dream.”
Nuño appreciates the opportunity given to his family.
“It was something that benefited the whole family,” he said, noting the stability of home ownership. “We didn’t have to worry about all cramming in a small apartment or trying to rent.
“In general, it provided a safe environment and somewhere we could turn to after going to school and my parents going to work.”
Trino Sr. has worked at Hormel Foods Corp., for 28 years and just this year paid off the mortgage to the house. Maria has been a stay-at-home mom, who has taken care-giving positions, including a patient with multiple sclerosis.
Nuño and his siblings attended Washington Elementary School and Fremont High School, where he was a cross-country, track and wrestling athlete like his older brother, Trino Jr.
“I followed in his footsteps,” Nuño said. “Anything he did, I did.”
Jose Nuño placed at state in athletics every year. He earned 16 athletic letters.
Nuño said he had many mentors — Fremont Public Schools teachers and coaches.
He notes the compassion and support the community provided to the first-generation Hispanic family.
“The acceptance of Fremont for our family. It’s something I’ll appreciate forever,” he said.
As for entering the medical profession, Nuño attributes his interest to various influences that go back to his boyhood.
Nuño credits his mom for her influence, as she cared for the patient with multiple sclerosis. He saw the impact she was making on the patient.
“To me, it was rewarding to see that,” Nuño said.
He recalls other boyhood experiences.
While growing up, Nuño experienced the awkwardness of seeing a health care professional when there was a language barrier — as his parents’ first language is Spanish.
And medicine can sound like a foreign tongue — even in your first language.
“One of the things I wanted to do was help with that,” he said.
Nuño worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in a nursing home. The 2009 FHS graduate went to Midland University to earn a bachelor of science in nursing degree.
He made the president’s and dean’s lists and Who’s Who in America. He was in different honor societies throughout high school and graduate school.
In 2017, Nuño earned his physician assistant degree at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Allied Health Professions.
Now — on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — Nuño and other health care professionals are in the operating room performing various vascular procedures in Norfolk. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’s in a clinic seeing patients on an outpatient basis. Some weekends or even other days, he takes urgent care shifts.
“I try to stay busy,” he said.
And perhaps he really doesn’t have to try.
A news release from UNMC states that word has gotten around in Norfolk about the Latino physician assistant, “who speaks the language, takes extra care to make his patients comfortable, and makes going to the clinic less scary for little kids.”
Nuño likes to provide services to Spanish-speaking patients, to build a sense of comfort.
“It’s a different kind of relationship you have when you’re able to talk to them and not have to use any interpreting services. It makes a lot of difference,” he said.
One recent afternoon, Nuño was preparing to go into surgery to help a patient with carotid stenosis (narrowing of the carotid arteries).
“Knowing that we’re about to reduce this patient’s risk of stroke is definitely rewarding to me — being able to essentially perform a life-changing surgery for these patients so they don’t have a stroke later on down the road,” he said.
Eventually, Nuño said he’d like to move back to the Fremont community and “give back to everybody who’s given to me.”
He’d like to provide medical services to the increasing Hispanic population in the community.
In the meantime, he’s looking toward the more immediate future.
He and Josie Clark, whom he met in physician assistant school, recently got engaged. She will graduate in December with her physician assistant degree.
And he continues to appreciate doing the cardiovascular surgical work in Norfolk, adding: “It’s amazing we can provide these services in this smaller town.”
In the Fremont City Council race for Ward 3, challenger Mark Jensen will look to unseat Council President Scott Schaller when the polls close on Nov. 6.
Jensen is making his first foray into local government after retiring from his 40-year career as a production supervisor at Cargill in Schuyler in 2016.
“I’ve worked for four different companies all in the same plant, I just took a production job and worked my way through the ranks,” he said. “I’ve always had an interest in local politics but never really had a whole lot of time, but my retirement has afforded me the time,” he said.
Jensen first moved to Fremont when he was 10-years-old after his father took a job working in the service department at JCPenney.
“He worked as a mechanic there from the time it opened until it closed,” he said.
After graduating from Fremont High School, Jensen began his career in Schuyler in 1976. After moving his family to Schuyler, he and his wife moved back to Fremont in 1997 to be closer to her work at Fremont Health Medical Center.
“Either way one of us was always commuting, and I always considered Fremont home and wanted to be back closer to family here,” he said.
Jensen says that along with bringing his intimate knowledge of operations like the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry Plant and Wholestone Farms to the council, his main focus is inclusion of the public in the process.
“I didn’t get into this to run against any one person, or on any one issue, it’s been more about inclusion for me — I wantto see more people, more voters,” he said. “I would rather lose an election that ninety percent of the people voted in, than win one where fifty percent of people voted.
There are voices that just aren’t being heard, so I just want to bring more people to the table.”
Jensen says his work managing employees at Cargill has not only prepared him to make tough decisions as a leader, but also gives him a unique perspective when it comes to issues that go along with operations like Lincoln Premium Poultry and Wholestone Farms in Fremont.
“I’ve been in high-speed animal production for my whole career, so I understand some of the issues that go along with it as far as water treatment, operations, jobs, and those types of things,” he said.
Jensen added that while he thinks representatives of the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry have been saying all the right things the important thing now is to hold them accountable to their promises.
“We just have to manage it, we have to hold them accountable so they become the type of business partners and neighbors they say they want to be and that we want them to be,” he said.
Jensen says that along with the community growth associated with new businesses coming in to the area, there needs to be preparation to handle the addition of children in the district’s school system.
“If you have a large influx of immigrants you have to be prepared for what effect that has on the school system,” he said. “That is going to be something we are going to have to monitor very closely. If you add four or five different languages to the community you have to have the resources in place to help them transition into the school system.”
Jensen also says he sees the need for additional housing in the community, but that housing developments should be created with care and consideration of the existing neighborhoods they are moving into.
He specifically pointed to vocal opposition to the SunRidge Place housing development, saying he spoke out against the proposal to put in a convenient store near Johnson Crossing Academic Center and Fremont Middle School.
“I didn’t think we needed anything like that because of the safety issue and the number of people that were going to go into it,” he said.
While he did voice his opposition to the proposed convenient store and the level of housing density originally proposed by developers Don Peterson & Associates Real Estate Co., he says he also believes that the company did address at least some of the concerns raised by the surrounding neighborhood.
“I believe Peterson (Don Peterson & Associates) heard some of that,” he said. “From the plat the density has dropped some and now instead of the convenient store it is going to be a bank and some medical offices which is better in my mind.”
Jensen said that one of the biggest issues that he has heard from Ward 3 residents is the development of quiet zones at railroad crossings throughout the ward and city as a whole.
“When it’s train after training blowing their horn at four to five crossings through town it can be a problem,” he said. “We need to be safe, but people need to sleep too.”
Jensen says that while he understands that not every project can be prioritized due to budget constraints, he would push to continue discussions and work to begin the process of installing quiet zones at railroad crossings in earnest.
Jensen says he hopes to work for all residents of his ward and the city as a whole at a time of immense change for the community.
“I think we are standing on the threshold of some really big changes in Fremont,” he said. “There are seldom any changes that don’t cause some pain, some will feel it more than others, you just have to manage that by minimizing pains and maximizing gains.”
In the Fremont City Council race for Ward 3, Council President Scott Schaller is looking to retain his seat against challenger Mark Jensen on Election Day.
Schaller has been a fixture on the council for nearly two decades as he was elected in 2000 and 2004, ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2008, and was re-elected to the council in 2010 before stepping down in September 2011 due to personal issues.
He was again re-elected to council in 2014, beating out James Vaughan for the Ward 2 seat.
Throughout his years running for—and serving on—the council, Schaller says he has continued to focus his efforts on job creation, economic growth and public safety.
Schaller is a lifelong resident of Northeast Nebraska, who was born in Osmond and spent his early years in Wausa before moving just north of Fontanelle after his father took a job at Valmont. His family then moved to Arlington where he would graduate from Arlington High in 1986.
“I’ve been in the workforce ever since,” he said.
Currently Schaller works as a non-ferrous metal manager at All Metals Market in Fremont.
“We take care of all the aluminum and copper — basically all the things a magnet doesn’t stick to for the most part,” he said.
Schaller says that in his most recent term on council he is proud of the economic growth and development that has been fostered by the governing body — including the addition of jobs to the area by way of the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry plant coming to Fremont.
“I think everybody wants the growth, everybody want to add jobs,” he said. “We need that to sustain our tax base so we’re not raising taxes and raising levies.”
Schaller also views the completion of the Southeast Beltway as one of the one the major issues facing the city over the next few years.
“This is not the time to sit on our hands,” he said. “The Southeast beltway is the biggest priority it needs to be done and as soon as possible.”
Along with the completion of the Southeast Beltway, he says the improvements to Cloverly Road and others along the industrial tract in south Fremont are necessary with the addition of Lincoln Premium Poultry and the recent sale of Hormel Foods to Wholestone Farms.
While Schaller has supported infrastructure projects, he says the ultimate goal of the council is being able to prioritize what the city needs most while also staying within the budget.
“Three-fourths of our general budget is insurance and wages and benefits and all that stuff, so balancing that and being able to get things done while not raising taxes is important.”
Schaller also addressed the need for additional housing within the community, saying it was an issue in the city long before the Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry plant was even a thought.
He also stood by his votes on several recent housing development including SunRidge Place, Morningside Pointe and Morningside Crossing.
“I’m the type of person that says—for what I know would I live in the surrounding neighborhood? Yes I would in every circumstance that I’ve voted yes,” he said. “Would I move into these developments? You betcha, these are developments that I would move into. I think they are of high enough standards, they are not overly priced and they are homes that an average Joe can afford.”
Schaller says that efforts to spur economic develop, infrastructure improvements and housing development within the community are important when it comes to bringing and keeping young people in Fremont.
“Everybody always says we need to retain our younger people, but when we start doing things to retaining our younger people say woe, woe, woe,” he said.
According to Schaller, one issue that is particularly important to voters in Ward 3 is the development of quiet zones at railroad crossings throughout the city.
“The city is already setting money back and we keep setting it back every year and we are getting closer to getting it done,” he said. “I live two blocks off the railroad tracks. I cannot sleep in my house with the windows open, I cannot watch TV with my windows open, so I am living it just as much as anybody else.”
While he strongly supports the efforts to install quiet zone railroad crossings, he said the project will also take cooperation from the railroad companies as well.
“Even though we may go through all the hoops with the railroad its up to them whether or not they will actually abide by it or not,” he said.
He also pointed to the installation of a Railroad Crossing Monitoring System at four railroad crossings throughout Fremont (North Somers Avenue, West 23rd Street, Linden Avenue and West Military Avenue) as a small step in the right direction.
Schaller also thanked the community for their support during his campaign and said he truly enjoys working with the other council members and the community at large.
“Obviously I would love to be hired for another four years, but no matter how people vote I’ve enjoyed doing it and I enjoy working with the people I get to work with — all in all it’s been a great run.”
Incumbent Dodge County Attorney Oliver Glass, a Republican, faces a challenge from Democrat Pamela Lynn Hopkins for the county attorney seat. Both candidates spoke to the Tribune about their platforms.
Glass got his degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in education and started his career as a teacher in Lincoln. He got his juris doctorate from Creighton University in 2005. That same year, he started working as a deputy county attorney under then Dodge County Attorney Paul Vaughan.
In 2011, the Dodge County Board of Supervisors appointed him to his current post to replace Vaughan. He would go on to win an uncontested race in 2014 and now faces re-election again.
Glass says that his focus has been to run an effective office while remaining within budgetary limits—a challenge, sometimes, due to a rapidly rising caseload, Glass argued. Just recently, the Dodge County Board of Supervisors approved the hiring of a new sixth deputy attorney for the office, to help handle the growing demand. His office made significant cuts to help ensure that the budget did not increase beyond expectations.
“We want to operate within the realm of our budget, and I want to continue doing that,” Glass said.
Glass says that the job of county attorney is about “justice and fairness,” and that he believes in prosecuting cases appropriately—taking the unique circumstances of each case and each defendant into account and reserving stiffer sentences for those who have committed more heinous crimes.
“If you have committed a violent crime ... we’re going to be seeking significant prison time,” he said. “If you are a drug addict, if you can potentially be rehabilitated, we’re going to take that into consideration.”
The biggest issue for Dodge County’s criminal justice system is drug abuse, Glass argues, driven by an increased prevalence of methamphetamine and opioids. Drug abuse can lead to other more serious crimes that affect public safety, but in some cases, where rehabilitation seems possible, there are often better alternatives to jail.
If re-elected, he hopes to continue using and improving the Dodge County Drug Court, a “problem-solving court” that diverts certain drug offenders away from incarceration and into treatment and rehab.
Glass said the program has seen many successes, but he acknowledged that the process can sometimes be “frustrating,” due to a lack of resources that could help move people through the system more quickly. There are no inpatient residential rehab programs in the immediate community, for instance, and it can be challenging to find providers willing to go into jails for necessary drug and alcohol evaluations. Glass says that he has strong relationships to community groups like the Fremont Area United Way and that his office is actively engaged in conversations to address those problems.
“We need to keep reaching out to non-profits like United Way to brainstorm and to come up with ideas to help individuals through that process and to keep the process moving along, and I can tell you I’m doing that,” Glass said. “It just takes time.”
Glass acknowledged that there are challenges in clearing the court’s seemingly growing docket of cases. But he said that he was proud of his team’s ability to work with the defense bar to negotiate plea deals that can move things along. Most cases in Dodge County Criminal Court don’t go to trial, and while Glass said he will aggressively pursue trials where an agreement can’t be reached, he said that being able to negotiate an agreeable deal to cut off the necessity of a trial is better for all involved.
“It’s in everyone’s best interests if justice can be served without the trial because you’re serving society, doing what you feel is appropriate with the criminal, and you’re saving taxpayer money,” Glass said.
Glass insisted that his office “meets religiously” with victims of crimes, particularly more serious crimes, to discuss charges. When asked about instances where serious charges with heftier sentences appear to be reduced or dropped as part of a plea agreement, Glass said that those decisions are always made with the victim’s best interests in mind and that the victim is most likely in agreement with the decision.
It’s especially true in cases where the victim may be a child, and whose parents may be worried about the traumatizing effect of forcing a child to provide testimony during trial to convict on the higher-level charges.
“If you see a case plead down from a bigger charge … you can bet your bottom dollar it’s because the attorney handling the case in this office has met with that victim or that victim’s parents on multiple occasions, and this is the best outcome or feasible actions that we would all like to see,” he said.
Glass touted his strong relationship with the county board and his ability to juggle multiple responsibilities.
PAMELA LYNN HOPKINS
Hopkins has had her practice here in Fremont for nearly two decades and first moved into town in 1987. Prior to becoming a lawyer, she worked a variety of different manual labor and office jobs. She was inspired to get into law after volunteering with the CASA (court-appointed special advocate) program, advocating for abused and neglected children.
A defense attorney, she also has experience representing township boards and has been recognized by the child advocacy program Project Everlast, the Nebraska Supreme Court and others for her work. She currently runs two offices—the Fremont office and another location in Blair.
Hopkins’ greatest concern is the rising costs of housing jail inmates, with the daily jail population now hovering around 80, significantly up from past years, and the average daily base cost of housing each inmate at $64.50. Some individuals wait in jail for hundreds of days before their cases move along, she said.
Hopkins said she would try to more aggressively prosecute high-level felonies and prioritize dangerous cases and cases where the individual is currently incarcerated to try and get those cases moved along faster. She also said that she’d less willing to allow cases to be continued, or delayed, for multiple weeks in a row, arguing that if a case is being delayed more than two times, “we need to be taking a pause on that.”
“When people are convicted of felony charges, they then transfer to the state prison system and off of our property tax dime,” she said. “I want to more aggressively focus on moving those cases along in a much more timely manner.”
She also hopes to explore pre-trial efforts that would help reduce the burden on the jail system. That could include exploring grants to fund more pre-trial release and diversion programs. As an example, she mentioned a financial responsibility program that would aim to rehabilitate offenders who are in jail on low-level crimes driven by poverty, such as shoplifting.
She’d also look into ways to speed up the administration of substance abuse evaluations that could help get some low-level drug offenders into recovery programs, whether through drug court or furlough, faster. Hopkins acknowledged that the treatment for those services is not always available and that long waitlists sometimes persist. But earlier substance abuse evaluations could help get those processes started earlier.
Hopkins argues that research shows that long jail stays exacerbate substance abuse behavior and increase the likelihood of recidivism.
“There’s a nationwide focus, quite frankly, on looking for community correction alternatives, as opposed to having people sit in jail for issues that the jail isn’t going to improve,” she said. “And quite frankly, having somebody sit in jail because they can’t post a $200 bond, costing us as taxpayers $70 a day or more, it just makes no financial sense. It doesn’t address the core issue.”
She says she’s recently become aware of several providers who can provide substance abuse evaluations in jails for clients, but that the process of arranging those can be burdensome, and often falls on the shoulders of the defense attorneys. She hopes that between the county attorney’s office, drug court and other stakeholders the process can be streamlined, and potential grant money can be accessed.
Often times, the availability of resources to address substance abuse and mental health issues presents problems, and it can be difficult to keep up with what services are available. If elected, Hopkins hopes to organize a summit that can bring important stakeholders together: law enforcement, providers, the courts, defense attorneys, the county attorney’s office, probation and others.
“I’m confident that if we can bring key stakeholders together, then we can build from that a sort of go-to resource guide,” Hopkins said.
If elected, Hopkins said she would probably bring more cases to trial, arguing that in some cases currently, it appears that charges and sentences are being reduced too drastically in plea agreements. But she also noted the importance of the plea bargaining process in helping cases move along.
She said that she’d also work to give law enforcement more involvement in the plea negotiation process so they understand why initial charges end up changing. She’d also work to charge cases more appropriately at the outset so that it doesn’t appear that high-level charges are being dropped down drastically.
“Sometimes it appears that a plea is wholly unrelated to how the case is initially charged,” she said. “And I understand that as the case develops, different facts rise to the forefront. So I would try to do a better job about how the case is charged in the first place.”
She also believes that victims of crimes need to be engaged earlier in the process. She said she’s heard from some victims who were frustrated that they aren’t able to give a “victim impact statement” in some cases, especially when a pre-sentence investigation is waived.