Otoe County Commissioners hear veterans services update, approve employee bonuses

Julie Davis, CherryRoad Media

The Otoe County Veterans Van Program needs more volunteer drivers.

The Otoe County Board of Commissioners heard an update on the Otoe County Veteran Service Office from County Veteran Service Officer Chad Miller and Tom Grooman, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2634 in Nebraska City.

Miller said that he has six volunteer drivers presently, but he would like to recruit more people so that veterans in need of rides to medical appointments in Lincoln or Omaha could be better served.

Miller said the vans, which went into service in October 2020, are owned by the Veterans Administration, and the VA also covers the cost of gasoline and maintenance on the vehicles. This saves Otoe County at least $1,500 in annual fuel costs the county budget formerly covered.

Grooman said Miller has improved the veteran service office for Otoe County, adding professional experience and personal service for veterans. Grooman said Miller goes through governmental forms with the veterans, instead of just handing them a packet of paperwork that the veterans have to try to figure out on their own.

Miller said that the Veteran Service Office differs from other offices in the Otoe County Courthouse because the bulk of its work takes place at the federal level.

He said that the Veteran Service Office brings almost $11 million into Otoe County. Of that total, $5.5 million comes through compensation and veterans’ pensions for service-connected disabilities, and an additional $5 million in medical care provided to veterans in the county.

Miller, who has been the county veteran service officer for about three years, has been taking additional training since he began working for the county. He is now working toward becoming a certified veteran adviser, which would make Otoe County about the fourth county in the state to have a veteran service officer with this level of training.

Both Miller and Grooman hope to make use of the Nebraska City Veterans Memorial Building for veterans events, such as American Legion and VFW meetings, and veterans outreach events.

Miller said he ran a Buddy Check 22 program in the county for a year to reach out to veterans in an effort to reduce the number of veteran suicides. However, that program costs about $1,500 to $2,000 a year to fund, so he is looking for other ways to reach out to area veterans.

During the meeting, commissioners approved spending some of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on bonuses for current county employees who were employed as of Nov. 21, 2020, and remained employed through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Full-time employees will receive $1,000 bonuses, and part-time employees’ bonuses will be prorated based on their numbers of hours worked weekly. The bonuses are set to be paid out in December.

The board also approved the redistricting boundaries of the five county commissioners’ districts based on the 2020 census figures. The current district boundaries are shown in the artwork accompanying this article.

In road and bridge matters, the board awarded bids for two County Bridge Match Program projects. The first, C-66(587), located at County Roads P and 24 South, will replace a closed bridge with twin 14-foot b y 14-foot by 44-foot concrete box culvert. It will cost $433,600, of which Otoe County will be reimbursed $141,923 from the state of Nebraska.

The second, C-66(662), located at County Road B and 28 North, will replace a closed bridge with a triple 14-foot by 14-foot by 45-foot concrete box culvert. It will cost $492,244, of which Otoe County will be reimbursed $177,343 from the state of Nebraska.

Construction is set to begin in April on the first project, and in May on the second. Vogtscapes Inc. of Bennet will be doing the work on both projects.

During the meeting, the commissioners also

Tabled a road closure study for County Road 6 north of County Road G;

Reappointed Trevor Houghton and Sarah Joy to the Otoe County Extension Board for their second three-year terms; and

Discussed the condition of a bridge on County Road 29 in the southwest corner of Syracuse.

The next regularly scheduled Otoe County Board of Commissioners meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, at the Otoe County Courthouse.