Published On: Thu, Mar 30th, 2017

Area residents zero in on strengths, weaknesses

LAUREL — Thirteen people showed up at the Town Hall meeting to help put goals in place for the City of Laurel. The strengths and weaknesses of the City were defined during the public meeting on Thursday evening, March 23.
The mayor, a council member, city administrator and the city attorney along with local residents were in attendance.
Luke Virgil, Laurel Economic Development Director, and Jan Merrill, from Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District (NENEDD), spoke to the group.
Responses came from the Community Attitude Survey, which had been made available to residents in Laurel. Handouts showing the results of those surveys were available at the public meeting.
“There have been 94 responses – that is good for this size of community,” Merrill said. “The survey gives us some feedback from the community and allows us to help set some goals and put plans in place.”
The survey had asked community members to rate basic city services that are available.
Fire and rescue services received an excellent rating in the surveys that had been returned. Services involving garbage collection also received a good rating.
Ratings given to street conditions were not as good.
The ratings for internet availability and internet speed were in between a poor and excellent rating.
Kevin Nordby, who is with the Community Redevelopment Authority, said he was surprised.
“I think internet speed is pretty fast here in Laurel,” he said.
The city’s water quality is good according to City Administrator Mark McCoy.
“We do have safe drinking water,” he said. “We have been thinking about working on the downtown sidewalks for a long time. We have to do something.
A good portion of the community thinks we should maintain the historic integrity in the downtown area.”
Seventy-one percent of respondents said they would like to see the city pursue downtown revitalization and infrastructure.
The city has to deal with a lot of rules and regulations according to Councilman Logan Garber.
“I am concerned with dilapidated houses and the downtown revitalization – there are so many government regulations on these,” Garber said.
Close to 60 percent of the people who returned the survey would like to see additional housing or apartments in Laurel.
Forty percent of the people were concerned with the lack of quality dwellings for purchase. Thirty percent thought home maintenance expenses are too high.
Good quality houses that are for sale will sell very fast according to Virgil.
“Poorer quality houses are on the market for a longer period,” Virgil said.
Merrill pointed out regional funds are available through NENEDD which would help homeowners update and rehab their homes.
“The funds are there for people who qualify. We need to be using these funds,” Merrill said.
Over 75 percent of the people who returned the survey said they would not be interested in the Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation program that could assist in structural repairs, energy conservation, modernization and interior renewal.
Ninety-three percent said they would not be interested in a Down Payment Assistance program which assists with the down payment on the purchase of a home.
The need for additional Day Care was also identified in the surveys.
Availability for day care is a problem here, said Nordby.
“We are at the capacity for day care. Most of our day cares are done privately,” he said. “If one of the Day Cares would close it would be a real problem.”
Those who answered the survey thought it was important to support and expand existing business and industry and take steps to attract new industry and retail business.
The responses also showed support for the development of a Community Center.
Construction of a new building for the Fire Department and EMT squad might be better, McCoy said.
“The Fire and Rescue Services received high ratings but the Fire Hall is one of the oldest facilities in town,” McCoy said. “Believe me, they have a need for new facilities.”
Several other people at the meeting voiced their opinion a new Fire Hall was a higher priority than a Community Center.
Several issues would be considered before a facility would be put up for a Community Center, Virgil said.
“We would have to have some type of response to show it is needed. There would be a need to derive an income from the facility as there would be expenses for heating, cooling and having the building cleaned,” Virgil said. “There are a lot of questions that have not been answered.”
“Paying for the building is a big concern,” McCoy said.
Several people who responded to the survey thought there was a need to add or update public restrooms.
Audience members also talked about the possibility of expanding the camping area and the existing RV facilities due to the Q125 celebration which is coming up on June 15 – 17, 2018.
Nordby asked the final question of the evening: “Where do we go from here?”
One goal that is already in place involves an application for a Downtown Revitalization Grant, which is through the NENEDD according to Virgil.
The information provided in the surveys will be used to write the grant for the Downtown Revitalization project Merrill said.
The grant funds will be used in an area that covers approximately two and one-half blocks on Second Street in the downtown area.