Sunday, August 10, 2008

Auburn and Nemaha County
Social and Economic Trends


Many things have been assumed about the cultural and economic changes in small town America during the last 40 years and many of them are generally true. A study of Auburn, Nemaha County, Nebraska, and the surrounding area confirms some of these theories, but some surprises show up, too.

This study is by no means exhaustive; any conclusions are certainly open to debate. The information comes mainly from a study of the Auburn Newspapers (the Auburn Press Tribune and the Nemaha County Herald). Telephone books from 1960 through 2002 were consulted, as well as U.S. Census Bureau information. Finally, this study relies on the personal knowledge of this writer, who covered the Auburn city council (among other things) as a reporter during most of this period.

My original intent was to track businesses in Auburn from 1960 forward to see just how particular stores changed owners and locations and to see how many businesses remained unchanged after forty years. That turned out to be too much of a bookkeeping quagmire as stores changed owners, moved, changed owners again, went out of business and later were revived by yet another owner.

This study, instead, will show in general the trend of the changes between what existed in 1960 and what we have in 2003. Along the way interesting data turned up, illustrating the character of the community. Particular events have molded our nature and dictated particular approaches for dealing with the social and economic trends besetting small town America in the last half of the 20th century.

Living these events had left me with certain strong perceptions. But, when seen over the whole 40-year span, the view is actually somewhat different.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Population Trends

Some bare statistics provide a foundation for the social and economic trends that have shaped Auburn and Nemaha County in rural southeastern Nebraska during the last 40 years. In 1960 the official population of Auburn was 3,229. It increased to 3,650 in 1970 and then took a drop to 3,482 in 1980. The decline continued to 3,443 in 1990. The census figures for the year 2000 brought the city down to 3,350. Instead of the “tragic loss” of population commonly attributed to the rural Mid-West, the community has actually had an increase of 121 people over this 40-year period.

Nemaha County, on the other hand, has had a population decline over the same time period, from 9,035 to 7,576. Households in the county (as opposed to population) increased from 3,396 in 1970 to 3,495 in 1980. But since then the figure has declined steadily, to 3,047 in 2000.

Although population in the county has declined over these 40 years, the last 20 years have been better than much of the rest of Nebraska’s rural areas. A recent statistic from the USDA and census report indicated 61 of the state’s 93 counties had net out-migration of ten per cent or more from 1980 to 1999. Nemaha County was not among those 61 counties.

The percentage of elderly (age 65 and over) has stayed relatively constant at 18.5 per cent of the total county population. That would be 1,476 elderly in 1990 and 1,401 elderly in 2000. As expected, the overall decline in population thus has affected the number of elderly. A telling statistic is that, in 1996 for instance, the county recorded 83 births and 100 deaths. That ratio alone underscores the magnitude of the population decline. The population of Auburn remains stable because of a net migration influx.

Nemaha County continues to be basically composed of a white population. Less than three per cent are of African-American, Hispanic, or Asian decent, compared with about 13 per cent in the State of Nebraska as a whole. Home ownership in the county is currently at 72.5%, compared with 67.4% statewide. The median home value is $58,200 compared with $88,000 across Nebraska. Eighty-five and a half per cent of the county’s population has a high school diploma and 22.9% hold a bachelor’s or higher degree from college. Those figures are near the state average.

Friday, August 08, 2008


While the fear of empty storefronts continues in Auburn, just as it does in many other small towns in the Midwest, the number of businesses here has actually increased in the period 1960 to 2002. The nature of business and the locations where business is conducted has changed over the years, but a few businesses from 1960 are still going strong.

In the telephone book of 1960 there were 143 total businesses listed for Auburn. Of those, 127 were considered retail, service or a combination of those two. Sixteen were classed as professional (doctors, lawyers, insurance salesmen, and the like). Industries were not included in the total. (There were two.)

By 2002 the total number of businesses came to 201, with 28 classified as professional. So business establishments, in general, increased by 30 in those 42 years and professional businesses increased by 12. There are now three industrial businesses.

Most of the increase in retail business came in the service sector. There were 68 retail stores in Auburn in 1960. There were 28 businesses that were considered service related and nine businesses were a combination of retail and service. By 2002, the number of retail stores had decreased to 66, but service sector businesses jumped up to 66 and seven businesses were both.

That we are becoming a service oriented society is certainly borne out in these statistics.

Another significant difference between today and 1960 is seen in the location of Auburn’s businesses. Even though businesses establishments have increased over all, the number of businesses considered to be in the downtown area (J Street from 6th Street to 15th Street, Central Avenue from H Street to K Street, and the 1300 block of Courthouse Avenue) decreased from 118 to 90. Of course there were no businesses at Crestview in 1960. Currently there are 20 stores in that new development and the immediate area. “South side”, the retail district around the Nemaha County Courthouse at 19th and M Street, has changed little, with20 units in 1960 and 22 stores currently. In 1960 there were 41 enterprises operated from residential homes. In 2002 the figure was 57.

In 1960 the home-based businesses included mostly beauty shops and insurance men, plus three neighborhood grocery stores. The modern scene now includes internet services and day care.

There are a number of business services available today that did not exist in 1960. Other services were available then, but not now. Some examples of new services are storage units, office supplies, computer retailers and copy centers, health care providers, a cable TV provider, video and movie rentals, an art gallery, telemarketing and others. Some examples of business that no longer in existence in Auburn include a tank wagon service, bakeries, paint stores, a sale barn, welding, printers, tailors, cold storage lockers, a pool hall, a hatchery, and a blacksmith to name a few. Some of those goods and services, such as bakery and paint, have been incorporated into other outlets.

Only two businesses, McConnell Auto Repair and Louie’s Barber Shop, are still in the same location and have the same owners as in 1960. Two other businesses, Humphrey Motor Electric and Ingersoll Barber Shop, are still in the same place, but are now owned by the sons of the founders. Six businesses still have the same name and are located in the same place, but have different owners. They are The Auburn Newspapers, Palmer House Motel, Auburn Speed Wash, Grand Central Hotel, Auburn Elevators and State Theatre. The theatre was closed down for several years and has re-opened.

A similar number of businesses have the same name as in 1960 but have moved to different locations. These are OK Tire (shortened from OK Tire Welders), German Mutual Insurance Association, Farm Bureau Insurance, Auburn State Bank, Carson National Bank, Bernard Real Estate, and Earl May.

Several businesses still have family members as owners even though the name or location has changed. Included are Lifetime Vision Center, Casey-Witzenburg-Hall Funeral Home, Bernard Real Estate, Johnson Motors, and OK Tires. The two banks cited above have interlocking directors and are basically owned by the descendents of the founders and their inter-related families. Earl May is still owned by the same corporation as in 1960, while German Mutual and Farm Bureau are co-ops under the same general structure they had in 1960.

There are some striking differences in the nature of business in the new millennium. We now have five firms considered to be building contractors compared with one in 1960. On the other hand there were seven clothing stores before and now only four. These figures get cloudy when one has to decide whether a department in a discount store classifies as a clothier when compared to a full time clothing retailer. There is no doubt, however, that options for many clothing lines are not available in the modern Auburn.

Here are some other comparisons from 1960 and 2002. Grocery stores, there were seven, now there are two, although there are also three convenience stores at gas stations that sell groceries as do a discount department store and a variety-type outlet. Feed and produce, there were seven, now one. Antiques, there were none in 1960, now eight. Gas stations, there were 13, now just three. Real estate, there were two, now there are five. Farm equipment, there were five, now there are two.

The figure that stands in these statistics relates to gas stations. Even though gallons sold have probably increased by multiples, the number of gas stations has decreased by 80%. The business that used to be called a “service” station now is dubbed a “gas” station. With the advent of self-service, cars move through much more quickly, multiple pumps are available, and less manpower is needed.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


One trend, which perhaps started prior to 1960, continues today. The number of non-resident business owners is increasing. In 1960 there were 16 stores, such as the Safeway and Hinky Dinky groceries, that employed local managers but were directed from corporate headquarters. Today in Auburn there are 25 businesses in that category.

The history of grocery stores illustrates the nature of small town business over this period. The trend has been to fewer, but larger, stores catering to a much larger trade territory, resulting in the loss of interest and loyalty by locals. The corporate giants (read Safeway) had stores located in the county seat, but expected only about a countywide trade territory. Neighborhood grocery stores, such as Reed’s and Oakman’s on J street and Midway on Courthouse Avenue in Auburn, provided a living for a couple, the traditional “Mom and Pop” operation. But then the corporations decided that bigger stores would draw from a larger territory and they built new stores accordingly. Although this strategy was the corporate plan, its execution often depended on local happenstance.

A fire destroyed the Hinky Dinky store on J Street. They moved to a new location at 13th and K Streets in 1966. Their new location was not much larger than their old place. The new strategy became evident when, in 1975, Safeway became the anchor store at a new planned development, called Crestview, located on the highway at the south edge of town. The new Safeway store was, for southeast Nebraska, a show place. However, by 1982 Safeway’s corporate management decided their Midwest operations were not profitable and shut them all down, including the store in Auburn. Jack and Jill (a quasi-corporate organization that provides product to a local owner, in a franchise-style operation) filled the Safeway building, but left in 1986. Taking advantage, Hinky Dinky took the opportunity to expand and went to Crestview. They went through several corporate changes, including a so called employee ownership buy-out, and are now called Sun Mart.

After Hinky Dinky moved from the 13th Street location, a store called Super Foods took over the location. This lasted until 1990 when it became J & D Market and was owned by two couples. After a time one of the couples bought the other out and the store is now called Glenn’s Corner Market. That leaves Auburn with only one “super market”. In the meantime the Mom and Pop stores have all closed. But the need for quick “in and out” service, for a loaf of bread or milk did not go away. That need has given rise to the “convenience” stores that now inhabit that niche.

The banking business has had an interesting growth in Auburn during the past 40 odd years. In 1960 Auburn State Bank and Carson National Bank were the only two general banking institutions. The Federal Land Bank was in operation but only for farm loans. These two banks were primarily owned by one family and had interlocking directors, which didn’t seem to bother anybody. They even took ads together announcing their closing hours for holidays.

But in 1968 they began advertising separately. It is not known whether banking regulations took a part in the decision or, as later generations of the families took over, it was the appearance that mattered. It might have been the filing for a charter by a new bank, the Nemaha County Bank, in 1968 that made it prudent for the two to appear competitive. In any event, the new charter was denied by the state.

Another sign of the times came in 1967 when counter checks were abandoned. Up to then stores kept pads of blank checks from area banks on their counters. Customers used them instead of personalized checks. The use of machine-read account numbers and computers dictated the change. Thereafter, stores had to find another source for scratch pads also.

More substantial change came in 1971 when Carson Bank opened a new facility which included an outdoor drive up service window, at Crestview. The same year Auburn State opened a new facility in the lot where Hinky Dinky had burned out. Auburn State Bank added a free-standing drive up window in 1995.

In 1996 Union Bank became a full service operation. Up to then it was a bank for making farm loans. When Union came in, it was the first non-resident banking operation in the city’s history. During this period savings and loan institutions also flourished. The first to locate in Auburn was Falls City Federal Savings and Loan. It was purchased by First Federal-Lincoln and then became Tier One. Several other S&Ls came in but not all survived the economic downturn of the 1980s when inflation bankrupted not only farmers but some other businesses. After the air cleared, the two original family-owned banks plus Union Bank, Tier One and First National Bank of Johnson brought the total number of banks up from two in 1960 to five now.

First National Bank of Johnson (Johnson is a small farming community in the western part of Nemaha County) opened at the location of one of the S&Ls in 1997 and then later built a new facility, including a drive up teller. Tier One has changed from a savings and loan to a full service bank.

A nationally syndicated columnist, Rowland Nethaway, recently summed up the changes in small town business in his attempt to describe our current economy as a “service economy without service”. Here are some of the things he bemoaned.

· “Full-service filling stations now are novelties. Thousands upon thousands of jobs that supported families have been lost.”
· “Where it used to take teams of workers to bring in crops, now most of those jobs have been replaced by big, expensive machines that have automated agri-business on giant farms.”
· “Every city and mid-size town in America once had door-to-door delivery of milk, butter and other dairy products as well as bread, cakes and other bakery products. All those jobs are gone.”
· “Mom and Pop businesses that supported families and formed the backbone of communities across the nation have shut their doors because of the proliferation of mega-discount stores such as Wal-Mart.”

That nearly describes Auburn to a tee, except that we don’t have a Wal-Mart and it fails to recognize the continuing efforts of the community to adjust in the changing economy. As noted, farmers are changing their agri-business methods, but not just by more machinery. Better education and the better use of technology by farmers are also key factors.

Although it is true that certain businesses can no longer survive in the small town, other businesses are developing. One opportunity for local entrepreneurs is a push for additional housing to attract newcomers, taking advantage of the recent trend by city dwellers who want more of the rural “good life.” The pendulum swings and a hopeful attitude for residents of our small towns ride on these changes for a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


From 1959 to 1997 (the last year figures were available) full time farms in Nemaha County dropped from 1,038 to 328. The average farm size increased from 276.8 to 495 acres. The days of needing large families to work the farm no longer exists. Thus children leave, there is no one to take over the home place, and the neighbor buys or rents from the retired older generation.

There is obviously less total acreage in farm production than forty years ago. But the decline in farm population (fewer but larger farms) is not the only cause because government programs have encouraged farmers to take land out of production.

In 1960 the support price for corn was $1.03 per bushel, not far from the figure for 2000 while prices for land and machinery have escalated exponentially. Advanced technology has been both a boon and a bite for farmers. As they increased yields through better hybrids, narrower rows, and the advent of no till farming (with herbicides and insecticides) farm surpluses mounted. The law of supply and demand held prices down. Yields increased measurably but the total dollars per acre barely kept up with costs of farming.

The situation prompted the federal government to step in and buy huge amounts of grain and either ship it to countries with starving populations or destroy it. Other programs paid farmers for taking land out of production. Over the 40 years of this study it has allowed the American farmer to feed a large portion of the world, but done little to improve the lot of Nemaha County farmers. The result has been that bigger farms are producing more but have seriously damaged the “family farm”. The American consumer has gained from lower food prices, but the American tax payer (basically the same people) has an increased burden by paying for farm subsidies.

Some agricultural institutions have faded from the landscape over these 40 years. In 1960 small feeders brought their cattle to local markets, such as the Dovel Sale Barn in Auburn. In the mid 1960s Carl Dovel sold out and quit. A few small auction barns at Humboldt and Tecumseh still served the small feeder. The bigger feeders went to Omaha to sell on the largest auction in the country. By 1970 Missouri Beef Packers, near Rock Port, Missouri, across the river from Nemaha County, were buying cattle directly on the farm. Their buyers, using radio cars, were able to give instant quotes and provide the beef for their company without the middleman auctioneer. Later, Missouri Beef left the area, but the trend in direct buying signaled the demise of the Omaha Livestock Yards.

The Omaha stockyards are now empty and are being considered for designation on the national list of historic buildings. Feeders now sell almost exclusively to packers directly.

By eliminating the cost of the middleman auctioneer, the new trend in selling cattle was first hailed as a boon to the feeders. But now there is controversy over this practice with concerns that the absence of the “honest broker” (read middleman auctioneer) stifles competition. In hearings before Congress, one feeder said, “We have never seen the market as closed and noncompetitive in the history of our business.” It is also said that supply and demand no longer determine live cattle prices. Instead, feeders believe that prices are increasingly being determined by whether or not packers have large numbers of cattle (owned or under contract) that can be scheduled for slaughter if the supply and demand factors are pushing cattle prices up. The legislation being considered would prohibit packers from owning livestock 14 days before slaughter.

A similar change in hog production also affected Auburn. With corporate ownership of mega-sized hog farms, the small operator was virtually forced out. The local hog buying station, operated by Wilson & Company, closed in March of 1989.

On the other hand, the story on the grain side is a little more encouraging. Not only did government grain programs establish grain bin storage sites to hold the surplus grain it bought, individual farmers were given money to build storage units on their own place. After a certain period of time, and the required amount of grain storage, those bins became the property of the farmer. Eventually the plan worked and the surpluses were gone. The now unneeded structures at the bin sites were sold at auction. They now serve private enterprise and store everything from old cars to furniture. The on-farm bins are now used to temporarily store grain until it can be sold for the best price.

Farm land prices rose to extremes in the 1970s and then dropped off, causing bankruptcies. Although it was much more complicated, essentially what happened was the value of farm land was so high, loans for new equipment were easy to get. When the land prices fell, the collateral decreased and loans were called in. An example of high land prices came in 1976 when the McIninch farms sold for $1,372,000. The top price, for one of the farms, was $1,290 per acre. Later in that decade some farms with good improvements sold for as much as $2,000 acre. From 1970 to 1980 farm land values more than tripled, much more than inflation for the period.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Farmers decried the system that did not allow them to set their own prices or even negotiate for them. They were forced to take whatever price was offered by the meat packer or the grain company. When crops were good, supply and demand brought the price down. In a bad year even good prices couldn’t help when there was nothing to sell.

That brought about the National Farmers Organization in 1963, dedicated to organizing the producers to control supply (much like OPEC in the oil business). Other farm groups, the Farmers Union and Farm Bureau, to that point had not taken such a direct approach. So the NFO found recruits for their efforts. Their success was nominal, mainly because farmers are an independent lot and getting them to agree to let any organization dictate when, where, and to whom they could sell their grain was unlikely from the beginning.

In 1977 the NFO organized a march on Washington using tractors to get there. Tractors lined the streets of Auburn as they prepared to make the trip. Thus the organization became more of a political statement than a bargaining unit.

In 1981 a true political approach came about with the organization of the American Agricultural Movement. Corky Jones, a Nemaha County farmer, was involved early on and became national vice president in 1984. He was elected president in 1985 and served three years in that post. The inability of the NFO to be effective on the economic side perhaps fostered the growth of AAM and the emphasis changed to a political focus. Jones later ran for Congress on the AAM platform but did not succeed. And tractor trips continued also.

While farm organizations had dubious results in changing the lot of farmers their ideas may have helped shape today’s modern farmer. By 1982 computers were being used to get information from the University of Nebraska through a site called AgNet. More and more farmers are now college graduates, using new technology and advanced business practices. Local marketing firms are springing up to help the individual do what organizations such as NFO could not. Direct sales of processed meat, such as pork, is now happening here. Although not happening in Nemaha County, some areas of the state are experimenting with diversified activities, such as raising buffalo for meat and building trout farms.

Again, the new trends in agriculture have been both good and bad for the farmers. While he can not make a living on the prices he gets for his product, modern technology has allowed him to get the work done on more acres in less time. That allows him to take on a separate job in a nearby town to help support his family. Between the new marketing procedures, the political process, and other factors, maybe farming can be turned around.

The history of the Farmers Co-op in Auburn mirrors some of the woes of agriculture during the 1980s and 1990s. The organization had flourished as a supplier of fuel and fertilizer for farmers who bought stock in the local cooperative. The stock had little monetary value and dividends were paid in additional stock, but the system provided lower prices for raw materials. Local co-ops were owned by the farmers and they in turn owned the umbrella organization, Farmland Industries.

At the peak of good times Farmland Industries bought eight acres of land at the edge of Auburn with the announced purpose of building a feed manufacturing plant. After some time, the ground was found unsuitable and eventually the project was abandoned. About the same time the farm economy began slipping and the local co-op was feeling the pinch. In an effort to survive, they bought a manufacturing plant that had failed and opened an annex to handle farm products. But things only worsened and by 1998 not only was the Co-op gas station closed down but the annex also.

Cenex, a Minnesota co-op, bought the gas station and Johnson Motors remodeled the annex into a new car showroom and service center.

Farmland Industries, based in Kansas City, Missouri, also started expanding during this period. In addition to oil refineries, feed, and fertilizer they began selling direct- to- consumer products. Whether it was too rapid of an expansion or just the economy, Farmland Industries filed for bankruptcy in 2001. They sold off refineries and other assets in 2003 and were hoping to salvage enough to stay in business strictly with food products.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Signs Of The Times

Gasohol came to Auburn in 1979 when Tiny’s 66 Service offered it. The mixture of a corn based alcohol and gasoline is currently being touted as the answer to high fuel emissions and dependence on foreign oil.

The first radio station opened when Rich Stites went on the air with KAUB in 1981. It later closed down and was purchased by KNCY radio in Nebraska City. While there is still an office in residential Auburn, for all intents and purposes, it serves mainly as an outpost with daily newscasts and an occasional sporting event broadcast.

Perhaps a start of the service economy happened when American Lawn Care opened for business here. Up to this point, a smattering of individuals (mainly teenage boys) offered lawn mowing services. But this business offered chemical applications and landscaping as well as mowing. Because it did not depend on walk in traffic, it was operated out of a home. A number of similar businesses are now operating here.

If lawn care was a start of the service economy, the 1990s saw more established as home occupation licenses were awarded to a variety of businesses, mostly in the computer field. Everything from a business selling forms for use with computer printers to the buying and selling of antiques on line have opened. Pinning down the number of such enterprises is difficult because not all have business phones, or if they do, are not easily identified. One empty storefront was filled in 1985 with a telemarketing firm that employs a number of people yet today.

Other signs of the times came in 1996 when LT&T, the “phone company”, moved their district manager out of Auburn and subsequently shut down their office here. The national trend in telecommunications mergers was seen here as the larger company eliminated jobs by using sophisticated electronic systems at larger service centers. Not too long after the phone company left, Peoples Natural Gas also eliminated the local manager and shut down their walk-in office. It was also merged into a larger utility and contact for service now goes to an automated system in Lincoln.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Even though the rural economy has deteriorated, the ability of Auburn and Nemaha County to keep from slipping even farther into decay can no doubt be attributed to a couple of things. One is the local promotion of industry. Auburn is the home to three major factories and several smaller industrial businesses. Another factor is consistent elected leadership which has encouraged up to date municipal facilities and affordable housing.

While folks over age 50 can remember nickel coffee, it can be instructive for younger people to see what inflation has done to prices over the past 40 years. An ad in the 1958 edition of the Auburn Press Tribune touted pork roast at 39 cents per pound, ground beef at 49 cents, oranges at two pounds for 25 cents, cauliflower for 19 cents per pound and yams at two pounds for 19 cents.

In 1961, Sunday dinner at the Auburn Hotel was $1.20 for a half fried chicken. For the more affluent, turkey or ham was $1.50 a plate. In 1964, the chicken dinner during the week was on special for 75 cents. By 1978, at Wheeler Inn (a more up scale eating establishment) the Thursday night special was $2.75. It went to $2.95 shortly thereafter and by June in the same year it was $3.25 as inflation began to rear its ugly head. The price stayed at $4.75 for a long time, went to $5.25 and continued up to its present figure of $8.95 ($12.95 for certain entrees).

In 1962 you could buy a new Chevrolet Bel-Air six cylinder for $2,250. The V-8 version went for $2,580.

First class postage went to six cents in 1967, which was double the price it had been for many years, but far under the 37 cent stamp of 2003.

The local financial scene mirrored the national economy. Carson National Bank noted their assets in 1919 were $518,369.9l. By 1969, their 50th anniversary, the assets totaled $5,366,076, more than ten times their initial figure.

Neither of the local banks offered interest on checking accounts until competition forced the issue. Even passbook savings brought only two or three per cent. In 1960 a savings by mail offer from American Thrift in Omaha offered four per cent. In 1968 both Carson and Auburn State were promoting certificates of deposit at five per cent. But by 1981 a six month money market account at Auburn State was being offered at 14.68% annual yield. About the same time an Otoe County bank was paying 17.5% for Individual Retirement Accounts in an effort to get into that new government program. The pendulum began to swing and by the turn of the century interest was back down to the four per cent range for CDs and two per cent on passbook savings.

Discovery of minerals in the county brought the hope of prosperity but nothing every materialized in this area.

In 1970 deposits of gypsum were found in the western part of Nemaha County by the University of Nebraska. After the initial announcement no other mention was found in any of the newspapers researched for this piece. Apparently the cost of mining exceeded the prospective return.

Since a producing oil field has existed in neighboring Richardson County for some years, it was not surprising to find interest in the adjacent county. In 1972 test drilling produced dry holes. In 1982 digital testing with instruments, instead of drilling holes, apparently discovered some possibilities. At any rate in 1984 Coastal Oil and Gas of Denver, Colorado, filed papers in the county indicating the intent to drill test wells. Nothing came of any of these ventures and some of the wellheads can still be found on farmsteads in the county.

Energy use also followed national trends. In 1960 the gas company was promoting the use of yard lights (obviously in an effort to increase sales of natural gas). But as the so called energy crisis emerged in the early 1980s the utility took a 180 degree turn and shut off gas to the outdoor lamps as a means of conservation.

Solar energy began to be a big item in the 1980s also. Rooftop panels began to pop up around the county. The use of wood stoves also was popular. Once the price of oil started to rise, however, oil companies around the world began to discover great quantities of oil and the energy crisis quietly subsided.

A further blow to the economy, albeit a minor one, occurred with the announcement in 1995 that the local National Guard armory would be closed in a state-wide restructuring move. Although most of the men who served locally would be transferred to other units, the empty building served to emphasize the decline of small towns. The county, however, stepped in and purchased the structure and made what is now called the Multiplex building. It houses some of the offices from an overcrowded county courthouse. The county also leases out a large part of the building for a wellness center operated by a non-profit private concern.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Carrot and the Stick

Many improvements have taken place over the years, not only in the private sector but also on the governmental level. One area, however, has created controversy and has yet to be resolved.

The need for, and improvements to, a local airport have had proponents and opponents for a number of years. There are those who say handy air transportation is vital to the luring of industry and other business to rural America. Opponents say the need is overstated and the cost is too high. Others say that if the need can be documented then the cost ought to be shared by the whole county instead of Auburn alone, which it is now.

In April of 1983 the Auburn city council authorized a study after an engineering firm owned by Richard Snyder told the local board he had expertise in obtaining federal funds. He said a successful application for paved runways could bring 90% federal funds, five per cent from the state and the remaining five per cent from the city. Based on the estimates at the time, the total cost would have approached $750,000, meaning the cost to the city would be $37,500.

In November of 1984 Snyder informed the council the city would have to demonstrate a need for the federal funds. In order to do so they would have to make certain improvements. His plan envisioned a new hangar for $40,000 (all local money) and a new administration building, which could be built with 50% of the money from the state and 50% locally. After all this, the city’s share of the runway paving would be only three per cent, a mere $22,500.

In May of 1985 the council opened bids on a 4-place hangar. The carrot continued to dangle. In July of 1986, the council was told they could improve their chances of getting federal money if they would only authorize funds for land acquisition, since the current runways were not long enough. In November of the same year, Snyder urged the council to continue the project, claiming that he had a verbal commitment from the state aeronautics board “to consider” funding. In 1987 the city finalized negotiations with Dr. C.A. Reid for additional land adjacent to the airport.

In 1989 a low bid of $98,500 was received for grading, seeding and fencing at the airport with the cost being shared by the state and city. In 1991 an engineer was hired to apply for federal funds for the long sought after paved runways.

In July of 1993 the council was asked to request additional funding. They had been tentatively allowed $200,000 for asphalt paving but bids came in over that amount and were turned down. Councilwoman Mary Kruger asked that additional funds be allocated so they could go for concrete paving. Not only did the additional funds fail to get council approval, the original request for $200,000 rescinded.

Efforts to pursue the project continued in 1995 and it received the endorsement of the Auburn chamber of commerce. In July the city council voted 4-1 to look into forming an airport authority. At the August meeting, however, the proposal was defeated on a vote of 3-2 with four votes needed from the six members (one was absent).

In 1997 Councilwoman Kruger said the ten-year struggle was not worth it since now runway lighting was recommended to secure federal funds. However, in September of that year 4,000 feet of runway lighting was installed at a cost of $55,000 with the local Board of Public Works doing most of the work. Actual out of pocket cost to the city was 20%.

The struggle continued on. In 2003 the city council finally voted to form an airport authority and it is currently being organized. The irony of the airport saga is that Nebraska City applied for funds in the late 1990s to build a new airport and within a comparatively short time had approval. The new facility, about 15 miles north of Auburn and five miles south of Nebraska City, is now in use.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Affordable Housing

One of the things emphasized throughout the past 40 years was the need for affordable housing, not only for the ever increasing elderly population, but to attract new industry. In 1960 not one such housing facility was available. The Avenue Apartments, an old hotel converted to permanent living units, and the Grand Central Hotel were about the only commercial living units. Later conversions of large homes and two small hospitals provided some rental apartments.

In August, 1965 federal funds became available and in 1968 Valley View Homes, now commonly called the Hi-Rise Apartments, were dedicated. The money was made available through a federal organization, now called Housing and Urban Development. The apartments are administered by a local housing authority. Rent is based on income.

Next to come was a nursing home built by the Good Samaritan Society. Its construction was aided by $70,000 raised locally. It was dedicated in November, 1967 as a 68 bed nursing home. It was expanded to 75 beds in 1969 and again in 1987 to 114 beds.

Good Sam, being a care center, is not considered in the affordable housing pool but it is included as a facility that adds to the local housing mix.

A number of different funding methods have been used in the building of apartments. The Hi-Rise was all federal money and so was the next venture, Crestview Square. These 28 units, at a cost of $395,000, were built near the new shopping center and were designed for low income, not necessarily elderly, renters.

Another boost from the federal government came in 1987 when a grant of $178,500 was provided for home upgrades. Low income home owners could get low interest loans to improve their dwellings. As these loans were paid off, the money was put into a revolving fund for others to use.

Two more apartment complexes were built in the mid 1990s with federal funds. Sheridan Apartments (1993) in mid town and Westbury Heights (1994), near Good Sam, provide income-based rental units. At Westbury, residents must be age 62 or over or handicapped.

The availability of federal funds attracted large contractors into the business. A combination of HUD’s money, the contractor, and local organizations all go together to form a housing partnership. South Glen apartments and Auburn Village have been built in the past ten years. Currently a 16-unit facility, called Terrace Heights, was expected to be finished by October, 2003.

All of these are income-based rentals with government subsidies making up the difference in some cases. Some partnerships had government low interest loans issued to fund the building of their facility, but do not get rental subsidies.

The Good Samaritan Society has now opened another facility, called Longs Creek Village, which provides assisted living in 24 apartments for those who need less help than a nursing home.

In addition to converted buildings for apartments, other privately financed conventional complexes have also been built. The Witzenburg Apartments on Q Street and Country Side on Central Avenue are two examples.

So from two buildings designed for apartments in 1960, Auburn now has the original two, two conventional and seven income-based complexes, plus two care centers. The income-based facilities now total 129 units and the two care centers house up to 138 patients.