Monday, June 30, 2008

Can Dorchester Buck The Trend?

Can Dorchester avoid the population losses that now plague much of the Heartland?

In a recent nationally-syndicated column by economist Dr. Charles Wheelan, the author examines the human hemorrhaging occurring within the Plains' states. In many cases, these counties have lost more than 10 percent of their population in the past decade. (Click on the map to see a larger version.)

Dr. Wheelan asserts there are three main causes for this trend:
  • "Rising agricultural productivity means that we need fewer farmers to meet our food needs."
  • "Highly skilled people are more productive when they're in close proximity to other highly skilled people."
  • "Our existing farm subsidy programs don't help, and they probably make the situation worse."

We'll let our readers read the column for themselves and draw their own conclusions. But it's important to keep in mind there are two ways for a county to lose its population: People move away -- often called "outmigration" -- or there can be more deaths than births. In recent years, much of the Plains has seen population declines due to both factors.

In the graphic to the left, USDA demographer Calvin Beale shows the parts of rural America that have lost population through both outmigration and a higher number of deaths than births. The counties that lost population because people left between 2000 and 2006 are colored tan. The counties that lost population because more people died than were born between 2000 and 2006 are purple. Those that lost population for both reasons are dark brown.

According to the USDA map, Saline County is one of only 14 Nebraska counties bucking the ugly trend.

USDA demographer Beale notes that this condition of Plains' population loss “did not did not arise overnight," and "poses difficult development challenges." Indeed. But so far, Dorchester is keeping its head above water -- thanks primarily to our close proximity to the large employment hubs of Lincoln, Crete and Seward.

As we have said previously, retaining our young people is important if Dorchester is to remain a viable community in the future.

In the past two or three decades, Dorchester has done a poor job in keeping its young people. We have failed to talk to our children at a young age and let them know that they are wanted and needed in their hometown.

When young people move away and never return, fewer new homes are built. Fewer children are born to sustain the local economy and educational services. Historic connections and family ties are lost forever. The community begins its slow death.

We urge our school administrators, teachers, town leaders and other residents to focus on Dorchester's future. We can and should take steps now by communicating openly with our young people about the population and economic challenges facing Dorchester.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Suggestion Box II: Your Comments For The Village Board

Last summer, we offered Times' readers the opportunity to sound off directly to elected leaders in our community.

As we stated last year, one of the benefits of our online society is the increasing ease by which we are able to communicate with our elected leaders.

So for the second consecutive year, we want to allow our readers the chance to communicate with local officials serving on the Dorchester Village Board.

Our "Suggestion Box" series provides an open forum for readers to offer suggestions, complaints and compliments for local leaders. It also allows readers to pose questions -- and we hope that Village Board members or city staff will take time to reply.

We have well-placed informants who tell us that Board members read the Times on a regular basis. So we ask readers to keep their comments civil and thoughtful -- just as if you were attending a public meeting or speaking to your board members in person.

And keep in mind that board members, like other local leaders, are volunteers. They deserve your respect.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dorchester Drenched!

Remember the "drought of the century" that plagued the Dorchester area and the rest of Nebraska just a few years ago? It's over, in case you haven't noticed.

The Times' official rain gauge received more than 1.65" in the latest soaker that impacted the area early this morning. Today's precipitation comes after more than 0.85" fell this past weekend.

In total, the Dorchester area has received around 8.8" of rain this month. (*UPDATE* -- 6/27, 4 p.m.: Add another 0.65" from Thursday -- making the month's precipitation total about 9.45".) Compare that to Lincoln's 30-year rainfall average for the month of June, which is 3.89".

Dorchester is making some of the nation's moistest areas look like the Sahara.

For instance, the average June rainfall for Seattle is only 1.50". In the swamp of Gainsville, Fla. it's 6.77". In Tampa, it's 5.5". New Orleans gets about 5.84".

What about the Mobile, Ala. -- America's rainiest city? A mere 5.04".

In short, the 9.5" that have fallen on Dorchester this month qualify as a lot of rain.

If you're tired of the standing water, take heart: There's only seven days left before July arrives.

Monday, June 23, 2008

News Briefs: Road Work Begins On Hwy 6 Next Week

  • Work to Begin on Highway 6: The Times has learned that construction work on Highway 6 between Dorchester and Milford is set to begin next Monday, June 30. Work will consist of milling, pavement patching and an asphalt overlay. During construction, traffic will be maintained by the use of signs, flaggers and pilot cars in the construction work zones. Traffic can expect a 10- to 15-minute delay at flagging stations. Constructors, Inc. was awarded the $2,367,706 contract for this construction work. The project is expected to be completed by late fall of 2008. The Nebraska Department of Roads’ project manager for this project is Dennis Endorf of Fairbury, (402) 729-3489.

  • DVFD to Test Town Sirens: According to sources at the Dorchester Volunteer Fire Dept., testing of the town's emergency sirens will resume. Residents should note the testing will occur every third Monday at 7:30 p.m. Sirens will be sounded only long enough to make sure all are functioning properly.

  • SCAT Online: As gas hovers around $4 a gallon, now is a good time to remember the services provided by the Saline County Area Transit (SCAT). The service is especially useful for older residents, although all citizens of Saline County may use this convenient transport service. Most SCAT transport is made by reservation, with a simple phone call made easily one day in advance. SCAT vans will come to residents' homes and transfer them from location to location. Medical needs are given high priority. The fare is free for escorts in case of disability. SCAT has wheelchairs available or they may be reserved. The SCAT Web site also features photos of each Saline County community.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

News Briefs: Floor Poured For New School

  • Floor Poured For New School: Crews started pouring the foundation of the new Dorchester School addition this week. Rain has slowed progress on the new building and campus renovation, but the 2008-09 school year is still expected to start around Sept. 10, according to sources. When complete, the new 33,500 square foot addition will feature both elementary and high school classrooms, a multi-purpose room, stage, library and administrative offices.

  • Benefit For Chris Beekley Schmidt: On Sunday, June 29, a free-will offering spaghetti feed will be held at Dorchester's United Methodist Church for Christine Beekley Schmidt, a Dorchester native and DHS graduate. Christine was recently diagnosed with cancer. The feed will be held from 11:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. For those unable to attend, donations may be sent to the Dorchester United Methodist Church, Box 251, Dorchester, NE 68343.

  • New Economic Development Leader Selected: Those hoping to see more economic development efforts in Dorchester should know that the Southeast Nebraska Development District (SENDD) has announced that Norene Fitzgerald joined its staff as a Community Development Specialist. Fitzgerald, a native of Exeter, will be responsible for working with local governmental units in the identification of community and economic development projects; preparing grant applications to assist with accomplishing those projects; and, providing administrative assistance necessary to funded projects. Dorchester is included in her area of responsibility. Fitzgerald may be reached at 402/475-2560 or

Thursday, June 12, 2008

News Briefs: Dorchester Deluged Again

  • Dorchester Drenched Again: The Dorchester area was soaked again in a series of violent storms Wednesday night. According to the state's Rainfall Assessment and Information Network (RAIN), the Dorchester area received 2.40 inches of precipitation in last night's soaker. That brings the June rainfall total to more than 6.5 inches -- with 17 more days to go!

  • DHS Journalism Students Recognized: Several Dorchester High School journalism students walked away with top honors from the recent newspaper and yearbook competition held by the state Journalism Education Association. Schools were not divided by class size, making the DHS students' accomplishments even more impressive. Chelsea Stilwagon and Ashton Kotas received an "excellent" in Yearbook Theme Development and Yearbook Feature Writing. Wendy Boller received an honorable mention in Yearbook Feature Writing and an "excellent" in Yearbook Sports Writing. Earlier this spring, Stilwagon and Kotas were award winners at the NSAA's State Journalism Contest, along with DHS students Logan Mead and Valerie Cochnar. We at the Times tip our collective hat to the budding journalists of DHS.

  • Bergmeyer, Schweitzer Plan June 21 Wedding: Tiffany Schweitzer and Craig Bergmeyer, both of Dorchester, are planning a June 21 wedding at Milford Mennonite Church. Tiffany is employed at First State Bank in Dorchester. Craig is a 2001 graduate of DHS, and is employed at Jim's Home Health Supplies in Lincoln. Our best wishes go to Craig and Tiffany.

  • Krivohlaveks Celebrate No. 40: Harold and Virginia Krivohlavek of Dorchester celebrated their 40th anniversary last week. The happy couple was married at the Waverly Methodist Church June 8, 1968. Congrats to Harold and Virginia on this milestone.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Recognizing Dorchester's Latest Improvements

Since the Dorchester Times went online nearly 14 months ago, we have published numerous stories and reader comments regarding the areas of our community in need of improvement.

In one of our
early posts, we took issue with an Associated Press reporter who painted a negative picture of our community's appearance. However, at the time, we said the story served as a good reminder that Dorchester must make improvements to enhance our public image. As we said back then, image does matter.

We wrote: "Public image is what attracts growth or expedites decline in a community ... Dorchester residents should strive for the town to be known for more than its grain elevator ... The legacy we leave for our children and grandchildren is up to us."

Some readers will recall that we even dedicated our first online poll
to the subject of community improvement projects.

Well, there have been several changes in our small town over the past 14 months. And while much work is still needed, we would be remiss if we didn't acknowledge and recognize some of the recent enhancements.

The $4 million renovation and expansion of the Dorchester School campus has received the bulk of attention inside and outside of Dorchester. Rightfully so. But today, we pay tribute to those improvements that have been completed over the past year. Here are the top three, as we see them:

No. 3 - Main Street Electronic Marquee: Gone are the days of downtown Dorchester's baby-blue manual marquee. A larger, orange-and-black electronic sign now graces Dorchester's Main Street median. Installed last spring, the electronic marquee displays the date, time and temperature, while also announcing upcoming town events and special messages, including birthday greetings to residents. The new marquee has not only added some extra livliness to Washington Avenue, it has served as an effective method of mass communication.

No. 2 - Main Street Building Upgrades: Over the past 12 months, we've noted several improvements to Main Street's buildings. The old Conner's Gifts & Roofing building -- damaged by fire in the early 1980s -- was re-sided, as was one of the west side buildings. City Hall is now graced with decorative plants. Sherryl's West Side Saloon has expanded north. And members of the Dorchester Area Community Association (DACA) have worked on displays in the building north of the Saline State Bank.

No. 1 - City Park Shelter & New Playground Equipment: Perhaps the most notable improvement in Dorchester is the new City Park shelter and playground equipment. The new shelter was one of the first projects initiated by the Dorchester Area Community Foundation (DACF). Many area residents, former residents and DHS alumni have contributed to this project. The Foundation also received a $16,200 matching grant from the Nebraska Game and Parks. The improved and expanded play equipment area is also impressive. Again, leaders with the DACF applied for and received a $5,000 grant on behalf of the Village of Dorchester for the new playground equipment. The Village Board agreed to match the $5,000 grant from the Kiewit Foundation board. Several volunteers contributed their time to install the playground equipment.

We salute the leaders and property owners of Dorchester who made all of the above improvements a reality. As a result of their service, dedication and efforts, our town is a better place to live. Thanks to them, our quality of life has jumped another notch.

We anxiously await the next round of improvements in Dorchester -- on public and private properties -- and encourage all residents to help in this collective endeavor.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Grant Opportunities Available For Dorchester

Recently, some readers of the Times have expressed strong interest in our local government and organizational leaders pursuing more grant opportunities. Perhaps some of this interest was stirred after the Dorchester Area Community Association was awarded a sizable grant from Nebraska Game & Parks to help pay for the new shelter in the city park.

In any case, we conducted a quick search for economic development-related grants and programs currently available for communities like Dorchester. Here is what we found:

  • Nebraska Community Improvement Program: Communities now have until June 30 to enter the 2008 Nebraska Community Improvement Program (NCIP), a program of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Membership in NCIP would increase Dorchester's chances for future grants, as well as help village leader develop a plan for the next 10-15 years . The program recognizes and presents awards for individual projects and overall community development endeavors. Considering all the improvements in and around Dorchester, our community would likely fare well compared to similarly-sized towns. For more information, contact Lindsay Papenhausen at 800-426-6505, or email:

  • Low Income Housing Repair: For help rehabilitating low income homes and rental units, local governments are encouraged to apply for $1.5 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to be awarded in the housing owner-occupied rehabilitation category. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development will accept applications until July 25, 2008. For information, contact Brian Gaskill at Applications must be for an owner-occupied rehabilitation program to serve low-and-moderate-income households in that single community. The application guidelines are available here, under the section titled“2008 Annual Application Cycle Chapter 6 – Owner Occupied Rehabilitation”. Technical assistance with the application process can be obtained by contacting Paula Rhian at 402-471-3760 or

  • Tourism Grants: For members of the Saline County Historical Society, July 15 is the application deadline for grants ranging from $2,000 to $50,000 through the Tourism Advantage Matching Grant Program. A total of $500,000 will be awarded in grants this year for a variety of advertising, marketing and promotional activities, including but not limited to mass media advertising, Web site development, the production and printing of travel literature and participation in travel, trade and sports shows. Grant guidelines are available at

  • Housing Funds: And just in case the Farmers Cooperative plans on new hiring anytime soon, there is the New Neighborhoods II Initiative, with up to $1 million available for three communities. To access the application form, click here. New Neighborhoods II is intended to help communities struggling to meet or keep up with the housing demand created by either new or expanding companies wanting to create new jobs and hire more employees.