Susan Conrad, Jerry Ochoa and Ed Rieker are running for the Ward 4 seat on the North Platte city council. The top two vote getters will advance to the general election, and the one with the least votes will be eliminated.
Martin Steinbeck currently holds the seat, but he is not running for re-election.
In anticipation of the May 15 primary election, we asked the three candidates for their backgrounds and their comments on important issues. Here is what they said:
SUSAN CONRAD, 34
North Platte, Ward 4. Homemaker, dedicated volunteer
Experience & qualifications
My background is in volunteering, ranging from building up young people in Girl Scouts and 4-H to volunteering with FUR the Love of Paws and other rescues to being a founding member and serving as secretary of the Lincoln County Bull Moose Club, a political education group. I’ve lived in North Platte, mostly in the 4th Ward, since age 12 and have seen the many facets of this town in that time. I graduated from NPCC with an Associate of Science with Honors. I am a keen observer and a quick learner. I have spent much of my admittedly short lifetime learning the art of compromise, and more importantly, when to stand behind my belief in what is right.
First, I would like to see Original Town thriving again. I would like to see more active store fronts, and a grocery store that is easily accessible to people in Ward 4 without reliable transport.
Second, I want to see more affordable housing.
There are jobs available, but a complaint from many business owners is that employees are scarce, and part of that problem comes from difficulty finding an affordable place to live.
Third, I would like to see more areas for outdoor recreation for all ages in Ward 4, ranging from small playgrounds to hike-bike trails to community gardens.
This is extremely difficult to address without finding other revenue sources or making very painful cuts.
The main problem, and it is a problem across the state, is that the “three legged stool” of property, income, and sales taxes is very imbalanced and needs to be re-balanced across the entire state.
Many of our roads in Ward 4 need more attention.. We also have a fair number of abandoned buildings in very poor condition that need to be addressed.
Other civic activities
I actively contact candidates and our state representatives’ offices to ascertain their positions and hold them accountable.
Immediate family: Married for 11 years to Steve Conrad.
ED REIKER, 68
916 N. Emory, North Platte
Owner of Alpha & Associates, a marketing company for W Design Associates, an engineering and architectural firm in McCook, which is licensed in 27 states.
Experience & qualifications
I’m a homeowner and resident of the north side. I’ve run my own business since 1989 — nearly 30 years.
I do a fair amount of traveling in my work, giving the opportunity to see how other communities work.
I served a four-year term on the board of directors of the North Platte Housing Authority. I’m a member of the Knights of Columbus and the Western Nebraska Taxpayers Association, and a founding member of the Western Nebraska Community for Life. I also served a term on the Nebraska State Insurance Commission, which was disbanded following the removal of the mandate from Obamacare.
I’d like to see some manufacturing jobs come to our town. I continually hear there is not very much shopping in the community.
As a business owner, I know if there are not enough people in the area, there won’t be enough to support businesses.
We also need to figure out how to retain people in North Platte.
I recognize some of the challenges of the costs of government overreach in our community. High tax rates are a detriment to new companies coming. Of Nebraska communities our size, North Platte has the highest taxes and this is one item prospective industry/businesses look at before relocating.
I’d like to see a reduction in city spending, which would be translated into reduced taxes.
I’m a proponent of city divesting itself of the Iron Eagle golf course completely. We also need to reevaluate funding of the Golden Spike, and how those tax dollars are spent, with a focus on redirecting some of those dollars to the community to reduce city taxes.
We have to do a better job of maintaining infrastructure. Our streets are an absolute disaster. If we fail in that, it becomes a major expenditure in the future.
Another thing that is very important — we need to take ownership of our community and exhibit a civic pride that seems to be lacking. The city is our home. We can maintain the curb appeal of the downtown by removing the debris and cleaning the sidewalks. The annual flower plantings are wonderful and should be maintained throughout the year. It sounds rather trite, but we need to keep litter picked up and don’t throw it out. We residents need to fulfill our civic responsibilities to make our section of town aesthetically pleasing.
I am not a fan of big government. We have a responsibility to make our community a better town to live in. That burden shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of government.
From a logical standpoint, the only way to reduce property taxes is to reduce the money we spend.
That is a simple, irrefutable axiom. We need to pare some things out, such as $300,000 a year for the golf course. That money could be used on maintenance or infrastructure. We need to take a hard look at the overall city budget; maybe look at 1-2% reduction and give department heads the latitude of determining where to reduce expenses.
The reality is government has no money unless it takes it from the people. I believe citizens have a better idea how to spend their money than government does.
Also, I don’t agree with economic incentives. In my work, I ask businesses, what would they rather have — a handout or lower taxes — and they always say ‘lower taxes.’
Immediate family: Not married. My children live in Denver, Lincoln, San Francisco and North Platte.
JERRY OCHOA, 42 803 N. Dewey, Manager of Operating Practices, UPRR
Experience & qualifications
I’m a resident of the 4th ward, living in the home where I grew up, which I bought after returning to North Platte.
Although I have never held or ran for a public office, I feel that my experiences in the U.S. Marine Corps and as a Manager for the Union Pacific, and living in different parts of the country, I have seen what can work for a city, and what can hurt.
When I lived in California, I saw the community that I lived in flourish and they didn’t do anything extreme, just took advantage of opportunities that were presented to them. I feel we as a city have missed the boat on a few of these.
I would like to see more growth as a city, but more than that, I want to see our 4th ward flourish and be successful again. I feel that we have so much to offer, with vacant buildings and lots that could be turned into a playground, or if we could get investors and community involvement, into some type of place like the Rec Center. And if I am elected, I want my 4th Ward involved. I would like to start a committee that helps look at different grants and such that would help build a playground or park. There are so many grants available for community projects.
I feel this issue will not be fixed overnight, and as a homeowner this is a very high concern to me. Although our income may be higher than other communities, I feel we need to reevaluate the income compared to cost of living and how that has risen. There are three prominent businesses in the community that factor into this, and although they are the major employers, not everyone who lives in our ward and our city work for them. And I feel that throws an imbalance in the evaluation of property taxes.
Another issue I feel we have is that we have nothing for the younger generations to entice them to stay in North Platte, or even worse, the 4th ward. I work for Union Pacific and we are constantly hiring younger managers who are either newly married with younger children or not married.
Generally the first thing they ask is — what is there to do in North Platte for my kids? Or where is the local dance club? Two very tough questions that we as a city and ward have to ask ourselves — what are we doing to answer these questions? We have had several places in the past, but currently we have very few.
Other civic roles
I feel that all civic roles need to be taken seriously and given respect.
Immediate family: Four children, one granddaughter. Married to my beautiful wife Erika for 22 years.