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News from the week of May 14, 2003

Patience advised for those interested in grant program

It likely will be late summer before a $934,750 grant program gets rolling for a 10-block area in Central Tracy.

The Minnesota Department of Economic Development announced on April 7 that the City of Tracy had qualified for a Small Cities Development grant. A timeline compiled by Rick Goodeman, director of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership in Slayton, indicates that grant applications won't be accepted until August.

"People need to sit tight for now and be patient for now," he said.

A series of administrative requirements must be completed before the City of Tracy actually gets the money and the grant program can begin. Those requirements include an environmental review.

Two public meetings are planned to explain the program to property owners and contractors. Goodeman said that those meetings likely won't be held until late July.

City of Tracy leaders will have to decide soon who will administer the program. Three possibilities are the Housing Partnership, the Tracy City Council and the Tracy Economic Development Authority. The housing partnership was responsible for writing Tracy's successful grant application.

The 10-block area targeted by the grant program is bounded by Fifth, Rowland, Center, and South streets.

Monday meeting set to discuss prison bid

A public meeting to discuss the possibility of a large prison being built in Tracy is planned Monday, May 19 in Tracy. The informational gathering is scheduled at 7 p.m. at the Tracy Multi-Purpose Center.

Tracy Economic Development Authority and Tracy City Council members are expected to be on hand for the discussion.

City leaders have been investigating the corrections facility for the past two months.

The proposed 600 to 800 bed prison would be privately-owned and operated, and is expected to be used for short-term offenders. An option to add another 200 beds to hold county-level offenders could also be a part of the project.

The construction of the prison hinges upon the passage of a bill by the legislature allowing the Minnesota Department of Corrections to send state inmates to a new privately-operated prison. A second bill would allow county governments to contract with the new prison.

If the legislation if approved and signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a nine-member selection committee would be established for the Minnesota Department of Corrections. The committee would select both a site for the prison, and the company to operate the facility.

The economic impact of a new corrections facility in Tracy would be immense, Gervais said. It is expected that 240 to 270 jobs paying $10 to $15 an hour would be created at the prison. The infusion of that many jobs, he said, would fuel extra demand for a wide range of local business services, attract new city residents, and also boost the local housing market.

Band making final plans for Washington DC trip

In a little more than two months, the Tracy Community Band will pack their bags and instruments and head for Washington, DC.

The band is scheduled to perform three concerts in and around the nation's capital as part of the National Festival of States concert series, July 28-30. The band will play concerts at the U.S. Naval Memorial, the Fairfax military retirement home, and either the Lincoln or Jefferson memorials. The band was invited to participate by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams. It is the only band from Minnesota performing in the series.

Before boarding its flight, the band needs to raise an additional $10,000 to meet the remainder of trip expenses. The trip's cost is just over $1,000 a member. To date, about $32,000 has been collected for the trip. Money has come from a wide variety of individual and group contributions, including a $300 commitment from each band member.

"We really appreciate everyone who has contributed and supported us," comments Director Clint Peterson. Peterson hopes that contributions over the next two months will chip away at the remaining $10,000 needed for the trip

The community band plans several appearances prior to its East Coast trip. Tuesday, May 18, the band is playing for the Tracy Lions' "Burgers & Bands" concert at Central Park. Another Central Park concert is planned Friday, June 6, in connection with the Tracy Fire Department's annual Central Park hog roast. The band plans a send-off concert in July. Tentatively, that concert is scheduled for Thursday, July 24.

Donations to the band's "Marching to Washington" fund-raising campaign can be sent either Peterson at 125 Elm St., Tracy, MN., 56175, or band treasurer Janelle Rau at 207 East Hollett St., Tracy, MN. 56175.

School finances are positive, expansion proposed for women's bathroom

Tracy Public Schools will likely end its current school year "in the black."

An updated 2002-03 budget presented to school board members Monday night forecasts a $35,395 balance for the fiscal year that ends June 30. Total spending is forecast at $6,607,537, compared to projected revenues of $6,642,932.

Three of five active school accounts show projected balances for the year. They are: transportation, $91,649; food service, $859; capital expenditure, $18,023. Accounts expected to end with negative balances are: general fund, minus $54,367; community service, minus $20,769.

The $35,395 balance represents about a half of one percent of total spending for the year. District 417 school board members are expected to approve a budget for the 2003-04 school year next month.

Other agenda items covered by board members Monday included:

Bathroom improvements

The Panther Booster Club is studying a plan to expand the women's bathroom facility at the school's football and track complex.

Rick Anderson, Booster club representative, said that two additional toilet stalls could be added to the women's restroom located under the stadium bleachers. The bathroom addition would utilize space formerly occupied by the concession stand. The space opened up after the completion of a new concession stand and ticket booth in the fall of 2001.

Anderson said this expansion would alleviate a long-standing congestion problem in the women's bathroom, which now has only one toilet stall. The improvements, he said, might eliminate the need to rent portable toilets for football and track meets. Cost for the rentals is about $400 a year.

Rush City study suggests huge economic impact

What kind of economic impact would the construction of a large prison have on Tracy?

No one knows for sure. But an economic analysis conducted on the new state correctional facility built at Rush City suggests that it would be substantial.

The $89 million Rush City prison was built over a three-year period beginning in 1999. The facility opened in 2000 and is now near its capacity of 980 inmates.

A Minnesota Department of Economic Security study estimates that the three-year construction phases added $55 million to the regional economy around Rush City in the forms of employee compensation, enterprise profits, property and indirect businesses taxes. An estimated 445 jobs were created during the construction period.

Once the prison opened, the report noted substantial ripple effects in the local economy, caused by expansions from business vendors serving the prison. Food preparation and provisions, educational services, and medical services were some of the growth areas.

The state analysis estimated that the Rush City prison created an additional 40 non-prison jobs in support businesses. Overall, the state study calculated that the Rush City prison annually pumps an additional $3.7 million into the surrounding five-county area.

Dan Zimansky begins term as state president of rural schools group

Dan Zimansky, Tracy school board chairman, has more than a provincial interest in K-12 public education.

Zimansky recently became president of the Minnesota Rural Education Association's (MREA) Board of Directors. The organization represents about 150 rural school districts across the state.

The MREA has an especially full agenda this year, as the state legislature wrestles with a projected $4.2 billion shortfall over the next two years. The MREA's objective for this year, Zimansky said, is to look out for the interests of rural school districts.

"Our purpose is to give rural schools a voice at the legislature."

Some of the group's on-going concerns, Zimansky said, are equitable state funding, alternative school options and technology access for rural schools.

The MREA is different from many educational advocacy groups, in that it is comprised of teachers, schools administrators and school board members.

"That gives us a lot of credibility with the legislature," Zimansky said. The organization's diverse make-up, he said, helps insure that MREA positions and policies "put the students first."