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News from the week of May 21, 2003

Outdoor commencement planned for Class of 2003

Sixty-seven seniors saying farewell to high school

Sixty-seven seniors are scheduled to participate in commencement exercises at Tracy Area High School Sunday.

The 2 p.m. ceremony is scheduled outdoors on the high school football field. In case of bad weather, the proceedings will be moved indoors to the high school gym.

Laura Zwach, Emily Vandendriessche, and Eric Nelson are the class speakers. Kelly Laleman will give the class greeting, with Jason Vercruysse scheduled to give the farewell.

High School Principal John Rokke, who is ending an eight-year tenure as principal on June 30, will present the class and announce the class valedictorian and salutatorian.

Dan Zimansky, Tracy school board member; Dale Sherman, Balaton school board member; and Betsy Snyder, Milroy school board member; will present the diplomas.

"Pomp & Circumstance," performed by the high school band, is the music for the processional. The band's rendition of "Queen in Concert" and the concert choir performance of "Hero" are the other commencement music selections.

Seniors will form a reception line immediately following the ceremony.

Thirty-seven members of the Class of 2003 plan to attend a four-year college or university following high school. Thirteen plan to attend a two-year technical school or college. Six have enlisted in a branch of the United States armed services. Six students plan to immediately enter the work force, with the remainder of the class undecided.

The Class of 2003's motto is, "Learn as if you were to live forever. Live as if you were to die tomorrow."

Prison gets mostly positive reception

About sixty people turned out for an informational forum Monday, to learn more about the possibility of a medium-security prison being built on the edge of Tracy.

"This is huge," said Robert Gervais, Tracy Community Development director, who led the meeting. "I can't fathom what this could do for our town economically."

The Minnesota legislature, which began a special session Tuesday, is considering two pieces of legislation that affect that Tracy prison plan. One bill would allow the state to farm out inmates to privately-operated corrections facilities. A second bill would allow counties to send prisoners to regional, privately-operated prisons. As of Tuesday, the bills had passed the Republican-controlled House, but not the DFL-controlled Senate.

If the prison bills pass the legislature and are signed into law by Governor Pawlenty, the Minnesota Department of Corrections would begin a selection process for the construction of a privately owned and operated prison. The proposed facility would have 600 to 800 beds for short-term state offenders, with an option for a 200-bed wing for inmates held by area counties. Tracy is one of at least five communities that have expressed an interest in being the site for a new privately-operated prison. The proposed prison would employ 240 to 270 people, with most positions paying $10 to $15 an hour. Forty to 65 acres of city-owned land northeast of the Tracy Industrial Park has been suggested as a possible prison site.

Gervais said that if the "privatization" legislation is not passed, the chances of a Tracy facility being built were "slim." Nonetheless, he said, Tracy's efforts to attract a prison would continue, perhaps starting with a regional facility for county inmates, regardless of what happens at the legislature.

He said the Senate opposition to the prison in centered around Senate DFLers with strong union ties. Unions generally have opposed the non-government prisons, because the private sector prison jobs have lower wages than the unionized jobs at state prisons. He said that Rep. Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) and Senator Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy) have both been lobbying hard for the privatization prison legislation.

Sentiments expressed at the Monday night forum were generally positive about the Tracy prison possibility. Some skepticism and questions about Tracy's ability to handle the large project were aired as well. No one voiced outright opposition to a Tracy prison.

"Personally, I think this is an opportunity," said Michael Martin. "As much as I think there are too many people in prisons, I think it is a good idea." He said that Tracy, in the past, has "let go" of many strengths, such as the Tracy Junior College. A new corrections facility would help rejuvenate the town, he said.

Phil Nelson, Lyon County Board of Commissioners chairman, said that the commissioners have passed a resolution in favor of Tracy's prison bid. Lyon County would be interested in a regional facility where prisoners could be sent, he said. because the county is faced with an on-going shortage of jail space. A study estimated the cost of adding 82 slots onto the county's jail would cost $8 million.

Whopping fishing derby

104 boats of anglers cast off from Lake Shetek

Gary Debates of Westbrook and Don Stanek of Tyler were the big winners in this year's Lake Shetek Walleye Fishing Tournament.

The pair caught four walleyes, weighing in at a total of 13.96 pounds, to take top honors in the 12th Annual Lake Shetek Walleye Fishing Tournament on Saturday, May 17. They reeled in a cash prize of $1,200.

A total of 104 boats (teams of two) participated in the tournament, which is a fund-raising event held by the Lake Shetek Area Improvement Association (LSAIA). A total of $3,800 was raised for the Lake Shetek aeration project through the tournament.

“We had a large turn-out this year,” said Scott Olafson, LSAIA Walleye Committee. “It was a beautiful day to be on the lake.”

Extent of state cuts remains unknown

As of Tuesday afternoon, the extent of proposed state cuts in Local Government Aid remain unknown to City of Tracy leaders.

The Minnesota legislature went into a special session Tuesday, hoping to iron out final details of major taxation and spending issues.

"It's very frustrating," said City Administrator Audrey Koopman. "All we can do is wait."

In February, Governor Tim Pawlenty announced a two-year budget plan that would have resulted in state aid reductions to Tracy of $144,000 in 2003 and $274,000 in 2004. The proposed reductions were part of an overall state plan to eliminate a projected two-year state shortfall of $4.2 billion.

The state legislature has been meeting for the past four months attempting to hash out a budget that will be signed by the government. Last week, lawmakers announced they had reached a budget accord that reduced the governor's proposed Local Government Aid cuts by about $111 million.

Koopman said she has seen no information on how the new figures on Local Government Aid would affect Tracy.

Ambulance volunteers continue unique life-saving mission

By Val Scherbart-Quist

Local EMTs are celebrating Emergency Medical Services (EMS) week this week.

The theme of this year's EMS Week, “EMS: When it Matters Most,” focuses on the commitment and dedication of the 750,000 EMS providers who provide an essential community service everyday.

In Tracy, the Tracy Ambulance Service has focused on being there when it matters most for the past 31 years. The service, which got its start in 1972, is the only non-profit, volunteer, privately owned ambulance service in the state.

Within the past year, Tracy Ambulance service has received an Advanced Life Support (ALS) license, which allows them to provide advanced care. The ALS license is a joint venture with Tracy Area Medical Services, and was granted in November of last year.

Renee Rosenberg serves as Tracy Ambulance Service's paramedic.

“We want to point out, especially now with the ALS license, that it increases the teamwork that we have and improves our patient care,” she said. “As a team we all work together to get things done.”

Ninety-five percent of the calls Tracy Ambulance Services goes on do not require ALS to be used. However, when it is necessary, it allows Tracy Ambulance Service to give the same care as larger ambulance service, Rosenberg said. It is especially nice for transfers from the Tracy Hospital to larger facilities.

“They can go by ground now with people they know,” she said. “I think that helps patients a lot if they know who's taking care of them.”

The license also allows Tracy Ambulance Service to help other smaller ambulance services that have critically ill patients.

But while Rosenberg said it is important to have a paramedic on board, the EMT volunteers remain the core of the ambulance service.

“The first thing we do is the basic stuff, and that's where everybody works as a team.”

FFA tills up space for community garden plots

Want to have a garden this summer, but don't have space in your backyard?

The Tracy FFA chapter has a deal for you. The FFA has tilled up community garden plots near Tracy Area High School. The cost is $25 for a 20x20 foot plot. The price includes the availability of a nearby water wagon with which to water vegetables.

The garden plots are located on school property, between the elementary and high schools. There are 28 plots, available on the first-come, first served basis. People who rent garden space must agree to keep up their plots.

Cassandra Sanow is the FFA member who is overseeing the project. People interested in renting a plot can contact Sanow, or FFA Advisor Chris Howard at 629-5500 or 629-3971.