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News from the week of February 26, 2003

Councilmen clearing snow from streets? Not likely, but...

How serious are proposed state budget cuts for the City of Tracy?

Tracy City Councilman Tim Byrne jokingly suggested Monday that since the city would no longer have money to pay its street department workers, perhaps council members could use their home snowblowers to help clear city streets.

"You take your snowblower and clear your little piece, and I'll take my snowblower and clear mine," he said.

Bryne's quip was the only moment of levity in an otherwise grim discussion about the impact of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget on the City of Tracy. The governor suggested large cuts in state aid to municipalities and counties in a proposed two-year budget last week. The suggested cuts would help balance a state budget that faces a shortfall of more than $4 billion over the next two years.

The City of Tracy stands to lose $418,685 in state aid over the next two years if the governor's proposal is enacted, according to calculations from the League of Minnesota Cities.

"It would be devastating," City Administrator Audrey Koopman told council members. "I don't know what we would do."

To put the possible loss of $418,685 in perspective, Koopman said that the amount equates to the cost of 12 of the city's 15 full-time employees. (She said the average compensation for city employees, including salary and fringe benefits, is $35,000 per person). Theoretically, she indicated, the lost state revenue would leave the city with three employees to run the city office, deputy registrar's office, street and police departments.

Police getting 'stun gun'

A non-lethal "stun gun" is being added to the Tracy Police Department.

The police are obtaining a Taser M-26 stun gun through the Lyon County Sheriff's Department. Money from the Criminal Justice Department is paying for the weapon.

The stun gun, Sheriff Joe Dahl explains, can be used to temporarily incapacitate a non-cooperative individual that law enforcement officers are attempting to control.

"It delivers a rather stunning jolt," Dahl said, speaking to Tracy City Council members Monday night. The Taser gun, he said, is powerful enough to give an officer an advantage in many situations, while not causing permanent injury to the person being apprehended. In extreme circumstances, however, the stun gun " is not a substitute for the use of deadly force," the sheriff said.

Only two conditions are attached to the police obtaining the stun gun. Tracy police must have a written policy spelling out when the Taser gun can be used. Police must also complete training before the stun gun can be put into service.

Play is learning adventure for Rainbow Preschool kids

By Val Scherbart Quist

On a chilly February morning, the children at Rainbow Preschool are learning about dinosaurs.

Teacher Kari Landuyt tells the students that one of the dinosaurs was 25 feet long from head to tail. How long is 25 feet? The students are about to find out.

Landuyt asks the young scholars whether they think all their heights added together would be longer or shorter than that. She then measures off a 25-foot section down the school's hallway.

The students lie head to head and foot to foot in the marked-off space, and realize that they are, indeed, longer than that 25-foot dinosaur.

From the looks on the children's faces, it's easy to see that this is a place where learning and fun go hand in hand.

Rainbow Preschool is in its sixth year in Tracy. The preschool is open five days a week, and there are two groups that come in every other day from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m.

The two groups of 12 students are made up of mostly 4- and 5-year-olds. Children must be at least 3-1/2 to attend preschool.

Superintendent search process discussed

Only a handful of people turned out to give the Tracy Area Public Schools board of education their opinion about the superintendent search process.

The main topic of discussion was what the superintendent hiring committee will look like. District 417 needs to hire a new superintendent, because Dr. Rick Clark has resigned as superintendent effective June 30.

Jeff Salmon suggested that the board could include some community members.

“We need to open up the lines of communication to the whole community,” he said. “This would be a way to do that.”

Salmon indicated that he would be interested in participating in the committee should the board choose to appoint community members.

“It's a small step toward pulling things together,” he added, especially in light of budget issues that may result from the state's large budget deficit.

The board also expressed a desire to have school employee representation on the committee.

Teacher Suanne Christiansen said the teachers would like to see representatives from the elementary and high school teaching staffs. She also suggested that support staff be included.

Liquor store to cut worker hours, raise drink prices

A plan is being implemented to boost profits at the Tracy Municipal Liquor Store.

Changes at the Tracy Municipal Liquor Store are being implemented to boost profits.

Liquor Store Manager Ron Radke estimates that the changes can improve the operation's margin by $42,000 a year.

Reduced employee hours and an increase in drink prices are the major changes.

Radke estimates that a 25-cent increase in drink prices will generate $12,000 annually.

Reducing hours by the equivalence of one full-time employee will save an estimated $28,000 a year.

A third change is a $200 monthly increase in the rent charged to a charitable gambling pull-tab operation. That will generate an extra $2,400 annually.

The changes were recommended by Radke and approved by city council members Monday night. Radke told city council members two weeks ago that rising expenses and declining profits concerned him. Council members asked him to come up with a plan to increase profits.

Student altruism translates into 59 units donated blood

Tracy Area High School students rolled up their sleeves and donated nearly 60 units of blood this week.

TAHS' peer helpers sponsored the Community Blood Bank Monday. The blood bank was also at Tracy Area Medical Services.

The peer helpers' goal was to collect 59 units of blood. Though about 70 people were signed up to give blood, the blood drive fell one unit short of its goal. However, it did tie the high of 58 achieved in the fall.

The students put up posters, and went around to classes asking those over-17 to donate. Those who donated were rewarded with free T-shirts and, of course, food following their donation.

The peer helpers sponsor two blood drives each year, one in the fall and one later during the school year.

The peer helpers plan to sponsor the Community Blood Bank again at their next blood drive. The students noted that they like knowing their blood is helping people in this area.

“This is local, which is really cool,” said peer helper Anders Davidson.

Community Blood Bank's Executive Director, Reid Holsen, said he was thrilled with the response shown at TAHS. It was the first time Community Blood Bank has been to the school.

“These kids are just great,” he said. “It's incredible. I'm just blown away.”

He told the students to remember that each unit of blood collected at the school would help three other people, meaning that nearly 180 people benefited from their hard work.