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News from the week of April 28, 2004

Two options remain in tri-hospital planning

As council member Jan Arvizu put it, Tracy stands "at a fork in the road" in its health-care planning. But just exactly where the diverging paths lead remained an unanswered question following a one-hour meeting involving the Tracy City Council and Tracy Area Medical Services (TAMS) board members, administrators and medical providers Tuesday.

But consensus was reached that a tri-hospital planning task force needs to continue its work.

"(The task force) has to go forward and make a recommendation," said Mayor Steve Ferrazzano, at the meeting's conclusion. "We all realize that we have to do something. We won't have any options unless the task force gives us something to consider."

Options narrowed

A planning task force involving representatives of TAMS, the Westbrook Health Care Center, and Murray County Memorial Hospital have been discussing options for improving specialty medical services since late last year. Five options have been narrowed to two. They are:

• Improve outreach facilities in each of the three communities, with each site developing specialties that compliment the other sister sites. Medical specialists would be recruited for each site.

• Cooperatively build a central specialty clinic at a neutral site, and cooperatively recruit specialists for the clinic. Each community would continue to operate its own primary care medical clinic, hospital, and emergency room.

The two options were the focus of the Tuesday night discussion.

Legal limitations

Jim Kerr, long-time Tracy legal counsel, said that state statutes put strict limits on the city's authority to financially support any project outside of city limits. The City of Tracy, according to state statute, can establish, maintain and operate only within city limits.

State statute, he said, also stood in the way of the city establishing a hospital district with Murray County and Westbrook.

The City of Tracy could borrow money through a bond issue for hospital improvements within city limits, Kerr said. In his opinion, such bonding should go forward only through a vote of the people.

Would legal restrictions absolutely prohibit Tracy's participation in the establishment of a centrally-located specialty clinic? Kerr was asked later in the meeting.

"You can always have special legislation," Kerr responded. "That is how you get a Twins stadium."

"Keep open mind"

Dave Zwach, a TAMS board member from Milroy, said he felt it was important for people "to keep an open mind." The chairman of the tri-county task force, Zwach said that he personally felt that a central medical clinic was the best option, because it would provide the best opportunities for attracting the needed specialists. He said he would support whatever decision the council makes.

"I was born here. I've doctored in Tracy all my life. My five kids were born here. My loyalties lie here in Tracy...I feel strongly that our goal should be to get our doctors the best possible environment to work in."

Improve local facilities

Arvizu felt that, in light of Kerr's legal analysis, t Tracy's only option for improving its medical services, is to improve its own facilities. She said that each of the three communities should agree which medical specialties each will offer, and plan its building improvements accordingly.

The councilwoman said she strongly supported improving diagnostic equipment and facilities at each site. If the long term, Tracy Hospital will not be able to survive if it does not improve its outreach and diagnostic facilities, Arvizu said.

Prom theme promises Magic of Paris, France

Tracy Area High School prom attendees have a chance to experience the charms of Paris, France, without stepping outside Lyon County.

"Une Soiree Dans Paris" (An Evening in Paris) is the theme for the 2004 prom Saturday. The public is invited to watch the grand march, which begins at 8 p.m. in the high school gym. Doors open at 7 p.m. A dollar admission is being charged to defray decorating costs.

In keeping with the Paris theme, the gym decorations will include an Eiffel Tower and an Arch d'triumph.

Seventy-six couples are signed up for the grand march, which will be followed by a dance. The dance begins at 9 p.m., or whenever camera-toting parents and well-wishers are cleared from the gym. Adults are invited to look at the decorating for the after-prom party following the grand march.

The prom dance continues until midnight.

Prior to arriving at the prom, many couples are expected to follow the tradition of having pictures taken and going out for dinner.

An after-prom party begins at 1 a.m. in the high school cafeteria, and will continue until 4 a.m. Festivities will wrap up with a 4 a.m. breakfast at the Red Rooster.

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The after-prom party is sponsored and planned by parents and other adults. A total of 130 people had registered to attend the after-prom party early this week. Students do not have to go to prom in order to attend the party, but do need to sign-up at the high school office in advance.

A host of casino-style games and other activities are planned from 1 to 2:30 a.m. Jerry Frasier, a professional entertainer and magician, will perform from 2:30 to 3:30 a.m. Drawings for a host of prizes will be held from 3:30 to 4 a.m.

Students are invited to a free buffet breakfast at the Red Rooster, which is being donated by owners Robert and Donna Caron.

There is no charge for the after-prom party for students. But kids must agree to arrive at the party by 1 a.m., and stay until 4 a.m.

Sewer bypass cost estimated at $168,000

Compliance with a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency sewer bypass rule will come at a steep price for the City of Tracy.

A plan to upgrade a sewer bypass structure on Hollett Street East has an estimated $168,000 price tag. Tracy City Council members gave tentative approval to the plans Monday. If all goes as expected, construction on the device will begin in late summer.

The existing sewer bypass structure allows overflows from the sanitary sewer into the city's storm sewer system during periods of rapid water run-off, such as a heavy rain or a sudden snow melt. The city now has a state permit to utilize the existing structure until August 1.

After that date, the state wants a gate on the structure that has to be manually opened and shut. Alarms would go off when flows reach a certain level, requiring city personnel to open the bypass. City personnel would also be required to take samples of the overflow, and document water quality downstream.

(An overloaded sanitary sewer is caused by storm water entering the storm sewer. The water can come from sources such as illegal foundation and roof drains, sump pumps illegally connected to the sanitary sewer, and improper connections between the storm and sanitary sewer. If the sanitary sewer becomes overloaded, without any other place to go, sewage can back up in people's homes and yards).

In addition to a new control structure and alarm system on the Hollett St bypass, the project also calls for the abandonment of a sewer line that runs across private property. In one instance, a sewer is thought to run under an individual's house. About 300 feet of sanitary sewer, and 150-feet of storm sewer, will be installed along Hollett Street East, in city park property. New sewer line will also be installed in about a half block of Second Street East, from the intersection of Hollett.

Several residential sewer service lines will be replaced along Hollett. Robinson wants to bore under Hollett Street for the service lines, rather than cutting trenches across the street.

The sewer bypass plans were okayed by the council, subject to Robinson's review.

Tracy property values rise

Property values are on the upswing in Tracy.

Estimated market values on Tracy residential properties have increased seven to eight percent from a year ago, according to City Assessor Orlin Bruss.

The increase was reflected in 2004 property valuations that were mailed out by the Lyon County Assessor's office. The 2004 valuations will be used for calculating property taxes payable in 2005.

The increased valuations are based upon 32 real estate sales in Tracy over the past year. The general trend, Bruss said, is higher sale prices.

"Sales have been coming in fairly strong in Tracy," Bruss said. "The market is going up."

Generally, residential sale prices were significantly higher than the assessed estimated market value this past year. Based upon 2003 sales, the assessed value for residential Tracy properties was only 86% of the actual sale prices, Bruss said. By law, assessed values have to be at least 90% of average sale prices. That is why, Bruss explained, Tracy assessed values had to be increased to better reflect actual market conditions.

The seven to eight percent increase wasn't applied equally to all Tracy residential real estate. Property with values under $20,000 didn't change much, Bruss said. The greatest increases were applied on property with values above $30,000.

Bruss attributed the stronger Tracy real estate market to three factors: 1) An improved local economy, 2) A continued trend for people to work in Marshall and live in Tracy; 3) Rising new housing construction costs.

Commercial property values in Tracy, Bruss said, "are just starting to come back." Assessed commercial values stayed the same for 2004, reversing a four-year period of declines. Increases in commercial values likely would be looked at for next year, Bruss said.

Values for agricultural land within city limits increased about 20%, Bruss said, reflecting the trend of rising land values in surrounding townships.

New housing values

Despite rising housing values, Bruss said that Tracy still has an "economic obsolescence" factor that depresses the value of new housing construction. This factor, he said, often makes the sale value of new housing in Tracy less than the construction costs.

"It's not as much as it used to be, but it is still substantial."

For example, Bruss cited a newer home in Tracy that sold for $164,000 in 2003. That home would probably have cost about $220,000 to build new, he said.

Farmland values rise sharply

Rising agricultural land values are reflected in new real estate valuation statements mailed by the Lyon County Assessor's office recently.

"We are continuing to see increased sale prices for agricultural land," said Dean Champine, Lyon County assessor. "What we are seeing now, if the land is good, it will sell for over $2,000 an acre."

Agricultural land values in Lyon County increased an average of16 to 18% over 2003, Champine said. The 2004 valuations are used for figuring real estate taxes payable in 2005.

The farmland values had to be adjusted upward, Champine said, because the estimated market values had been just 81% of sale prices. State law requires assessors to keep estimated market values between 90 and 105% of sale prices on comparable property.

Champine looks for agricultural property values to be adjusted again next year. A recent land sale in Fairview Township came in at $2,800 an acre, he said. The 2004 estimated market values are based upon sales from Oct. 2003, through Sept. 30, 2003.

Current farmland prices, he indicated, are the highest he has seen in Lyon County since the peak of 1983-84. Ag property values have climbed since "bottoming out" in 1987-88, the assessor said.

Land values can vary a great deal across the county, Champine noted. In Rock Lake Township, tillable farmland is selling in the $1,600 to $1,900 an acre range. In Grandview Township, the average ag land value is $2,183 an acre.

The average estimated market value for farmland in Monroe Township in 2004 is $1,902 an acre. In Amiret Township, the value is $1,675 an acre; in Custer Township, $1,625; in Sodus Township, $1,502.

Values for rural home sites have increased too. Champine said that valuations for township farmsteads increased about 10% from 2003 to 2004.

First state Knowledge Bowl has competitive showing

A Tracy Area High School Knowledge Bowl team returned from state competition last week with a 12th place finish out of 24 teams.

The team, whose members are Jason Morin, Ryan Stobb, Dane Bloch, and Anders Davidson, was the first team to advance to state in the school's knowledge bowl history.

The team departed for Cragun's Resort in Brainerd on Tuesday morning, April 20. The team attended a banquet that evening before taking the written exam that would determine their placement in the competition the next day. The team did very well in the written round, with a second-place finish.

Other area teams did well in the first round as well; three of the four teams competing in the top group Wednesday morning were from regions six and eight in Southwest Minnesota.

Having not practiced much since regional competition due to various conflicts—including two of the team members being gone on a school trip to Spain and France—the team found that they were a little rusty starting out in the oral rounds. The team lost their first round, and dropped a few notches in the rankings.

The team turned it around in the second round of competition, and went on to win their next two rounds before losing again in the final round.

For team members Ryan Stobb and Anders Davidson, getting to state was a huge accomplishment in itself after falling just short of that goal two years in a row.

“It was nice to finally get there,” Davidson said.

Stobb said the competition at state was different from what they were used to. “That was a good thing,” he said. “We felt like we handled it pretty well.” “We had a good time,” added team member Dane Bloch.

Coach Eileen Schimming said the team did a great job, especially considering the lack of practice time they had ahead of time. “I'm very proud of them,” she said.

One thing she observed about the Tracy teams that wasn't always evident in the other teams competing was the teamwork the team exhibited. Each team member contributed answers and brought his own strength in the different subject areas, she said.