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News from the week of May 12, 2004

Happily ever after?

School musical gives new twist to fairytale characters

A bit of Broadway comes to Tracy Area High School this weekend.

Into the Woods, a three-time Tony Award-winning Broadway musical will be staged by TAHS students Saturday and Sunday. Curtain time is 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday on the high school gym stage.

The production, the first high school musical at Tracy in many years, is being directed by Susan Kluge. Seventeen students make up the cast.

"The kids have been working really hard," said Kluge.

Into the Woods treats the audience to an unorthodox view of several familiar Grimm Brothers Fairy Tales, while telling an original story.

A baker (Brad Lanoue) and his wife (Johanna Schmidt) want desperately to have a baby, but find themselves vexed by a curse that has kept them childless. A wretched witch (Emily Baumann) tells the couple that she will reverse the spell only if she is brought four ingredients: "A Slipper As Pure As Gold," "A Cow As White As Milk," "A Cape As Red As Blood," and "Hair As Yellow As Corn."

The couple's quest brings them into contact with Little Red Riding Hood (Allison Rasmussen), Cinderella (Kayla VanKeulen), Jack (Ben Van Moer), Cinderella's stepmother (Ann Lanoue), Cinderella's stepsisters (Bekah Zens, Melissa Noerenberg), Jack's mother (Kim Lenertz), Wolf (Levi Miller), Mysterious Man (Kyle Lessman), Rapunzel (Casie Miller), Rapunzel's Prince (Derek Daniels), Cinderella's Prince (David Jones), steward (Dane Bloch). Nick Miller is the narrator.

Each character sets out "into the woods" in a journey to live "happily ever after." Little Red Riding Hood is off to grandmother's house. Cinderella is off to a ball to win the heart of Prince Charming. Jack is supposed to sell the family cow. Rapunzel wants to escape from her tower and meet her prince. Each character finds fulfillment in their journey, but in unexpected ways.

"What I think is the best part about each character's journey 'into the woods,' besides the show being quite funny, is the lesson that each character learns," said Kluge. "We have all heard these morals from our parents and been influenced by them when we all read these stories as children. But, as in real life, real comprehension of these lessons only comes through experience."

Tracy home-buyer program to offer 0%, 30-year loans

A program designed to help people buy homes in Tracy will soon be even more attractive.

Hoping to encourage more participation in the City of Tracy's down payment assistance program, the Tracy Economic Development Authority last week approved these changes:

No interest down payment assistance loans. New policy will allow home buyers to receive a $5,000 no-interest loan, for a period of up to 30 years. Past down payment assistance loans have been at a 1% interest rate.

Longer terms. The down payment loans will be for up to 30 years. The maximum term in the past was 15 years.

No monthly loan payments. Monthly payments on the down payment assistance loan do not have to be made until the first mortgage is satisfied.

Higher income limits. In the past, buyers could not exceed 80% of gross median household income level for the state. The new limit is 115% of state median income.

Higher purchase price. The new guidelines allow buyers to acquire property with a sale price of up to $100,000.

Lower potential interest rates on first mortgage. Buyers still need to qualify with a lender for a first mortgage, but the buyer can work with any lender, and the loan can be sold on the secondary market.

The changes were recommended by the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. EDA members had asked for the suggestions, after wondering what could be done to spark more interest in the program.

The down payment assistant program was launched by the EDA in the 1990s as a way to help low and moderate-income people buy homes in Tracy. A $25,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, matched by a $25,000 appropriation from the Tracy City Council, established the fund. The down payment assistant program now has about $75,000 in assets, according to Community Development Director Robert Gervais. The program has about $40,000 that is available in cash, plus about $35,000 in existing loans to about 15 households. Because of the state grant money that was originally involved, the fund can only be used for housing-related programs.

There has been little interest in the program recently. Ali Nelson, Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership representative, told the EDA that the fall-off is due to first-mortgage interest rates that have not been competitive recently.

"I think these changes are good," said EDA Vice Chairman Bill Chukuske, "The point is to get people to buy homes in Tracy."

The new policy guidelines, Gervais said, will go into effect by about July 1.

School improvements move forward

The Tracy Area Public School board has approved over $825,000 in capital outlay expenses for the 2004-2005 school year.

Major projects in the capital outlay budget include the second phase of an elementary school roof repair project, for which the board budgeted $126,000, and water and tile work for $120,000.

In order to subsidize the capital outlay budget, the district will have to use $226,000 from the general fund balance.

The district had $603,562 available for capital outlay requests. With a number of fixed expenses and contracts in the capital outlay budget, totaling $519,000, only $84,447 remained for district and staff requests.

Superintendent David Marlette said that taking $226,000 from the general fund should be no problem for the district. Projections from the district financial office estimate a $1.2 million fund balance at the end of this fiscal year.

In the administrative recommendations, the capital outlay budget sheet did not include the entire roofing and tile projects. The board decided that it would be better to budget the entire amount it is estimated will be needed for these projects. In doing the roofing project all at once, it could save the district as much as $12,000, it has been estimated.

The board also felt that the water and tile project should move forward as soon as possible. Both the high school and elementary school buildings have had water drainage problems in the past several years, and tile installation has been strongly considered in order to draw water away from the buildings.

Another capital request, refinishing and relining of the high school gymnasium floor, was put off for another year until the water issue is taken care of.

The capital outlay budget also includes $20,000 for the athletic department. A portion of this money will be used for locker replacement and outfield fence replacement. The board approved $5,770 for elementary school requests and $18,588 for requests at the high school.

Charter still balking at new franchise terms

Charter Communications has still not accepted the terms of a new cable television ordinance, legal counsel Jim Kerr advised the Tracy City Council Monday night.

Twenty-six points are being contested by Charter, Kerr said.

"Many of these are housekeeping items. All of them could have been brought up before we passed the ordinance. It is very significant to me that Prairie Wave has had no objections to an identical ordinance."

Kerr said that Robert Vose, the city's consulting attorney who worked with both Prairie Wave and Charter on the cable franchise renewals, would make a recommendation to the council prior to its next meeting.

Council member Jan Arvizu asked why the city had changed its franchise fee to 5% of gross revenues, instead of the $2,500 annual fee that had been charged.

"Why are we, in effect, taxing our people," she said, saying that the increased franchise fee would only be passed on to consumers.

Kerr responded that he didn't know how Arvizu could consider a franchise fee to be a tax to consumers. "This is a fee to them for the privilege of them doing business (in Tracy)." For Tracy to not charge a franchise fee, he said, would be "a huge mistake." Kerr pointed out that the city had not gotten the 5% franchise fee from Charter.

Arvizu asked what the franchise fee revenues would be used for. City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that the money goes into the general fund, and does not have any designated purpose.

Other items on the council's May 10 agenda included:

Vandalism suspects charged—Police Chief Bryan Hillger said that three juvenile females had been charged with setting a fire in the women's bathroom at Central Park.

Harvey Street water main—A new water main has been installed on Harvey Street, between Fifth and Sixth streets, Public Works Director Rick Robinson reported. Some new water service lines and a fire hydrant also needed to be installed, he said.

Compost dump hours—Restricted hours for the city's compost dump have gone into effect, Robinson reported. Hours are 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, and 1 to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. A city monitor is on duty during the hours. Robinson said that some people had needed "educating" about what materials are allowed at the dump, since the monitor went on duty. The city monitor has orders to call police or take down license plates numbers of people who illegally deposit materials at the compost site.

Airport plan—A recommendation for the Tracy Airport Commission was approved to hire the engineering firm of Short, Elliot & Hendricks to draft a new airport layout plan. The plan is required for state and grant money for future airport improvements.

Brian Meyer, an engineer for the company, told the council that besides drafting the plan, SEH would be available as a resource for the commission, and oversee airport projects.

"I have personally managed more than 80 airport projects over 20 years. Airports is what I do," Meyer told the council.

Ninety-five percent of the airport layout plan costs will be paid by a federal grant. Tracy's existing airport plan dates from the 1960s.

Money doubts fold 'permanent structure'

The idea of building an open-sided pavilion for Tracy community events has been shelved indefinitely.

Tracy City Council members agreed to stop pursuing the proposed "permanent structure," after hearing that the Tracy Economic Development Authority didn't want its future financial resources tied up by the project.

Councilman Tim Byrne, who also serves on the EDA, said EDA members asked themselves whether the authority had the money to support the project. "The answer is no, we do not," Byrne said.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano responded, "So, does that end our discussion of this?"

Yes, other council members indicated. Jan Otto-Arvizu said she did not want any money spent on project planning. Those costs had been estimated at between $5,600 for architectural drawings, surveying, and soil sampling. The cost for a 60x120-foot shelter was over $70,000.

The proposed shelter, to be building in the municipal parking lot south of Tracy City Hall, has been under discussion since last fall. The idea was to use the pavilion for events such as the Box Car Days beer gardens and the spring sportsmen's show. The Tracy Chamber of Commerce offered to pay for half of the building's cost by making annual payments of $1,500 a year, plus a portion of profits from the sportsmen's show, if the city would finance the project. Talk of the parking lot building was initiated by the Chamber, which no longer had a serviceable tent for its Box Car Days beer gardens beginning in 2003. Some people felt it would be less expensive in the long run to erect some kind of shelter, in place of the on-going tent rental costs.

Three bids—ranging from $71,283 to $77,972—were considered by the council in November. The bids were rejected, but the council later agreed to reconsider the matter hearing an appeal from Tracy business leaders.

"We will make it work," said Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director, after the council made it's decision. This year, however, Gervais noted that the Chamber will spend $3,600 on tent rentals this year.

Gervais was asked if is feasible for the Chamber to simply buy another tent.

A used 60x120-foot tent would cost about $24,000, he said, with a new tent going for about $34,000. Life expectancy for a tent is about 15 years, he said.

On the positive side, Gervais said that the new tents that the Chamber has rented are much easier to put up compared with the Chamber's old canvas tent.

Eggs-iting ag lesson brings chicks to school

By Val Scherbart Quist

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

That's a pretty philosophical question for a third-grader—a question one third grader just couldn't resist asking as he and his classmates wrapped up a 26-day chicken-farming experience.

The ag in the classroom experience was led by Tracy Area High School graduate Kristin Campbell Harner, through the Minnesota Farm Bureau. Harner coordinates ag in the classroom activities for the Farm Bureau, and although she doesn't get to lead too many of them herself, she makes an exception to return to her hometown.

Harner brought the eggs to be hatched to the third grade classroom on April 15. The students “candled” (checked to see if the chicks were growing) on April 23. The chicks began hatching on May 5, and were brought back to their farm on Monday.

There are many things to learn about poultry production in Minnesota, Harner told the students. Minnesota is eighth in egg production in the U.S., and number one in turkey production.

“For 26 days, you took care of the baby chicks the best you could,” she said. “The same is true for agriculture in everyday life.”

Fifty percent of the eggs brought to the classroom hatched. On a modern farm, farmers want 90 percent of the chicks to hatch. Harner discussed with the students the many reasons why some of their chicks may not have hatched.

She explained that the chicks that had hatched in the classroom would go back to the farm where the hens would produce eggs until they got old, and then be used to make chicken noodle soup. The roosters would be butchered for their meat.

“They're not our pets when they're on our farms,” she explained.

Campbell visited several classrooms at Tracy Elementary on Monday. Second graders participated in a “garden in a glove” activity, fifth graders learned about papermaking, and the fourth grade class learned about Minnesota agriculture.