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News from the week of July 21, 2004

State political standoff could impact city aid

• $95,000 might be lost to Tracy

A political standoff in state government could cost the City of Tracy tens of thousands of dollars in state aid next year.

The impasse—which torpedoed efforts to fix a glitch the state's 2003 tax bill—could reduce state aid to Tracy by $95,000 next year. Many other rural municipalities could also lose aid.

At issue is a paragraph that was incorrectly left in the tax bill passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Tim Pawlenty last year. After the mistake was discovered, both the House and Senate voted this year to delete the offending language. But the measure was never adopted because the House and Senate didn't convene a conference committee. The legislature adjourned without passing the bill that corrected the 2003 mistake.

Unless the legislature convenes a special session, it will be up to Gov. Tim Pawlenty to interpret the conflicting language in current law.

"It depends on whether the governor goes by the letter of the law or the intent of the law," City Administrator Audrey Koopman told city council members last week. So far, Koopman said, Pawlenty has indicated he will follow the letter of the law.

A literal interpretation of the language would be bad news for Tracy. If the governor follows the letter of the law, Tracy would receive $745,355 in Local Government Aid from the state next year, according to the Minnesota Department of Revenue. If legislative intent is followed, Tracy would get about $95,000 more, or $840,746. Tracy's Local Government Aid for this year is pegged at $792,431.

In a memo to council members, Koopman expressed a wish that a legislative special session will fix the problem.

"Let's hope our legislators' and/or governor start acting like adults and resolve this matter," she wrote.

The uncertainty about Local Government Aid comes as most municipalities are starting to prepare budgets for 2005. Typically, the Tracy City Council takes a first look at its coming-year budget in August, and passes a preliminary property-tax levy based upon that budget in September.

Several council members noted that a reduction in state funding can be made up in one of only two ways: property tax increases and/or spending reductions.

Money still available for Small Cities home projects

The door is open for homeowners in Tracy's Small Cities target area to apply for grants to improve their homes.

As of last week, only 18 applications had been made for the $352,000 that's available for Small Cities program home improvement money. The grant program has budgeted 25 owner-occupied residential projects, or $14,080 per project.

Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director, encourages homeowners within the target area to apply.

"It's a great program," Gervais said, in a report to the Tracy City Council last week.

The 10-block target area is bounded by Fifth, Rowland, Center, and South streets. The Small Cities program includes grant money that does not have to be repaid, if homeowners meet certain conditions. Households must be income-eligible.

Fifteen of the 18 residential applications were in some stage of processing as of July 9. One project had been completed. Two applications were denied or withdrawn.

Applications go through a process that includes pre-application, processing, inspection, seeking construction bids, finance approval, awarding bids, construction, and inspection.

On July 9, only $39,413 of the $352,000 allocated for the Small Cities residential program had been spent.

Tracy schools wait on tiling improvements

By Val Scherbart Quist

The District 417 school board is taking a wait-and-see stance on a planned tile project.

The board has decided to wait until they hear more on the city's plans for drainage improvements before jumping into a large-scale project.

Superintendent David Marlette asked the board last week how quickly they would like to move forward with the tile work now that the city has hired an engineer. The board discussed waiting until the city receives the engineer's report and seeing what the advantages would be of tying into the city's project, or moving ahead on their own.

The board talked about the possibility of having a tile line near the elementary school inspected and cleaned or repaired. Marlette said that that is a county tile, and that the county is going to look into having it inspected and cleaned or repaired.

Marlette also told the board that he was in the process of getting an easement with a landowner whose land the school's tile line could go across. Board members expressed that the landowner had been cooperative with the district, and that they may as well move forward with getting the easement.

2000 Tracy grad is delegate at national Democrat convention

By Brady Averill

Garvin native Kara Nelson will be in the company of presidential and vice presidential candidates Sen. John Kerry and Sen. John Edwards next week.

She's headed to the National Democratic Convention in Boston, which begins Monday. The 22-year-old is among the youngest delegates attending the convention.

“It's much more youth-centered than it has been in the past,” the 2000 Tracy Area High School graduate said.

Minnesota is sending more young delegates than in previous years, making it “really unique and really exciting,” she said.

To make it to the National Democratic Convention, Nelson traveled a long road of politicking. First she was elected as a delegate through her precinct caucus. She was then elected as a delegate at her county convention. And finally, in April, she was one of eight national delegates selected at the Second Congressional District Convention.

When she was selected as a national delegate, Nelson didn't hide her surprise.

“I was shocked,” she said. She said she had planned on running, but didn't really expect to win, since the competition for national delegate slots is keen.

Most delegate candidates create literature when they run, but Nelson didn't. At the time, she was overloaded with schoolwork and worked on a national campaign, she said.

“But I still decided to run,” she said.

The first delegate announced was a 22-year-old she said. She didn't think the district would send another one. Then her name was announced.

“Rarely ever do they have anyone in their 20s,” she said.

National delegates are usually established party workers who possess a strong political network.

IHM begins $350,000 improvement project

Immaculate Heart of Mary in Currie is getting a facelift for the first time in 73 years.

The building committee's goal is to make the church more user-friendly. Included in the facelift are a new elevator, utility room, carport and air conditioning. The total addition is 32 by 34 feet.

The elevator and carport are designed to give people better access to the church. The elevator will allow people to attend mass without climbing stairs.

“We didn't want anyone not to go to church because they're handicapped,” said Romane Dold, parish administrator.

Most public buildings are required to be handicap accessible. The committee thought it was time to hop on board with other public places that long ago became handicap accessible.

“We just felt it was time to do that,” Dold said.

Air conditioning will be a cool relief on hot summer days for congregation members.

About a year ago, the Diocese of Winona began the “Seeds of Faith” fundraiser, which was designed for parishes to raise money for individual churches and the diocese. IHM incorporated the fundraiser into its church to raise money for this summer's projects.

The church's goal was to raise $200,000. It far surpassed its goal, raising $246,000. That, combined with the church's savings, will help pay for the $350,000 project.

During the church's 73-year existence, it only experienced minor decorating changes.

The anticipated completion date is Nov. 1.

School improvements underway

A host of Tracy Area Public School improvement projects are underway this summer.

"They are all things that need to be done," comments Supt. Dave Marlette. "If you don't maintain your schools, what have you got?"

Roof replacement at Tracy Area Elementary School is the largest project. Laraway Roofing of New Ulm is replacing 28,000 square feet of the school's roof. Cost is $125,450. The new ballast roof is being installed with a 2 1/2-inch layer of polystyrene insulation.

The roof section now being replaced dates from the elementary school's original construction. The school opened in 1971.

"We've had some problems with leaks. It was time to replace it." said Marlette. The school district did well, he added, to get over 30 years of life from the roof.

The first-phase of the elementary school's roof replacement was done last summer, when about half the roof was replaced. When the current project is completed, the school's entire roof will be either new or a year old.

Plans are to begin replacement of the high school roof next year. The high school's roof also dates from the building's original construction. The high school opened in 1970.

Other District 417 improvement projects this summer are:

Exterior door replacement—About $50,000 will be spent to replace exterior doors on the high school's north and east sides. Work has not yet begun, but completion is targeted prior to the first day of school this fall.

The doors, another original school fixture, are considered a security problem since door locks do not work well. Entrance doors are also not very energy-efficient, since they have just a single pane of glass.

This summer's door replacement is the first phase in a four-year plan to replace all exterior doors at both schools. The south and west sides of the high school are targeted for next year, followed by the elementary school doors in two subsequent years. The school board has $25,000 budgeted for door replacement in each of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 school years.

Storage sheds—Two new garages have been erected, one at Tracy Elementary and the other at high school site. Both buildings were prompted by a state fire marshal's inspection mandating that some storage items be moved outside of main school buildings.

The structure at the high school, which looks like a large triple-garage, is northwest of the football field/track stadium. OWL Construction did the $20,000 job.

A smaller building was constructed on the east side of the elementary school. Karl Campbell Construction built the $12,000 structure.

Kindergarten access doors—Because of the state fire marshal's inspection, new interior entrance doors are being added to each of the elementary school's two kindergarten rooms. At the present time, the kindergarten rooms are served by a single exit. The entrance does not meet code for the maximum number of children that sometimes occupy the rooms. Cost for each door, which will open into a hallway, is about $2,500.

New carpeting—About $10,000 is being spent to replace carpeting in sections of the high school's social studies wing (west side). Some of the carpet is thought to date from the school's original construction.

High school stage storage—An elevated storage area in the high school gym area is being sheet-rocked to meet fire code.