News from the week of September 21, 2005
New Sebastian Park bathroom included in city budget
The City of Tracy’s 2006 property tax will increase 6.5 percent, if a preliminary tax levy adopted last week remains intact.
However, several council members indicated that they will be looking for ways to trim the levy and the city’s 2006 budget before the end of the year.
“We need to go through this budget and look for places to cut,” said council member Sandi Rettmer.
Jan Arvizu agreed. But said she was comfortable passing the preliminary budget and levy, with the knowledge that the council can still pare down the proposed spending for next year.
The preliminary tax levy is used for truth in taxation statements that will be mailed to property owners this fall. The preliminary levy can be reduced, but not increased, when a final budget and levy is set at year-end.
The preliminary levy calls for taxation of $441,424 for the general fund, $15,000 for the permanent improvement fund, and $331,500 for payments on bonded city debt. The City of Tracy’s truth in taxation hearing is set Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
Park bathroom proposed
The city’s preliminary budget includes money for several major capital expenditures in the general fund.
A $25,000 expenditure is penciled in for the construction of a new bathroom facility at Sebastian Park, where in 2003 new playground equipment and a picnic shelter were built. A handicapped-accessible bathroom was a stipulation of the federal LAWCON grant that helped pay for the new playground equipment.
A new telephone system proposed at City Hall and the Veterans’ Memorial Center has an estimated $14,000 cost. The new system would offer services such as voice mail and the ability to set up conference calls for City Hall offices, the Tracy Police Dept., and the Tracy Economic Development Authority. A $7,000 expenditure to improve acoustics in the Veterans’ Memorial Center gymnasium is budgeted, as is $6,000 for new election equipment that is required by the state.
Increased pool budget
A major change in the 2006 general fund budget is due to the anticipated re-opening of the Tracy Aquatic Center. The budget includes $60,000 to fund a projected 2006 operating deficit in aquatic center operations. A total of $32,000 was budgeted for the aquatic center’s operating deficit this year. The smaller budget for this year reflected the hope last fall that the aquatic center would be open for a portion of this summer.
City Administrator Audrey Koopman has told council members that $60,000 in aquatic center expenses may be overly pessimistic. She indicated that she set the conservative figure because of uncertainties related to the pool being closed for two years. In 2003, the aquatic center’s last full year of operation, aquatic center expenses were $60,000 more than operating revenues. The 2003 deficit was caused, in part, by high water heating and chemical costs at the pool due to a severe leakage problem. It is expected that a repaired pool will have significantly reduced operating costs.
The preliminary budget calls for $20,000 for “code enforcement” to clear vacant, dilapidated buildings. The city also budgeted $20,000 for code enforcement this year, but has spent only about $2,500. City leaders hope that the 2005 and 2006 code enforcement money can help Tracy qualify for a $100,000 grant for razing substandard structures.
City wages & benefits
Proposed general fund spending is based upon a three percent across-the-board increase in wage scales for the city’s full- and part-time employees at city hall, the police department, public works, and the library. The city has six full-time employees in the public works department, four in administration, two at the liquor store, and four in the police department. Workers in the library and senior center are all part-time.
The three percent increase is exceeded in two areas.
Public Works Director Rick Robinson is proposed to get a 13.2 percent increase (about $6,000). Koopman is recommending the increase because of the money Robinson has saved the city by taking over the management of the city’s utility department (which had been managed by People Service) and his work on several other major city projects. At a recent city council meeting, council members voiced support for increasing Robinson’s pay because of his job performance and the additional responsibilities he has taken on in managing the water plant.
A proposed reduction in the number of years that it takes police officers to reach the highest level of pay, from 30 to 10, also puts police department raises over 3% wage increase. Koopman recommended the change because of what she called below average pay scales for Tracy police compared with other departments in the area. The proposed change for city police is subject to agreement by the city’s police union.
The city’s 2006 budget also reflects increased employer contributions for worker fringe benefits.
Increased city contributions are budgeted for employee contributions for health insurance, which rose 16.5 percent, and Public Employee Retirement Account payments. The city’s share for PERA contributions is scheduled to increase to six percent from 5.53 percent.
The Tracy Fire Dept. budget is proposed for a 27.7 percent increase, from $95,765 this year to $122,333 in 2006. A seven percent increase in wages is proposed from $24,745 to $26,650. The amount proposed for an equipment replacement fund would increase from $18,000 to $25,000. The department had requested $50,000 be allocated for the equipment replacement fund.
The proposed budget omits a $19,500 fire department request to resurface the parking lot north of the fire department garage.
The Tracy Public Library is proposed for an 8.25 percent spending increase, from $43,815 this year to $47,430 in 2006. A library board recommendation to increase library hours is a major reason for the increase. Library wages are proposed to increase 11.4 percent, from $18,000 to $20,600 in 2006.
Mayor & council
The preliminary 2006 budget gives the mayor and city council members a raise. The mayor and council members would receive an extra $5 for each meeting attended, to $30 a meeting for the mayor and $25 a meeting for each council member. The annual salaries of $2,500 for the mayor and $2,000 for the council would remain the same.
The 2006 budget includes $5,000 for new park equipment and $4,000 for new picnic tables and trees.
Overall general fund spending
Proposed general fund expenditures by individual categories, compared to 2005 budgets, are:
Mayor & council: $24,330, up from $22,977.
Elections: $7,750, up from $1,000 (non-election year in 2005).
Administration: $289,110, up from $268,961.
Assessing: $11,600, up from $11,600.
Legal services: $37,980, up from $32,136.
Economic development: $89,111; up from $71,655.
Municipal building: $118,073, down from $119,588.
Police protection: $266,112, up from $226,955.
Police civil service: $100, unchanged.
Fire protection: $122,333, up from $95,765.
Building inspection: $28,209, down from $29,087.
Civil defense: $500, down from $700.
Ambulance garage: $16,836 unchanged.
Streets & parks: $552,030, up from $507,766.
Street lighting: $28,500, unchanged.
Library: $47,430, up from $43,815.
St. Mark’s Museum: $3,200, unchanged.
Community Education (Tracy Aquatic Center): $60,000, up from $32,000.
Airport maintenance: $17,344, down from $21,344.
Unallocated: $59,046, down from $60,163.
Other financial uses: $15,000, up from $12.637.
Senior center: $42,796, up from $43,163.
Cemetery maintenance: $20,900, down from $32,400.
Aquatic center rulings called 'good news' for city
The City of Tracy won two recent legal battles in its Aquatic Center litigation.
On August 15, Judge George Harrelson denied motions that some information be thrown out of the city’s litigation because of an alleged “spoilage of evidence.” Motions filed for Olympic Pools and USAquatics argued that the City of Tracy and its agents had not provided them with adequate notice before the removal of the Aquatic Center’s “Diamond Bright” finish coat that began on Oct. 21, 2003. (The Diamond Bright surface was removed as part of tests to determine the structural soundness of the Aquatic Center). The defense motions argued that Olympic Pools, a pool contractor; and USAquatics, the pool’s designer & project manager; had not been notified until Oct. 22, 2003, and that data from subsequent tests should be disallowed.
Judge Harrelson denied the motions on evidence submitted by the city’s legal counsel James Kerr, that Olympic and USAquatics had been given notice of the tests on Oct. 7, 8, and 14 of 2003.
Judge Harrelson also denied a motion by two insurance companies. The professional liability insurer for USAquatics and the general liability insurer for Olympic asked the court to rule on the scope of their policies’ liability coverage. Judge Harrelson denied a motion to intervene.
Kerr called the rulings “very good news” for the city’s aquatic center litigation in a report to Tracy City Council members August 29.
• • •
The City of Tracy is seeking monetary damages for what it claims is faulty construction and design work for the $1.8 million Tracy Aquatic Center, which opened in July of 2002. The aquatic center has been closed since the end of the 2003 swimming season. A $1.2 million repair project is now underway, with the objective of re-opening next spring.
The lawsuit is scheduled to come to trial in January. The city seeks reimbursement for the pool repairs, as well as expenses related to its litigation. Through the mid-August, the City of Tracy had spent $708,416 on its aquatic center litigation.
Tax-forfeiture sale has 29 properties in
Values reduced in effort to attract buyers
The Lyon County auction sale of tax-forfeited real estate scheduled for next week includes 29 properties in Tracy.
The sale begins at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27, at the Lyon County Government Center.
The real estate that will be offered at the sale has been forfeited to the State of Minnesota for non-payment of real estate taxes. Bidding begins at an appraised price established by Lyon County.
Tax-forfeited real estate in Tracy comprises nearly three-fourths of the 40 parcels listed for the sale. The Lyon County Board of Commissioners reduced the assessed values of many of the tax-forfeit Tracy properties earlier this year in an effort to attract buyers and get the real estate back on tax rolls.
Many of the tax-forfeit properties in Tracy are small lots in older sections of town. But six parcels have empty, older houses. Two buildings in Downtown Tracy are listed.
The assessed value established by Lyon County is the minimum amount the county will accept for the properties. Buyers are also responsible for any special assessments listed against each property. Buyers will get a “state deed,” meaning that some additional work by the buyer could be necessary to obtain a clear-title “warranty deed.”
Robert Gervais, Tracy Community Development director, worked with Lyon County officials this spring to get the assessed values reduced on many properties. He said he has fielded many inquiries on some of Tracy’s tax forfeit properties. The Tracy Economic Development Authority has expressed interest in obtaining at least two parcels as part of larger redevelopment projects.
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The tax-forfeit properties in Tracy include:
Bare lot 78 Morgan, $10.
Bare lot 124 South St., $100, special assessments $431.
Bare lot corner of South and Second streets, $10, special assessments $3,409.
Bare lot near on Morgan St. south of Methodist Church, $50, special assessments $2.117.
Vacant house 131 Morgan, $2,500, $688 special assessments.
Bare lots Morgan St. east of 131 Morgan, $400, special assessments $262.
Commercial building 130 Third St. $2,500, special assessments. $50.56.
Commercial building Third St. (former Coast-to-Coast) $1,500, special assessments $80.08.
Bare lot 354 South St. $50, special assessments $222.83.
Bare lot 477 Morgan St, $50, special assessments $110.
Bare lot 336 Sixth St. $100, special assessments $9,719.
Bare lot Sixth St. next to 336 Sixth St. lot $10, special assessments $79.
Vacant house 451 Fifth St, $500, special assessments $2,394.
Bare lot at corner of Emory & Center, $100.
Bare lot 424 Emory, $10.
Bare lot 573 Third St $10.
Vacant house at 301 Sixth St. $500, special assessments $360.
Lot 800 Rowland, $5,000, special assessments $150.83.
Vacant lot 136 State St., $1,000, special assessments $322.
Vacant house 200 State St., $10,000, special assessments $322.
Vacant house 174 Center $1,000, special assessments $78.
Vacant house 200 East Morgan $2,000.
Vacant house, 3 lots 351 South Fourth St.. Three separate parcels $100 each.
Sixteen platted but undeveloped lots, about one acre, north of Roosevelt, east of North Center $700.
Two lots on Roosevelt $100; special assessments $1,795.
• • •
Legal descriptions of the tax delinquent properties were published in the August 31 Tracy Headlight-Herald. The list is also available at the Lyon County Government Center and at Tracy City Hall.
Jason Swanson named new Chamber director
Christmas is just around the corner for Jason Swanson.
The newly-hired Tracy Chamber of Commerce director says that he has already started thinking about Tracy’s Old-Fashioned Christmas celebration, which will be his first major Chamber event.
“I’m looking forward to getting started on that,” said Swanson of the Nov. 20 Christmas kick-off.
The 23-year-old succeeds JoAnn Biren of rural Iona, who resigned to accept a religious youth education job with Catholic parishes in Slayton, Lake Wilson, and Iona. Her last day of work with the Chamber was Sept. 8.
A 2004 graduate of Bemidji State, Swanson grew up in the Walnut Grove area. He and his wife, Devon, were married this summer and live in Tracy. Devon is a 2001 Tracy Area High School grad.
Prior to accepting the Chamber position, Swanson was a yard manager for Greenwood Nursery of Tracy. He is a 2000 graduate of Westbrook/Walnut Grove High School.
Swanson said that he enjoys living in the area and looks forward to meeting local business people.
The Chamber position, he feels, is a chance to “give back to the community.” He added that he has fond memories of events such as Tracy Box Car Days and Stinker Days, and will enjoy promoting such events going for a new generation.
Organizing and re-arranging the Chamber office will be his first order of business, Swanson said. Then it will be on to preparations for the Old- Christmas and the Spring Sportsmen’s Show.
Swanson indicated that he hopes to bring new ideas to the Chamber, while building on successful traditions.
“People are always welcome to stop in with suggestions or new ideas,” he said. During his first week on the job, Swanson attended his first Chamber board meeting, and sat in on two committee meetings.
The Tracy Chamber has 94 members.
“I’d like to get that to over 100,” he said.
• • •
Chamber President Lori Hebig said that the Chamber’s interview committee was attracted to Swanson’s “creative energy.”
“We’re excited about Jason. He has a lot of good ideas and is going to keep the Chamber moving in a positive direction.”
Swanson was selected from a field of eight applicants. The Chamber director position is for about 30 hours a week. His regular office hours will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. The Chamber of Commerce office is located on the west end of the Tracy Veterans’ Memorial Center.
Riders remember Danny Anderson,
raise money for fire department
Just over $1,400 was given to the Tracy Fire Department last week in memory of Danny Anderson.
The money was raised during a Labor Day weekend motorcycle run that had more than 40 participants.
“Everyone who rode in it had an excellent time,” said Lynn Petersen, who helped organize the event with her daughter, Karin Radke. Some people followed in cars.
Riders gathered at This Ol’ Place in Garvin for the start. The Sept. 3 ride included stops at Key Largo and Breezy Point on Lake Shetek, and the Log Cabin in Dovray. The ride ended with supper and Karaoke in Garvin.
Anderson, a 1971 graduate of Tracy Area High School, died in a house fire in May of 2003.
Petersen said that the event began with the idea of organizing a tribute for Anderson. It was then decided to make the ride a fund-raiser for the fire department.
Petersen said that Anderson didn’t own a motorcycle. But she thought it was the kind of event he would have enjoyed.
“People joined with us on the way and had a good time.”
Anderson was the son of Vera and the late Ken Anderson of Tracy.