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News from the week of October 12, 2005

Hearing to consider utility rate increases

An Oct 24 public hearing has been scheduled to consider increased utility rates for City of Tracy residents.

The proposed increases are:

• A $2 monthly increase in the base charge for both sewer and water.

• A 20 cent per unit (750 gallons) in base water rates. It is estimated that a family using seven units of water would pay $5.40 a month more.

• Water hook-up rate for a house outside city limits would increase from $140 to $500.

• The fee for meter readings and estimates would go to $5 and $10.

The proposed increases can go into effect only by amending city ordinances. Tracy City Council members waived the first reading of the new ordinance, and set the Oct. 24 public hearing for the changes.

• • •

The utility increases would help pay for an $755,000 worth of proposed utility-related improvements in Tracy. They are:

• Improved water plant controls, fire hydrant replacement: $85,000.

• Water line valve replacement. At least 16 existing vales are inoperable: $40,000.

• Water meter replacement program: $130,000.

• South Tracy drainage improvements: $500,000.

JNB Originals to end operations

JNB Originals is reeling in its lines.

After eight years of hooking customers with innovative boat and bait control products, the Tracy company is discontinuing operations.

“We’ve had our successes, and have no regrets about trying this,” said Nancy Beech, who organized the company in 1997 with her husband, Joe. “We’ve met a lot of good people and had some wonderful experiences.” But, she added, changing economic conditions make it impractical to continue operations.

“It is very difficult for two people in a small town to run a manufacturing operation.”

JNB Originals cracked national sporting goods markets with first its WaveTamer boat-control drift sock, and later with a series of BaitTamer products. Their products were good enough to get onto the shelves of outdoor chains such as Cabela’s, Gander Mountain, Shields, Bass Pro and Thorn Brothers. Influential fishing pros endorsed their products.

“We produced durable, quality products that performed well,” Nancy Beech said. Marketing, billing, shipping, and inventory was handled at JNB’s 4,500 square foot facility. Independent contractors produced JNBs products in their homes. At its peak, JNB had eight independent contractor seamstresses, and employed 2-3 people at its Tracy facility. Joe, a driver for United Parcel Post, helped Nancy manage the business.

The business model worked well for a time, Nancy Beech said, until more competition entered the market and consumers began gravitating toward cheaper products.

Many of their outlets began developing their own private label drift bags and bait products.

“It’s hard when your own customers become competitors,” she said. For example, one of their customers opened a factory in Korea producing drift bags. Inexpensive foreign labor costs, Beech said, made it increasingly difficult for JNB to become price-competitive.

JNB produced far superior products than most competitors, Beech said. But in today’s marketplace, she said, most American consumers base their buying decisions mostly on cost, not performance and durability.

“It didn’t matter that our drift bag worked much better in the water, or that a competitor’s bag was made out of inferior materials that fell apart after a few uses.”

Competition in the sporting goods business, she feels, has become increasingly cutthroat over the last several years.

• • •

After liquidating existing inventory, the Beeches plan to sell their office and warehouse facility in Downtown Tracy. They may sell patent rights to some of their products. They have set not definite target date to end JNB operations.

They are weighing several job opportunities that have are available because of the JNB experience.

“For a couple of people without college educations, we did all right,” Nancy said. “This (running JNB) has been our Master’s degree.”

• • •

JNB Originals was formed in 1997. A drift bag that Nancy made for Joe, an avid tournament fisherman, was the catalyst. After other fishermen asked her to make drift bags for them, she began sewing the product as an offshoot of the tailoring business she operated in Downtown Tracy. In 1998, a larger manufacturing operation was launched from a building at their Highline Road home. In August of 2002 they moved JNB Originals to their current building at 379 Morgan St.

TAMS posts profit
'05 margin is million dollar improvement from 5 years ago

Tracy Area Medical Services (TAMS) has closed the books on its most successful financial year ever.

Combined hospital and clinic operations showed a bottom line of $501,892 for TAMS’s 2004-05 fiscal year. The margin is the largest that TAMS has shown since the Sioux Valley Health Network assumed the management of Tracy hospital and clinic operations in 1997.

Rick Nordahl, TAMS chief operating officer, attributed the positive bottom line to “our physicians and staff who work day in and day out to provide quality medical care to our patients.”

The 2004-05 profit is a sharp contrast to the red ink TAMS struggled with only a few years ago. A $580,804 loss was posted five years ago, and smaller losses were posted in two subsequent years. (See graph).

Profitability returned in fiscal 2002-03 with a $99,724 margin, followed by a $112,672 margin in 2003-04.

Total hospital and clinic revenues for 2004-05 were $9,146,253, an 11.8% increase from the previous year. The hospital accounted for $7,247,643 of revenue and the clinic $1,898,609. Allowances reduced total operating revenue by $1,481,169. The reduction left net operating revenues for the clinic and hospital at $7,801,525.

Spiderman would fit right in at Tracy Elementary

Kids are climbing the walls at Tracy Elementary School these days. But don’t get the idea that students are out-of-control.

“They love it,” says physical education teacher Kristin Haugo-Jones, about the new climbing wall installed in the school gym and cafeteria.

The 28-foot long, eight-foot high rock wall Everlast climbing wall was unveiled at a Sept. 30 school assembly. A student from each grade—plus veteran teacher Bonnie Hook—were chosen as the first climbers. “The wall” has been an enduring hit with students ever since.

“If I have other activities scheduled beside the climbing wall, the kids are disappointed,” smiles Haugo-Jones. She said she’s had parents tell her that the climbing wall is all their children talk about at home.

The climbing wall allows youngsters to perform off-the-wall feats that generations of parents have frowned upon. A system of color-coded, movable foot rests and handgrips challenges climbers to navigate their way across the wall like a mountain climber. A safety line limits climbers to a height no more than three feet off the floor. Pads cushion the floor next to the wall. When class is over, the mat folds up to secure the wall from unauthorized use.

The wall-climbing, Haugo-Jones said, is much safer than the floor to ceiling ropes, and the cargo net that were once used for school climbing activities. The old climbing apparatus will be permanently removed from the gym.

• • •

The new climbing wall is more than a fun activity. It sneakily promotes such attributes as physical agility, strength, flexibility, and coordination.

“It’s tough physically,” the physical education mentor says. “But I’ve seen some kids improve already in just the short time we’ve had it.”

There are also mental aspects to the climbing wall.

“It builds confidence and it teaches decision making. You have to be able to plan your course and decide what your next steps are going to be,” Haugo-Jones says. She also likes the wall because it appeals to a broad spectrum of youngsters and abilities. Children don’t have to be the strongest, or fastest, of biggest to enjoy success on the climbing wall.

Many options can be added to the climbing wall. These include challenge obstacles, three-dimensional projections, and even features that allow students to do math problems, write words or participate in cooperative games. Climbing panels can be set up into freestanding rectangles, and hexagons.

As money and space permits, Haugo-Jones would like to see more panels and features added. One long-range possibility would be rope safety harnesses that would allow older students the ability to climb higher than three feet on walls. However, Haugo-Jones said, administration policy would need to approve any climbing above the present three-foot height limit.

• • •

Students chosen to climb the wall first were: Autumn Lichty, first grade; Julio Lopez, second grade; Brandon Rasmussen, third grade; Chloe Peterson, fourth grade; Mark DeSmith, fifth grade; Peng Thao, sixth grade. Children were invited to submit essays explaining why they should be able to climb the wall first. Winners were chosen at random from all kids who submitted an essay.

• • •

So how much money has the new-fangled climbing wall cost District 417 taxpayers?

Zero. Zilch. Zippo.

The school’s wall-climbing system cost $5,000. The Tracy Eagles gave $1,000, and the Tracy American Legion contributed another $500. The remainder was raised by on-going sales of Panther apparel, which have been coordinated by Haugo-Jones.

Firemen get $75,000 grant

The Tracy Fire Department will receive a federal grant of nearly $75,000 to purchase new turnout gear.

The $74,983 grant is coming from the United States Department of Homeland Security. Fire Chief Keith Engesser says that the money will be used to purchase 26 sets of turnout gear for firemen, plus several sets of air tanks and masks. Turnout gear includes fire resistant outerwear, boots, gloves and helmets. Traditionally, the fire department has replaced a few sets each year in an attempt to keep the department up-to-date. The grant will allow the department to upgrade all members of the department at once.

To obtain the grant, the Tracy Fire Dept. had to make an application to Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefights Grant Program. The program will issue about 5,500 awards totaling $600 million to fire departments and First Responder units across the country this year.

The Tracy grant was announced Monday.

City considers buying land

Tracy City Council members met in closed session Monday night to discuss the possibility of making an offer to buy at least a portion of the former Central Livestock property in South Tracy.

No information was available as to what decision, if any, the council made at the closed session. City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that the council’s action would be announced at a future public meeting.

In the past, council members have expressed interest in obtaining a portion of the 30-acre parcel for the construction of a drainage ditch.

City leaders have committed themselves to a South Tracy drainage project that requires the construction of an open ditch across a portion of the Central Livestock property. The ditch would carry storm water from storm sewers near the intersection of Front and Fourth streets, northeast toward a drainage ditch that runs south of the railroad tracks.

Prior to this week, council members had not decided what route the ditch should take and whether a new housing development should be incorporated with the drainage project.

Building the ditch along the north side of Front St. would require the purchase of about seven acres of land. Buying the entire Central Livestock parcel would make it possible to build a shorter, and less expensive, drainage ditch. Some city leaders, including Community Development Director Robert Gervais, have suggested that a new housing development be incorporated with the drainage ditch if the entire Central Livestock parcel is purchased. However, a new housing development would require the additional city expense of demolishing a large barn and concrete area.

Different opinions

A consensus on how to proceed had not emerged prior to Monday.

On Sept. 26 meeting, Sandi Rettmer expressed opposition to the concept of a housing development on the Central Livestock site. She felt that the area, with its proximity to railroad tracks and a drainage ditch, would not be very appealing for new housing.

The Tracy Planning Commission, which includes council members Bill Chukuske and Russ Stobb, has recommended that the city pursue the Central Livestock housing option.

The council has also discussed the possibility of obtaining land on the east edge of Tracy from the John Glaser estate. Gervais has reported that there is interest in selling the approximately 53 acres of Glaser land, but heirs want to sell the entire parcel. Stobb suggested at the Sept. 26 meeting that the city look into the possibility of buying the Glaser property, using a portion of it for a new housing development, and swapping a portion of the remaining land for the Central Livestock property.

Dave Anderson owns the Central Livestock site, which at one time was the location for a bustling Central Livestock yard. The former Central Livestock site is bounded by Front St. on the south, and Fourth St. on the west.