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News from the week of October 19, 2005


$5 more. Hearing to consider utility rate increases

By Seth Schmidt

A typical Tracy water and sewer user will pay about $5.40 more each month if proposed utility rate increases are approved.

Tracy citizens are invited to a Monday, Oct. 24 public hearing to consider the proposed increases. The hearing begins at 6:45 p.m. in city council chambers.

The $5.40 monthly increase is based upon a residential sewer and water customer who uses 5,250 gallons (seven units) of water each month.

A new city ordinance is needed to approve the new rates. Last week, council members waived the ordinance’s first reading and set the Oct. 24 public hearing. The proposed rate increases are:

• Two dollars more in the city’s base monthly sewer charge, plus a $2 increase in the city’s base monthly water charge.

• Twenty cents more for each unit of water. (A unit of water is 750 gallons).

Several fee increases have also been suggested. The water hook-up rate for a customer outside city limits would increase from $140 to $500. The fee for having a city employee read a meter would be increased to $10, while the charge for having water use estimated would go to $5

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


New water meters

$130,000 estimated cost

All of Tracy’s more than 900 residential and commercial water meters would be replaced over a two to three year period. Significant numbers of the city’s water meters are decades old, with some thought to be more than 30 years old. Large numbers of old meters are thought to be running slow, meaning that customers are not being billed for all of the water that they are using.

Slow water meters are thought to account for a portion of a 35.5% water loss in the city’s water system. The loss rate, which is the difference between the amount of water produced by the city water plant and the amount that is actually billed, in 2004 accounted for 38 million gallons of water.

Leaks in the city’s distribution system are also thought to contribute to the city’s water loss. Staff members recommend that after the installation of new water meters that a leak detection survey be considered.

City staff estimate that water meters are running 10 to 15% slow, based upon spot checks of working meters removed from city residences.

The new water meters recommended would be “radio read,” meaning that customers would no longer read their own meters. Instead, a city employee would drive around the community and get electronic meter readings from outside the home or business. All city meters could be read in about two hours. Data from radio-read meters are expected to be more accurate than readings taken manually.


Upgrade water plant controls

& replace broke fire hydrants

$85,000 estimated cost

According to city staff, repairing controls in the city’s 15-year-old water plant has been an ongoing problem. The city has eight fire hydrants that are inoperable.


Water main valve replacement

$40,000 estimated cost

At least 16 shut-off valves on the city’s water distribution system are inoperable. The large numbers of broken valves necessitates larger areas being shut off from water service when a water main breaks.


South Tracy drainage improvement

$500,000 estimated cost

Special assessments to benefiting property owners will pay for a portion of planned South Tracy drainage improvements. The project calls for the construction of storm sewer and ditch improvements. The open ditch, either along Front Street or across what is known as the former Central Livestock property, will require that the city purchase a still undetermined amount of land.

Increased city utility rates would help pay for some of the drainage costs that won’t be assessed.



Increased operating costs.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has notified the city that it needs to take action on excessive levels of copper in its treated water. Since 1998, the city has dealt with its high copper levels through public education programs. But the state has now notified the city that it must embark on a chemical control program.

The chemical control program will cost about $2,500 to set up, plus $9,000 in additional chemical costs annually.

The corrosion control would benefit consumers if the treated water prolongs the life of fixtures and appliances.

City staff also recommended that the water tower be cleaned at an estimated cost of $3,000 to $5,000.


Paying the bill

Not counting the corrosion control and water tower cleaning, the proposed water and drainage improvements total $755,000. If the city were to borrow money by selling a city-backed bond for the entire $755,000, the city’s annual principal and interest payments would be about $75,000 for 15 years.


Other needs

The proposed improvements don’t encompass all of the city’s future utility department needs. Recent staff memos to city council members have also mentioned the need to continue eliminating storm water inflows from the city’s sanitary sewer system, and of the need to improve the city’s sewage treatment ponds.

Four become school board candidates

By Seth Schmidt

Four people have announced their intentions to be write-in candidates for the District 417 school board.

The candidates are Diane Ferrazzano, April Lichty, Kim Pedersen, and Tom Hook.

Three, five-year terms on the Tracy Public Schools Board of Education are open in the Nov. 8 election. No names will be on the ballot since no candidates filed for office during a July filing period. Ferrazzano, Lichty, Pedersen, and Hook are the first people to declare their intentions to seek school board positions as write-in candidates. School board incumbents with terms expiring at the end of this year are Ed Carter, Eric Nelson, and Garry Hippe.


Diane Ferrazzano

Diane Ferrazzano says she has always had a keen interest in education.

“I’ve always been interested in watching how children learn. I love inquisitive minds, “ she said.

Her father, a college English professor, encouraged her to get a teaching degree. She thought she’d be interested in teaching college students, and opted instead for a degree in English literature.

A 1992 graduate of Rider University, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Ferrazzano is the mother of a first-grader at Tracy Elementary School. She and her husband, Steve, have lived in Tracy since 1999.

She has been an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with the Tracy Ambulance Service since June of 2004, and plans to take advanced paramedics training.

Ferrazzano, 42, says that she would have no special agenda as a school board member, other than to promote excellence in education.

“I think we have an awesome public school system,” she said, and has been pleased with her son’s experiences in school.

The candidate said that she doesn’t know much about specific school issues or school finances, but feels that she could learn.

“My biggest goal will be to keep the excellence that we have and to not ever let things deteriorate. I am so happy with the standards of excellence that we have.”

For the past two summers, Ferrazzano has been a coach for community education soccer. She is pursuing an on-line Bachelor of Science degree in Christian Ministry through Crown College.

Her husband, Steve, is a public defender attorney for Lyon County and is the mayor of Tracy.


April Lichty

As the mother of four children—three of school age—Lichty feels she has a strong vested interest in public education.

“I have many years ahead of me having children in school. I’d like to be involved.”

She and her husband, Jason, have four children: Jenifer, 13; Jeremy, 12; Autumn, 6; and Austin, 1. After taking time off for the birth of Austin, Lichty recently resumed a job as a receptionist at the Tracy Medical Clinic. She is a volunteer EMT on the Tracy Ambulance Service.

If elected to the school board, Lichty feels that she could be “a voice for the kids and the community.” Her “outgoing personality” and “gift for gab,” she said, would be an asset on the school board.

“I’m a people person.”

Her goal as a school board member would be to “keep up the school the best it can be.” She feels that Tracy Public Schools offer local children very good educational opportunities.

Lichty, 33, is a 1990 graduate of Tracy Area High School. She attended one year of college at Southwest State University, Marshall, following high school. Her husband, Jason, is an officer with the Tracy Police Dept.

Her community activities, besides the ambulance service, have included the Women of Today.


Kim Pedersen

Pedersen sees the Tracy School Board “as an opportunity to do something positive.”

A 1986 TAHS graduate, Pedersen left Tracy to be a nanny in New Jersey for 3 1/2 years. She returned to Tracy to raise her son, Daren, who is now a ninth grader at Tracy Area High School. A single mother, she works in the kitchen at Tracy Hospital.

The school board candidate was on the Wee World Pre-School board for two years, and has also been active in Tracy Women of Today.

As a school board member, Pedersen said that she would try to be “a positive influence.” She said that she is very interested in Tracy Schools and providing opportunities for kids.

“Education is very important. I wish I would have learned that 20 years ago.”

Pedersen, 37, said that her goal on school board would be to “keep the school the best it can be.” She also expressed a positive opinion of Tracy Public Schools.

Pedersen and Lichty are sisters, the daughters of Dale and Loretta Danielson of Tracy.

If both were elected to the school board, they feel they could work well together. If one is elected to the board, and not the other, they say there will be no hard feelings between them.


Tom Hook

Hook, 44, says there are five main reasons that he is running as a school board write-in candidate. He lists them:

Josh, 14; Joe, 12; Cassandra, 8; Sarita, 6; and Annaka, 2.

“My kids are all pretty good reasons to serve on the school board.”

A 1980 TAHS grad, Hook said that he received a good education in Tracy. Serving on the school board, he said, is a way to help insure that today’s students and future generations have similar opportunities.

“My family has always been a strong believer in the importance of education,” he said.

After completing undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Hook earned a Master of Science degree in animal nutrition from Colorado State University. He returned to the Tracy Area in 1987 to join Hook Farms in Gales Township. Active in a variety of farm organizations, Hook has been a 4-H and FFA youth advisor.

His wife, Shannon, is 1985 TAHS graduate and a stay-at-home-mother. Their two oldest children are students at Tracy Area High School, while two middle children attend St. Mary’s School.

Hook said he decided to seek a school board seat because of the need for school board candidates and his belief that good leadership for Tracy Pubic Schools is important.

“I believe in our community and education. This is something that I can do.”

Hook’s father, Eugene, was a school board member in the late 1960s and early 1970s when the high school and elementary schools in Tracy were built.

For third time in year, Chamber has vacancy

The Tracy Chamber of Commerce is again looking for an executive director.

Jason Swanson, who assumed the job in mid-September, sent an e-mail to Chamber board members Thursday, announcing his resignation. His last day on the job with the Chamber is Oct. 28.

Swanson, 23, wrote that he had accepted an offer to manage the Country View Living Estates in Walnut Grove.

“They gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Swanson wrote. “I do feel bad for leaving this job, as I have only been here a month.”

In a telephone interview, Swanson said that his work with the Chamber “had been a great experience. I loved it.” He called Tracy “an exciting town” where many good things are happening.

Before he leaves, Swanson said that he will complete the groundwork for Tracy’s Old Fashioned Christmas celebration, which is scheduled Nov. 20. He also plans to work on a coupon book to promote Tracy retail businesses when events are held at the Veterans’ Memorial Center.

Swanson and his wife, Devon, live in Tracy. He said they hope to eventually move to an acreage near Walnut Grove. Swanson is a 2000 graduate of Westbrook/Walnut Grove High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Bemidji State in 2004.

Country View Estates opened this spring as a congregate and assisted living community for seniors.

• • •

The Chamber’s Board of Directors met Tuesday night to discuss the vacancy.

Chamber President Lori Hebig said that the board is definitely looking to hire a new manager.

“We have events coming up that need to have someone making sure that everything gets handled,” she said. However, she added, the amount of money that the Chamber can afford to pay someone is a limiting factor. The Chamber manager job has been 30 hours a week, with no health insurance benefits.

“I can’t blame Jason for accepting a full-time job with benefits in his hometown. He would have been crazy not to accept it,” Hebig said.

Swanson is the third person to hold the Chamber manager position in less than a year.

From 2001-2004, Robert Gervais held a combined Chamber and economic development director position. But in January of 2005, at the request of Gervais and the Tracy Economic Development Authority, the Tracy City Council made Gervais its full-time economic development director. The Chamber hired JoAnn Biren of rural Iona as a part-time Chamber manager in January. She left the Chamber in September, and Swanson was hired to succeed her.

New bakery to open in early November

Bread and sweet rolls could be baking again in Downtown Tracy within two weeks.

“We hope to open no later than Nov. 7, and possibly as early as Nov. 1,” said Deb Schenkoske, a board member in Tracy Growth and Development.

She said that remodeling is progressing well in the former P Plus grocery building that Tracy Growth & Development purchased for the new bakery. Renovations began this August.

The name of the new bakery is Tracy Bakery, Inc.

For the past four weeks, Tracy Growth & Development has sold baked goods produced in Sioux City, Iowa, at The Etc. building in Tracy. Saturday was the last day for sales at The Etc., Schenkoske said, because their bakery case had to be moved to the new site.

The Tracy Bakery, Inc. will offer a full assortment of made-from-scratch baked goods. Some indoor seating is planned for those who wish to have coffee and a roll on site. Ray Hay has been hired as the operation’s head baker.

Tracy has been without a bakery since Sept. 6 when the original Tracy Bakery closed.


City responds to state wastewater report

In response to a Sept. 30 letter from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the council has instructed staff to seek engineering proposals to correct deficiencies identified in the city’s wastewater treatment system. The problems identified by the state agency include:

• Infiltration of storm water into the sanitary sewer system;

• Continued emergency sanitary sewer discharges into a storm sewer. In a 24-month study, the MPCA identified 17 bypasses from the sanitary sewer into a storm sewer. However, only three of the bypasses occurred after the construction of a new bypass structure on Hollett St. East in late 2004.

• Leakage, erosion and sedimentation problems in and around sewage lagoons.

• Lack of adequate shut-off valves on secondary lagoons to prevent uncontrolled discharges.

• Ten suspended solids violations within 24 months.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman told the council Oct. 10 that the request for proposals would fulfill the MPCA requirement that the city make a response within 30 days.

The administrator said that the city has made progress in recent years to reduce the amount of storm water infiltrating the sanitary system. But problems remain,. For example, it was noted that many roof drains in Downtown Tracy are directly hooked into the sanitary system. Many residential sump pumps are also thought to be discharging into the sanitary sewer.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that the city needs to seek grant funding to help pay for expected waste water and sewer improvements. Koopman agreed, but said that Tracy’s utility rates are considered below average, which hurts the city’s chances to quality for grants or special financing.

Koopman said that she felt the city will need to do major work on its swage lagoons within five years.

In other council business last week:

Assessments waived— In an effort to get a tax-forfeited Fifth St. property back on property tax rolls, council members agreed to waive $2,394 of special assessments.

Antonio Trejo informed council members that he wants to purchase a vacant house at 451 Fifth St, tear it down, and eventually build a garage. The Trejo family lives in the house just north of 451 Fifth. Trejo indicated that he intends to buy the house from Lyon County for $500.

Council members agreed to waive the special assessments, as long as the house demolition and garage construction is completed within three years.

Aquatic center litigation—Council members learned that an insurance company that issued a professional liability policy for USAquatics, has filed a complaint for “declaratory relief” in Hennepin County. The City of Tracy and USAquatics Aquatics have been named defendants. USAquatics is the firm that designed and oversaw the 2001-02 construction of the Tracy Aquatic Center.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that the complaint, filed by the Evanston Insurance Company, in effect was an attempt by the insurance company to get a ruling on what the liability policy covers. The insurance company, he said, is attempting to limit its exposure in the case.

The City of Tracy will be represented in the case by the Twin Cities firm of Coleman, Hull and Van Vliet and James E Kerr & Associates of Tracy.

USAquatics is a defendant in a lawsuit filed by the City of Tracy that seeks damages for improper design, construction management, and faulty workmanship in the original construction of the aquatic center.

Temporary help okayed—An additional $4,000 for full-time temporary help in the public works department was approved. Public Works Director Rick Robinson recommended the move because of health restrictions that have been placed on two employees. Money will come for the city’s “other financial use” fund.

Snow dump site sought—Robinson said that the city is looking for a site to dump snow hauled from downtown areas. About five to seven acres are needed, he said, the closer to downtown the better.

No commercial violations—Police Chief Bryan Hillger reported that no commercial establishments are in violation of the city’s public nuisance ordinance (unsightly junk, public safety hazards, etc). In a memo to council members, Hillger said that he based his conclusion on:

• What is visible from the “street side” or front of the business; and

• An assumption that “any items that are related to the operation of that particular business are not to be considered in determining whether or not a public nuisance violation exists.” For example, a car repair business could be expected to have vehicles parked near the business.

The council accepted the chief’s report.

“If Bryan does an inspection and says ‘it looks all right,’ then it looks all right,” said Ferrazzano.

• Liquor sales up—Liquor store manager Ron Radke reported that through September, receipts are up $21,000. He said that the liquor store would be helping sponsor the Chamber of Commerce’s Holiday Wine Tasting party at Mace’s on Nov. 19.

Booyah supper Thursday night

Special “Moonlight Madness” sales are being offered by participating Tracy businesses Thursday through Saturday.

A “Booyah” supper will be served from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Veterans’ Memorial Center. The hearty chicken stew meal, sponsored by the Tracy Business Partnership, costs $5.