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News from the week of November 30, 2005



Tracy Small cities construction totals $1.5 million

By Seth Schmidt

A Small Cities Grant program generated nearly $1.5 million of construction in Tracy over the past two years.

According to tabulations by Jeff Gladis, housing rehabilitation coordinator for Western Community Action, Tracy’s Small Cities project resulted in $678,050 of owner-occupied housing improvements, $553,397 in commercial renovations, and $255,300 of rental construction. The three areas add up to $1,486,747.

“That’s a lot of construction for a town this size,” Gladis said.

About 55% of improvements were paid with Minnesota Dept. of Employment and Economic Development Small Cities program grant funds. The remainder came from local property owners. All told, 25 owner-occupied houses, 13 commercial buildings, and 15 apartments in Tracy were improved through the Small Cities program.

The City of Tracy was awarded a $934,750 Small Cities grant in May of 2003. Of this amount, $365,825 was spent for 25 owner-occupied housing projects. Another $247,052 in grant money was paid out for 13 commercial projects. The 15 rental rehabs required $198,630 in grant money. Another $13,636 was spent on miscellaneous expenses, such as lead paint tests, bringing construction-related grant spending to $825,136.

The difference between the $934,750 grant award, and the $825,136 in construction spending ($109,614) is the amount that Western Community Action and the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership were paid for administering the project.


Demand exceeds supply

Applications exceeded the availability of grant money in all three program categories.

Forty-seven applications were received for owner-occupied housing projects, but grant money was available for only 25. Twenty-two commercial applications were received, but only 13 received funding. Money was sought for 19 apartment renovations with 15 getting funding.

The 25 owner-occupied housing projects averaged $27,122, with $14,633 coming from Small Cities grant funds and $12,489 coming from owners.

The 13 commercial projects averaged $42,569, with $19,004 coming from grants and $23,565 being paid by owners.

Rental improvements averaged $17,020 per apartment, with $13,242 coming from grants and $3,778 from owners.


Another application?

Gladis told Tracy City Council members on Nov. 14 that Tracy should consider making another Small Cities grant application in 2006. A successful grant application, he said, would provide money beginning in 2007.

“It’s getting more and more competitive,” Gladis said of the grant program. In recent years, he said, about one in five communities seeking Small City grants is successful.

A second Tracy application would have a chance, Gladis felt, in part because of interest shown in the first program. Marshall, Windom, Lakefield, and Heron Lake are among the communities that have qualified for multiple Small Cities grants, Gladis said.

A new Tracy grant application, he added, should target a different area of town. Recipients of grant money in 2003-05 would not be eligible for money in a second round.

Blizzard blasts peaked at 47MPH

Sleet, snow, and powerful winds brought an abrupt end to the long-lingering autumn of 2005.

Freezing rains, followed by several inches of heavy snow and strong northwesterly winds, shutdown travel across the region beginning early Monday afternoon and into Tuesday morning. Almost all area activities Monday evening were cancelled or postponed. Travel conditions improved gradually Tuesday afternoon after winds dropped.

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning for Southwest Minnesota just after 2 p.m. Monday, predicting wind gusts of 25 to 50 miles-per-hour would continue through the day and into Tuesday. The blizzard warning was issued until 4 a.m. Tuesday.

The predictions came true. According to National Weather Service data, wind gusts in Tracy peaked at 47 miles-per-hour at 7:35 p.m. Monday.

Winds of 30 to 40 MPH continued Tuesday morning before finally waning at midday.

According to Tracy weather observer Kevin Haney, who operates an extensive Tracy and Lake Shetek web site, snowfall totaled two to three inches. The snow was preceded by 1.26” of rain early Monday morning.

The blizzard was a marked contrast to the mild winter Southwest Minnesota experienced in 2004-05. Last winter, Tracy got only one significant snowfall. That occurred on March 18-19, when 10” of snow fell.


Early school dismissal

Classes started on time for Tracy Public and St. Mary’s students Monday. But school was dismissed at 11 a.m. Supt. Dave Marlette said that the decision was made after weather forecasts predicted that the storm would arrive sooner than originally thought.

“The weather got ugly in a hurry,” he said.

According to the web site, winds were already gusting at 30 MPH when buses picked up students Monday morning. The early morning rain changed first to sleet, then snow by 11 a.m.

All school buses completed their routes safely, Marlette said, although one bus got stuck near Lake Shetek. A neighbor pulled out the bus with a tractor.

Radio announcements were made Monday night that Tracy schools would start two hours late on Tuesday morning. But with travel conditions still “terrible” at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Marlette made a decision by 8 a.m. to call off classes entirely.

“If travel conditions are dangerous, we do not want people on the road,” the superintendent said.

The Tracy Board of Education will likely decide at its next meeting (Dec. 12) when the lost day of school will be made up. Marlette said that Monday, Jan. 16 (Martin Luther King Day) was the most likely date. Jan. 16 is one of three remaining holidays built into the 2005-06 school calendar besides Christmas week. The others are Feb. 20 and April 17.


Storm stops truckers

Eight truck drivers were marooned at the Red Rooster Restaurant Monday, according to owner Robert Caron. After the Rooster closed at 7 p.m., truck drivers spent the night in their trucks.


Mail comes through

Neither rain, nor snow nor dead of night prevented the mail being delivered in Tracy Tuesday.

Nancy Erp reported that the mail arrived at the Tracy Post Office on time Tuesday. Carriers delivered to as many customers as they could Tuesday.

Mail was dispatched out of Tracy two hours early on Monday afternoon. Erp said that a mail truck driver who came into Tracy from Holland Monday afternoon said that he shouldn’t have been out on the road.


Health care goes on

Weather conditions posed challenges for staff members at the Sioux Valley Tracy Medical Center, the Tracy Nursing Home, and Prairie View Healthcare Center.

Jeri Schons said that four nurses and Nurse Practitioner Janet Marti stayed overnight at the hospital Monday night so they would be ready for shifts Tuesday morning. Another nurse was scheduled to stay overnight Tuesday.

The fast-approaching storm did prevent some rural health care workers at both Prairie View and the Tracy Nursing Home from getting to their scheduled shifts late Monday and early Tuesday. But other staff members picked up the slack. At Prairie View, one nurse worked a double shift Monday night to cover for a staffer who couldn’t make it into town.


Wilder Inn busy

Poor travel conditions made for a busy Monday night at the Wilder Inn, according to manager Tim Drake.

“We had more people than we normally would have had,. People were pulling off the road.”

Small Cities loan payments will provide cash for new projects

The City of Tracy’s 2003-05 Small Cities grant program is officially closed out. But the program will continue to provide money for Tracy housing and commercial improvements for years to come, with loan payments providing the cash.

The Small Cities program granted property owners low-interest and 0% deferred loans. Payments on those loans are going into a city-controlled revolving loan fund. Money in the revolving fund can be utilized for a variety of commercial and housing-related improvements.

“You have $1,000 to $1,200 coming in each month,” Jeff Gladis told Tracy City Council members recently. Gladis was involved with Tracy’s Small Cities project as a housing rehabilitation inspector. State guidelines stipulate that the money be used for “future housing, rental and commercial needs within the City of Tracy.”

The Small Cities commercial rehabilitation program disbursed 1% long-term loans to property owners for up to 33% of project costs. Businesses are now repaying that money, with loan proceeds going into the city-controlled fund.

Tracy’s Small Cities program also issued 0% deferred loans on commercial, rental, and owner-occupied housing properties. The 0% deferred loans can be forgiven over a five-year period (20% each year). But the deferred loan becomes payable immediately if the improved property is sold or transferred, if an improved house ceases to be an owner’s principal place of residence, or if a commercial building no longer houses a business. Loan payments are deposited in the city-controlled fund and become available for other commercial and housing improvement projects.

Gladis suggested that Tracy follow Small Cities grant program guidelines in using the money for commercial, rental, and income-eligible housing projects. It is unlikely, he said, that the Small Cities program money can be utilized for tearing down old buildings.

Aquatic center completion pushed back

Adverse weather conditions are postponing the completion of Tracy Aquatic Center repairs.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that pool contractors have requested that the date for “substantial completion” of aquatic center repairs be pushed back until Tuesday, Dec. 6.

Koopman indicated that windy, cold weather has made it impossible for workmen keep a heated, plastic tent over construction areas. The heated shelter is necessary to maintain temperatures warm enough for the installation of a new Myrtha pool liner.

Koopman said it is her understanding that liner installation has been completed in the lap and plunge pool areas. The shallow children’s pool area on the aquatic center’s east side is the only area still lacking a new liner.

In late October, a revised construction scheduled targeted Nov. 18 as the “substantial completion” date for pool repairs, and Dec. 2 as the “semi-final” completion date. “Final completion” is slated for May 1, 2006.

The Tracy Aquatic Center opened in July of 2002 after a $1.8 million construction project.. But the pool was closed after the summer of 2003, water leakage problems surfaced and surface cracks were noticed. The pool remained closed throughout the summers of 2004 and 2005. A $1.2 million repair plan began this spring. The City of Tracy is pursuing a lawsuit against an original pool contractor and the firm that designed the pool and oversaw construction. The city hopes to obtain a financial settlement to pay for pool repairs and other related expenses.

District 417 tax hearing set Tuesday

Tracy Public Schools will hold their annual “truth-in-taxation” hearing Tuesday, Dec. 6, beginning at 7 p.m. in the high school choir room.

Information about the school district’s budget and proposed 2006 property tax levy will be presented. The public is invited.

If needed, a continuation hearing would be held on Tuesday, Dec. 13.

Students prepare out-of-this-world music program

Tracy Elementary School students will present their annual Christmas program next week.

“A Martian’s Christmas” will be presented Monday, Dec. 5, at 7 p.m. in the high school gym. Kindergarten through sixth-grade students will participate.

The program revolves around a play acted out by sixth graders. Martians who arrive on earth are perplexed by the human custom of Christmas. Students sing holiday songs to help the aliens understand Christmas.

After the play, students will present a “mini-concert” of traditional Christmas songs.

Ade Miller directs the production.