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News from the week of April 12, 2006


Run-off water is flooding sanitary sewer

Reminder issued to put sump pump hoses outside

By Seth Schmidt

Tracy home and business owners need to immediately disconnect their sump pumps from city sanitary sewers, or risk a fine.

The City of Tracy will begin a door-to-door inspection early as Wednesday, April 12, to insure compliance.

“I wish we could have started yesterday,” said Public Works Director Rick Robinson, “but we have had so many things going on we haven’t been able to.”

Any home or business found to be in non-compliance with the city’s sump pump ordinance will be given ten days to comply or face a fine. Reminder notices about the need to disconnect sump pumps from sanitary sewers will be left on outside doors if no one is found at home.


Overloaded system

City leaders want the sump pumps disconnected from sanitary sewers because large volumes of spring run-off water are overwhelming the city’s wastewater treatment system.

According to Robinson, Tracy’s water treatment plant produces about 225,000 gallons of drinkable water each day. Ideally, the 225,000 gallons produced at the water plant would be the volume received at the city’s wastewater treatment ponds. In fact, the city’s wastewater ponds are now receiving 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 gallons of liquid each day, Robinson said. Additionally, the city is “bypassing” an estimated 2,000,000 million gallons of run-off daily from sanitary sewers into storm sewers (and eventually to open drainage ditches and creeks). The emergency sanitary sewer bypasses, done with the permission of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, are designed to prevent sanitary sewers from backing up into people’s homes.

Where is the extra water coming from?

Significant volumes of clear run-off water are coming from sump pumps tied into the sanitary sewer system, Robinson explains.

Previous inspections have identified 380 city homes and businesses with one or multiple sump pumps. Some of these sump pumps have had their drains properly directed outdoors, where the water eventually goes into a storm sewer, But, Robinson says, many sump pumps are still tied to the sanitary system. Additional storm water enters the sanitary sewer from roof drains and foundation drains tied into the sanitary sewer, and cracked sewer and service lines, and improper connections between the storm sewer and sanitary sewer systems.


Implications for future

Robinson feels that the inflow and infiltration into the sanitary sewer system has huge implications for City of Tracy residents.

Tracy city government has been put on notice by the MPCA that its wastewater treatment system is deficient. The system, designed and built in 1967 to handle 300,000 gallons, can not handle present volumes. Additionally, the sewage lagoons are leaking. The state has also informed the city that it will not be allowed to indefinitely continue its present practice of emergency bypasses of untreated wastewater into storm sewers and ditches.

Tracy leaders have begun to seek solutions for its overburdened wastewater system. A Worthington engineering firm is working on an estimate for developing a wastewater improvement plan for the city. Engineering studies are expected to be the first step toward the construction of wastewater improvements for the city.

Extra inflows and infiltration of storm water into the sanitary sewer system could force the city to build a much larger—and costlier—wastewater system than otherwise would be necessary.

“The design engineer and the MPCA will look at Tracy’s wastewater flows and design a system large enough to handle the flows without doing any bypassing of wastewater,” Robinson says.

“This means they may have to build a system two to three times larger than needed to accommodate all this extra clean water entering the system. This means big money to the people of Tracy; I mean millions of extra dollars to handle this extra water. It takes the same amount of money to treat clean water as it does dirty water.”

The bottom line?

Robinson feels that Tracy citizens can make it feasible for the city to build smaller, and less expensive wastewater improvements, if they help reduce inflows into the sanitary sewer system now.

Southwest gets garbage contract

Residential rates will drop

By Seth Schmidt

Tracy households will have less expensive garbage disposal rates and a new hauler beginning July 1.

Tracy City Council members awarded a three-year contract to Southwest Sanitation Monday night. The new contract will save most households about $5 a month on their monthly garbage disposal costs over current rates. The Southwest Sanitation proposal was one of five considered by the council. All five businesses vying for the city’s garbage disposal business offered savings from the existing rates.

Besides deciding on a residential hauler, council members also opted to allow businesses to choose their own disposal service.. At present, businesses are restricted to a single company for their garbage disposal. (See related story).

Southwest Sanitation, owned by Steve and Dan Ritter of Marshall, offered monthly rates of $8.96 for a 35- gallon container, $10.97 for a 65-gallon container, and $17.10 for 95-gallons, for both curbside and alley pickup. The Southwest Sanitation rates, which do not include a 9.75% state tax, are guaranteed for three years.

Tracy residents now pay $12.30 a month for weekly 35-gallon garbage collection, $15.63 for a 65-gallon container, and $20.94 for a 95-gallon container, plus tax. Alley pick up is $1 a month more.

Ritter’s Sanitary Service, which was formerly owned by the Ritters before being bought out by Waste Connections, is Tracy’s present hauler. Ritter’s has an exclusive contract to haul all of the city’s residential and commercial garbage through June 30.

Ritter’s Sanitary Service offered two pricing options. If granted a residential only contract, Ritter’s offered monthly rates of $9.80 (30 gallon), $10.80 (60-gallon) and $12.80 (90-gallon). If Ritter’s Sanitary obtained new exclusive contracts for both residential and commercial service, rates would have dropped to $$9.50, $10.50, and $12.50. The Ritter’s rates were set for three years. A 15% senior citizen discount was offered for both of the Ritter’s options.

Waste Management offered rates of $6.98 (15-gallon), $10.97 (60-gallon), and $12.99 (90-gallon) for both curb and alley service Waste Management sought a cost-of-living increase in the second and third years of the contract.

Shetek Services, a prospective start-up company owned by Steve Larson of Tracy, offered rates of $8.75 (35-gallon), $13.75 (60 gallon) and $17.75 (90 gallon). Alley service was $1 higher. Larson also asked for annual cost-of-living increases in rates.


Velde Sanitation of Granite Falls offered rates of $9.50 (35 Gallon), $12.50 (65 gallon) and $14.40 for both alley and curbside service. The Velde rates were fixed for three years.

Council discussion indicated favor with the proposals that did not seek automatic cost-of-living escalators.


Extra services

Free garbage disposal services for City of Tracy facilities were a factor in the council decision. Three firms—Southwest Sanitation, Shetek Services and Velde Sanitation—offered free disposal services for all City of Tracy Services, and council discussion gravitated toward those three proposals. Shetek Services and Velde Sanitation, in addition, offered free garbage services to all Tracy churches. Shetek Services also offered free garbage disposal services to the Tracy Chamber of Commerce’s Box Car Days and Spring Sportsmen’s Show.

Ritter’s Sanitary Service offered its perks directly to households, with an offer to pick up free of charge two “bulky” items for each residential customer annually. Ritter’s also offered a 15% senior citizen discount.


Local advantage

Before awarding the contract to Southwest Sanitation, council members debated whether extra consideration should be given to hiring a locally-owned company, who would pay local taxes, and possibly be more accessible to the public and spend more money in Tracy.

Councilman Russ Stobb said he thought that having a local business like Shetek Services was a plus, and that price shouldn’t be the council’s only consideration. Most of the people he had talked with, Stobb added, wouldn’t mind paying a little more if it meant helping establish a local business. Emory St. resident John Glaser dropped by to also advocate supporting a local business like Shetek Services.

Council members Bill Chukuske, Jan Avizu, and Tim Byrne said that they felt that cost was the No. 1 concern of most citizens they had talked with.

Larson’s original request for a 10-year contract also became an issue. Larson, when questioned by Stobb, said he would accept a three-year contract. But Chukuske said he felt that it would be wrong to start “negotiating” with each of the haulers. If the council wanted the businesses to change their offers, what was the point of the city’s original request for proposals?

Chukuske felt that the city would get good service from any of the five competing companies.


Velde motion fails

Councilman Charles Snyder offered a motion to award the residential contract to Velde Sanitation. Snyder said he liked Velde’s straightforward “what you see is what you get” approach.

But other council members said that Velde’s personality and style of doing business wasn’t enough to outweigh his higher rates. The Snyder motion, seconded by Tim Byrne, failed 5-1. Mayor Steve Ferrazzano, Stobb, Byrne, Arvizu, and Chukuske voted against. (Sandi Rettmer was absent).

City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that the council could postpone a decision until April 27. But Ferrazzano expressed impatience with the council’s lengthy discussion on the garbage contract, telling council members “if they didn’t want to get anything done tonight” they shouldn’t “waste more time” discussing the issue before adjourning.

Chukuske, Arvizu, and Byrne defended the discussion, stating that it was necessary in order to make a good decision for the city.

“It’s an important decision,” Byrne said.

A Chukuske motion to accept the Southwest Sanitation residential proposal passed on a 4-2 vote. Chukuske, Byrne, Arvizu, and Ferrazzano voted win the majority, with Snyder and Stobb casting “no” votes.

Commercial garbage service opening to multiple haulers

For the first time in more than 20 years, more than one garbage disposal company will be allowed to pick up commercial garbage in the City of Tracy.

Tracy City Council members broke with past practice Monday night by agreeing to allow Tracy businesses to select their own waste disposal company. Rates will be established between the hauler and individual businesses.

Currently, Ritter’s Sanitary Service of Marshall has an exclusive contract to pick up all residential and commercial garbage within the City of Tracy. A unanimous council motion decided that when the contract with Ritter’s expires on June 30, business owners will be able to select their own hauler. It will continue to be mandatory for businesses to have their waste picked up at least once a week.

Councilman Bill Chukuske said that all but one business owner that he has talked with recently wants the freedom to choose their own hauler.

“That seems to be the consensus,” agreed Councilman Tim Byrne.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman expressed a preference for continuing to allow only one commercial hauler. Having multiple businesses pick up commercial garbage, she said, will be difficult for the city to monitor and police. With just one hauler, Koopman said it is clear who is responsible if a complaint about commercial service surfaces.

The council majority felt that allowing more than one commercial hauler won’t really be such as drastic change, since economics would likely limit the number of commercial waste disposal haulers to “two or three.”

City Attorney Frank Nielsen said that enforcement of the city’s commercial garbage ordinance wouldn’t be a problem if the enforcement centers on non-compliant businesses.

Council members agreed that all waste companies hauling commercial garbage needed to be licensed by the city.


Loss for words? No way!

Speech team wins Section 3A title

For the first time in history, a Tracy Area High School team has won the Section 3A speech title.

The team won the Section 3A meet Saturday by topping second-place Springfield by 10 points.

“It was a very close and tough competition,” said Coach Tamara Purrington.

Tracy had 62 team points with Springfield a close second at 52. Twenty-seven teams from four sub-sections competing at the Sub-Section 3A tournament.

Tracy advanced 11 students in nine categories to the Minnesota State High School League Speech Tournament April 21-22 in Bloomington. This is the most entries Tracy has ever had at the state speech tournament. The top three competitors in each of the 13 categories qualify for state. Two TAHS students also qualified as alternates.

All six senior speech team members made it to final round. Bobbi Buyck won the storytelling category, and Danielle Thooft won the serious poetry championship. Senior Casie Miller, with sister partner Carly Miller, won the duo interpretation championship, with senior Brad Lanoue and junior Celia Brockway placing second in the same category. Senior Jenna Fischer finished third in informative. The sixth senior, Jacob Gilmore, finished as the first alternate in creative expression.

Also earning trips to the state speech tournament are sophomore Rachel Stobb, who topped the serious drama category. Junior Patrick VanNevel, freshman Skylar Carlson, and seventh grader Tara Norstegard each placed third in their respective categories for creative expression, humorous, and storytelling. Sophomore Jordan Christiansen is an alternate in informative.

“We are extremely proud of each member of this team,” said Purrington. “One of our goals has been to one day earn the title of Section 3A champions. However, that was not our main focus. Our focus these last couple of weeks was to get the team healthy. I told the team at a meeting last week that it did not matter if you placed first or fourth at sub-sections. What mattered is that they were moving on to sections. I was the ‘second mom’ telling each one of them to get some sleep and get healthy.

“As coaches we kept telling the team that as long as you go in to each round with the mind set to do the best that you can do, it will all work out in the end. I have never seen the team so excited to win a tournament as I did on Saturday.”

Purrington thanked people for their support of the team, and invited spectators to follow the speakers at the state tourney.

“We would like to thank the surrounding communities for all of their support this season,” she said.

Inquiries made on possible purchase of EDA apartments

Two parties have expressed interest in the possible purchase of the Tracy Economic Development four-plexes.

Robert Gervais, Tracy community development director, reported the inquiries to both the EDA and the Tracy City Council this past week.

The EDA owns two four-plexes on Third Street East (Eastview Apartments) and two four-plexes on Fifth Street (Fifth St. Apartments). Each building has four, two-bedroom apartments of about 1,100 square feet with a single attached garage that rent for $510 a month.

The EDA board, which lacked a quorum when the issue was raised Friday, suggested that Gervais get information on what updated appraisals on the properties would cost.

A 2004 appraisal estimated the value of the Eastview Apartments at $340,000, and the Fifth St. Apartments at $265,000. The appraiser also suggested that the highest use for the apartments would be as owner-occupied condominiums.

The EDA and City of Tracy still owe $302,000 in bonded debt on the Eastview Apartments, and $421,000 on the Fifth St. East units. The city can not sell the four-plexes for less than their appraised value,

Because the apartments are owned by the city, the EDA does not pay full property taxes on the units. At present , the EDA pays $2,195 on Eastview and $1,981 on the Fifth St. Apartments as payments in lieu of taxes. If the apartments were bought by a private party, the non-homesteaded real estate taxes would be about $5,800 on each four-plex, according to Gervais.

EDA board member Dick Boerboom said that it should be known how serious the potential buyers are, before any additional money is spent on appraisals. The appraisals in 2004 cost a total of $3,000.

• • •

The Eastview and Fifth St. apartment complexes each generate about $48,000 in rental income annually, and have a combined waiting list of about 18 parties. The Eastview Apartments were built in the mid-1990s, while the Fifth St. Apartments opened in 1999.

$3,000 offered for vacant Downtown Tracy building

The Tracy Economic Development Authority has received an offer for a vacant Downtown Tracy commercial building.

A group comprising of Brian Pfeiffer of Marshall and Dick Boerboom and Bill Chukuske of Tracy has offered $3,000 for a building at 130 Third St., which was last occupied by Stassen Photography. The EDA will hold a public hearing on the proposed sale Friday, April 21, at 7:10 a.m.

The EDA acquired the property last fall at a Lyon County auction of tax delinquent real estate for $2,500. The EDA subsequently tried on two occasions to seek sealed bids for the property, but did not attract any proposals.

Plans, Chukuske said, are to refurbish the building and then rent the space to some type of business. He said that several thousand dollars worth of improvements will be needed on building, but no major renovations are planned. He said that interest shown by another party in fixing up the former Coast-to-Coast building was a factor in their decision.

Chukuske serves on both the EDA and the city council. Boerboom serves on the EDA. Chukuske told other EDA members that he and Boerboom would abstain from any votes regarding the 130 Third St. property.

The April 21 public hearing is required by city ordinance before the sale can be considered.


Milroy charter school gets good report card

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

The M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School is basking in the glow of a successful first year. Last week, the school held its first-ever annual meeting.

Dan Deitte, who is administrator for both M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School and the public school district, explained that by law, charter schools must have an annual meeting. The M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School meeting centered around the various programs offered at the school and its financial status.

Teachers at M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School explained the school’s programs and testing procedures, including Guided Reading, Music in Education, Accelerated Math, and Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs). The school’s summer outreach program was also discussed.


Guided Reading

Teacher Grace Coudron explained the philosophy of the Guided Reading program.

“Children learn by reading,” she said. “I think our program supports that very well.”

She said students are tested to determine their reading levels and then placed into small groups according to level. Students participate in daily oral language activities involving sentence structure and conventions of language. They also take weekly spelling tests.

Books used in the Guided Reading program are divided in categories from A to Z, according to difficulty. The students read quietly aloud, and the teachers listen to determine at what level they are reading. The teacher makes notes about the students’ reading ability, asks questions about the story, and listens for potential problems. The goal is to push the student to the next level in his or her Individual Learning Plan (ILP).

Students are allowed to take home the Guided Reading books. When the students bring the books back, they are tested on their fluency. This is done mostly in grades K-2. Students in grades 3-4 become more focused on literature and reading to learn as opposed to learning to read.

Each classroom is print-rich, said Coudron, in addition to having the school’s library available. The school also uses the Accelerated Reading program.

“The kids are excited about reading,” said Coudron. “I have seen the children grow in their reading ability.”


Music in Education

Music in Education was a program teacher Christie Gergen found on a whim. Gergen said she began searching for a program at the time when the idea of a charter school was being discussed.

Over the summer, Gergen said, she attended training in California, and that is when she really became excited about the program.

“It really is a total music education,” she said.

Through use of keyboards, students learn notes, rhythms, and other aspects of music. The keyboards allow students to hear different sounds they normally would not, because of limitations on instruments that the school can buy.

As the students work to compose and record music on the keyboards, they learn to communicate with each other, Gergen said.

“Teamwork is what I really stress in my classroom,” she said.

Students are encouraged to improvise, listening to a melody and doing something different with it by developing their own rhythms and patterns.

Music in Education has been beneficial to the school’s band and vocal music programs, Gergen added, by helping them to improve on their weaknesses. She believes the program has also had a positive effect on some students’ reading skills.

Gergen said even the shy students come out of their shells when it is time for Music in Education.

“They beg to do it,” she said. “I love that and I love my job.”


NWEA testing

M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School uses Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments to test its students’ progress.

Teacher Ben Schamber explained that NWEA is done via computer three times a year. He said the kids enjoy taking the tests, because they are computerized. The students can see their test results right away, and teachers have in-depth results within a few days, making it more effective than assessments such as the Iowa Basics.

“Sometimes you have to fight through the numbers to see what’s important,” Schamber said.

Teachers can see which areas students rate low in, and give reinforcement in the classroom through Guided Reading and other programs.

“It’s a neat program,” Schamber said. “There’s just so many things we can do with it.”

He said the teaching staff hopes to increase the ways it uses NWEA testing and the test results.


Accelerated Math

“It’s a great addition to our regular curriculum for math,” said teacher Jodi Illg of the Accelerated Math program.

Illg said Accelerated Math lines up with and serves as an accent to the curriculum. Students are able to work at their own level, and keep working at trouble areas until they get it.

Students use scan cards that allow them to see their results instantly. When students get problems wrong, they look them over and lead a conference with the teacher to talk about their errors. Students work on assignments and once they master the objectives, they get a quiz and move on to the next level. If a student is struggling, he or she isn’t quizzed until the objectives are mastered.

Students begin Accelerated Math in first grade, once they are strong enough readers to handle the program.


Individualized Learning Plans

Individualized Learning Plans (ILPs) are one of the main focuses of M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School. Teacher Jennifer Mahan-Deitte said the new programs that have been implemented at the school have really influenced the ILPs.

“The ILPs are still in working mode as we try to perfect them,” she said.

ILPs are created using students’ NWEA scores, Music in Education scores, and Guided Reading records. With this information, teachers developed a plan for each student.

“We started with the assessment piece and set goals,” Mahan-Deitte said. The teachers had to establish how those goals would be met and how they would be measured. Some factors taken into consideration included each student’s interests, personality, world view, ability to articulate, and writing ability.

As a student’s progress is monitored, teachers can determine whether they need to intervene and challenge a student more or work with the student to improve.

“This has been a wonderful tool,” Mahan-Deitte said.


Summer outreach

Outreach committee member Bev Welu talked about the M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School’s summer outreach program.

The school has participated in several area parades and handed out brochures. They have also had booths at area county fairs where they hand out information and answer questions. Welu said she believes it is important to get the word out about charter schools.

“There are still a lot of people out there who are unfamiliar with what a charter school is,” she said.

Welu said the committee is always looking for ideas, and welcomes participation of anyone who would like to help promote the school.


Financial status

M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School Director Dan Deitte discussed the school’s financial status. To date, the school has received about $240,000 in federal and state grants.

In the first two years, the state gives charter schools $50,000 in start-up money. Federal grants will equal about 480,000. The projected fund balance at the end of the 2005-2006 school year is $105,998.26. Projected fund balance at the end of the 2006-2007 school year is $200,998.26.

Once that grant money is no longer available, M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School will receive only state funding based on enrollment, functioning much like any other school in the state.

It will be a reality check, said Deitte, when state and federal grants are no longer coming in and the school is closer in revenues and expenditures.

“We need to keep growing,” Deitte said.

Deitte said it is the goal of M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School to have a healthy fund balance of at least 10 percent.


Positive response

Milroy Public School board member Greg Debbaut commended the M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School on the presentation, saying he was impressed at the enthusiasm of the teachers.

“I really think this is going to work,” he said.

Bev Welu also thanked the teachers and Director Dan Deitte for dedicating their lives to creating the charter school and making it work.

Deitte said he believes the positivity of M.I.L.R.O.Y. Charter School has overflowed into the public school district.

“The district is getting stronger,” he said.

Teacher Grace Coudron said it is to be expected that the first year of a new school will be overwhelming as new programs are implemented. As the school’s programs are fine-tuned, the school will improve, she said.

“There are improvements that need to be made,” she said. “But we are doing everything that we said we would.”