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News from the week of May 10, 2006



Tracy Kid's World leaders encouraged at meeting with state USDA officials

By Seth Schmidt


Tracy Kid’s World leaders are encouraged about prospects for the proposed daycare center after meeting with three representatives of the United State Dept. of Agriculture’s Rural Development agency.

“It was definitely a positive meeting. We are in a lot better position than we were on the day before the meeting,” said Mark Priegnitz, Tracy Kid’s World president. “We have a lot of work left to do, but I feel as if everyone is now pointing in the same direction.”

Priegnitz said that Rural Development made two suggestions, which is finalized, that would greatly boost the prospects for Kid’s World.

• Tracy Kid’s World should budget for a $100,000 Rural Development grant, rather than a $50,000 grant.

• Kid’s World should budget on a $1,360,000 Rural Development loan, amortized at 40 years at an interest rate of about 4%. Kid’s World had been told to budget on an $860,000 Rural Development loan, and obtain a $500,000 loan from a commercial lender. The commercial loan would have carried a significantly higher interest rate.

Tracy Kid’s World was also told to provide more information about the need for a Tracy area daycare center. This information will be included in a new grant and loan application that is to be submitted this summer.

Louise Noomen, who has been spearheading the Tracy Kid’s World application, is confident that Tracy has a strong case for a daycare center.

“The need is there. Tracy does have a viable project,” Noomen said.

In January, federal USDA officials told Tracy’s Kid’s World leaders that the daycare plan did not meet guidelines.

Priegnitz said that he remains confident that Tracy Kid’s World will become a reality.

“We’re not going to give up on this,” he said.

Tracy Kid’s World is a non-profit organization that was formed several years ago with the goal of building a daycare center in Tracy. The group has drafted plans for an 11,500 square foot facility that would be licensed to serve up to 74 daycare children and 30 after-school children. As many as 15 to 17 people would be employed at the center. District 417 school board members have offered to donate four acres of school land east of Tracy Elementary School as a building site.

Noomen said scaling back the project has been discussed, but rejected. The savings of a smaller project, she said, would not be significant enough to justify the time and expense required to revise the project.


Divers get inside scoop on tower cleanliness


By Seth Schmidt

It was the kind of sight not seen everyday.

Just a stone-throw away from Twin Circle Apartments, in the shadow of the Tracy water tower, a muscular young man was donning scuba diving equipment.

“Here’s the light, here’s a microphone, and there’s the video camera,” John Newell explained, as he pointed to his diving headgear.

The Seattle, Washington man was part of a two-man diving team that immersed themselves into the water stored inside the Tracy water tower Thursday. Newell and his partner, Caleb Stapleton of Missoula, Montana, vacuumed up accumulated sediment from the bottom of the tower’s 500,000 gallon bell-shaped reservoir. The divers also inspected all of the tower’s welded seams for any sign of leakage or damage.

While underwater in the tank, the divers kept in radio contact with a third man who monitored cleaning operations from a support truck parked next to the tower.

The interior cleaning—the tower’s first since it was put into service in 1991—was accomplished within six hours. The Liquid Engineering crew, which is based in Billings, Mt., travels around the country. The men say that they clean “hundreds” of water towers in a year’s time.

The Tracy tower, Newell said, was not a particularly difficult tower to clean.

The cost of the tower cleaning and inspection operation for the City of Tracy is $2,895.

The tower cleaning operation did not interrupt city water service. All water system operations continued as normal. At the time the divers were in the tower, the tower’s bell had been filled to within several feet of the top.

Public Works Director Rick Robinson said five to six inches of sediment was vacuumed and clean from the bottom of the tower. Divers, he said, found the interior of the tower to be in good condition. Electronic corrosion controls inside the tower, he said, were found to still be working properly.

Robinson said that the use of divers to clean water towers is a relatively new technique. Traditional techniques for cleaning water towers, he said, involve draining the tower, which involves the interruption of water service and puts the city at risk if a major fire should occur when the tower was out-of-commission.

• • •

An exterior cleaning of the tower is also planned this year. Water Tower Clean & Coat of Bode, Wisconsin has a contract to clean the exterior for $3,800. It will be the second time the outside of the tower has been cleaned.


Police to begin nuisance inspection on May 22


The Tracy Police Dept. is scheduled to begin an inspection of city residential areas May 22, looking for violations of the city’s “nuisance ordinance.”

Property owners found to be in violation of the ordinance will be subject to a $25 fine and will be ordered to correct the deficiency. An additional $75 fine will be levied if violations are not corrected within two weeks.

City ordinance defines a nuisance is defined as “a condition which unreasonably annoys, injures, or endangers the safety, health, morals, comfort, or repose of any considerable number of members of the public” or “interferes with, obstructs, or renders dangerous for passage, any public highway or right-of-way, or waters used by the public.”

The nuisance ordinance further prohibits:

• “All ponds or pools of stagnant water.”

• “Accumulations of manure, refuse, or other debris.”

• “All dangerous, unguarded machinery in any public place, or so situated or operated on private property as to attract the public.”

• “Parking or storing any unlicensed, unregistered or inoperable motor vehicle, household furnishings or appliances on private property, unless housed within a lawfully erected building.”

• “Accumulations in the open of discarded or disused machinery, household appliances, automobile bodies, garbage, refuse or other material, in a manner conducive to the harboring of rats, mice snakes, or vermin, or the rank growth of vegetation among the items so accumulated, or in a manner creating fire, health, or safety hazards from such accumulation.”

• “All other conditions or things which are likely to cause injury to the person or property of anyone.”


Pool bills coming due


By Seth Schmidt

Over the past two years, the City of Tracy has borrowed $900,000 from a Hospital Improvement Trust Fund in order to finance Tracy Aquatic center-related litigation expenses.. Tracy city government leaders are now wrestling with the question of how to repay the $900,000.

“We have to pay the piper,” City Administrator Audrey Koopman wrote in a May 3 memo to council members.

The city administrator is proposing that the council use $900,000 from a $1,206,206 out-of-court settlement that the city received in January to repay the hospital fund.

City of Tracy taxpayers are also obligated to repay $1.2 million that the city borrowed to repair the aquatic center. Koopman proposes that the approximately $300,000 remaining from the aquatic center settlement be used to help repay the bond.

Hopefully, Koopman told council members Monday, a favorable settlement in the city’s remaining aquatic center litigation case will repay most of the remaining $900,000 owed for pool repairs. (Tracy is seeking $556,560 in damages, plus reimbursement for legal expenses, from an insurance company).

Regardless of the litigation outcome, Koopman noted that the city will not receive enough from its remaining aquatic center lawsuit in order to repay the bonds borrowed to repair the aquatic center.

She suggested that the unpaid balance of the city’s aquatic center repair bonds be shifted into long-term debt, and repaid by property taxpayers over a 10 to 15 year period.

The council discussed the recommendations Monday, and are expected to take up the subject again on May 22.


Hospital repayment supported

Koopman contended in her memo that the hospital fund should be repaid.

“There are going to be substantial improvements needed at the hospital in the near future if we hope to maintain a facility that will remain competitive with surrounding hospitals.”

Council members Jan Arvizu, Bill Chukuske, and Charlie Snyder all expressed support for repaying the money to the hospital account.

“I have said from the beginning that this is a loan,” Arvizu said. “It needs to be repaid if we are serious about keeping our hospital.”

The hospital trust fund is money that the City of Tracy received from Sioux Valley Hospitals in 1997 when Sioux Valley purchased hospital and clinic equipment and began leasing and managing the facility.

The hospital trust fund now stands at $261,000 today, following the accumulated withdrawal of $900,000 for the aquatic center litigation.

Koopman told council members that the hospital trust fund, although earmarked for the hospital, is not “the hospital’s money.” The money belongs to the City of Tracy, and the city council can choose to use it for any public purpose, she said.


Litigation expenses tallied

The City of Tracy has been faced with legal expenses related to the Tracy Aquatic Center since the fall of 2002. At that time, Olympic Pools, a major pool contractor, filed suit against the City because of contractual money that the city had withheld for non-completed work. In the fall and early winter of 2003, faced with evidence the aquatic center was suffering from sub-standard construction techniques and design flaws, city leaders decided to seek financial damages in a civil lawsuit. In late 2003, council hired Twin Cities attorney Jeffrey Coleman, with Tracy attorney Jim Kerr to serve as co-counsel, to represent the city in a lawsuit.

Monday, Koopman presented a detailed report about the cost of the city’s aquatic center litigation.

The city’s total expenses for aquatic center-related legal services, through March, she said are $537,369. Of this amount, she calculated $43,275 was paid to Kerr’s law firm prior to Coleman being hired. Kerr was paid an additional $160,992 for aquatic center legal services after Coleman was hired, according to Koopman’s figures. Kerr’s law firm has billed additional $10,776 during January, February, and March for aquatic center litigation legal services.

Coleman’s firm has been paid $312,000 for aquatic center related legal services through February of this year. An additional $10,323 has been billed by Coleman’s office for March.

In addition to the $537,369 spent for legal services, the city has spent $323,076 for “expert fees” (depositions, engineering studies, etc.) related to the litigation. Coupled with $18,661 in “miscellaneous” expenses, Koopman tallied the city’s total litigation related expenses at $879,106.

Koopman also listed $55,152 in aquatic center “reconstruction” expenses that previously had been incorrectly listed under litigation expenses. Including that figure, the aquatic center expenses total $934,259.


‘Enormous expenses’

“This is very sobering,” Arvizu said of Koopman’s memo. “We are dealing with enormous expenses.”

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that so far, the city hadn’t done very well in spending about $900,000 in order to collect a $1.2 million settlement.

Arvizu questioned whether having two law firms working on the case had increased the city’s legal expenses. She asked whether the city can afford having two firms represent it in litigation. She presented a motion that only Coleman’s firm work on the pending lawsuit with United Fire & Casualty in the future. Chukuske seconded the motion.

The motion and second were withdrawn after other council members questioned whether Coleman would continue on the United Fire & Casualty case without Kerr, and whether dropping Kerr would jeopardize the city’s case.

Council members decided to postpone consideration of Arvizu’s idea until hearing Kerr’s perspective at a special May 15 council meeting. (Kerr was not present when Arvizu submitted her motion).


Special meeting

The May 15 meeting has been scheduled by the council to consider legal services invoices for Kerr for the period August of 2005 to January of 2006 that have been questioned by a council legal committee. The full council has decided to withhold $10,776 in Kerr invoices from January through March of 2006 until the issue is resolved.

Koopman and Arvizu submitted a list of 56 questions to Kerr about the invoices. Kerr responded with detailed written responses that were delivered to City Hall Friday, May 5. Council members received copies of the responses prior to Monday’s meeting.

At Ferrazzano’s suggestion, council members postponed consideration of Kerr’s responses and the withheld payments until May 15.

Kerr, in a brief statement to the council Monday, said that he was fully prepared to discuss the issue and answer questions Monday night. He asked that the May 15 special meeting be broadcast over city cable television. At the conclusion of a two-page memo sent to council members, Kerr wrote:

“I firmly believe in all these services to the City of Tracy, I have acted in the City’s best interests to the best of my ability. I take great pride in my work to date…”


Troubled past

Construction on the $1.8 million Tracy Aquatic Center began in the fall of 2001 after voters approved a $1.5 million bond referendum. The multi-pool facility— with three large water slides, a lap pool, children’s play area and concession building—replaced a traditional rectangular pool that had served the city since 1951.

The pool opened in July of 2002, but water loss and surface crack problems were noticed in the summer of 2003. Extensive tests began on the aquatic center in late 2003, and the facility remained closed in 2004 and ‘05. Repairs, which cost about $1.2 million, began in 2005. The aquatic center is expected to resume operations this month with water safety certification classes for this year’s lifeguards. Full pool operations are expected to resume in June.


Kids refurbish Morgan St. bungalow

By Seth Schmidt

A three-bedroom bungalow on Morgan Street has a brand-new look thanks to a cooperative venture involving local high school students, Western Community Action, and the Tracy Economic Development Authority.

The 100-year-old house at 37 Morgan has been renovated from top-to-bottom. The dwelling has new windows, new siding, and new front and back porches. The interior—after being stripped down to its two by fours—has new plumbing and wiring, a new furnace and water heater, freshly-painted sheet-rocked walls, and new doors and trim. An L-shaped kitchen with new cabinets and appliances overlooks a spacious family room. New floor coverings cover every square inch of the floor plan. The house has a main floor laundry room, and two bedrooms downstairs and a large loft bedroom.

“It’s a nice house,” says Chris Howard, Tracy Area High School industrial arts teacher who supervised the construction.

Students in a TAHS construction trades class did all of the basic remodeling labor. Remodeling began in January of 2005 and was completed last week. Western Community Action Inc. purchased the house, and supplied building materials. The EDA assisted by paying utility and maintenance expenses during the construction phase.

The house, which was originally purchased for $17,213, is now listed for sale at $59,000.

Jill Houseman Western Community Action housing specialist is pleased with the Morgan Street house. The students “absolutely” did a good job with the construction, she said.

The house was renovated through Western Community Action’s MURL housing program, which is designed to assist low to moderate income families in securing quality, affordable housing. Houseman said that several parties have expressed interest in the house, and that the house may be sold.

It was Howard’s idea to have shop students renovated a house. Previously, the class had focused on smaller projects like storage sheds and garages. During the 2003-’04 school year, the class erected a picnic shelter at Sebastian Park.

Howard thought that remodeling a house would allow students to learn a greater variety of skills. So in the late summer of 2003, he approached EDA Director Robert Gervais with the idea of students fixing up an old house in Tracy, if the EDA could obtain a suitable house.

EDA members liked the idea. But finding an affordable Tracy house that was worth remodeling proved to be easier said than done. Several months passed before Western Community Action purchased the 37 Morgan St. property as the project house. It was early in ‘05 before clear title was obtained to the property and students began construction.

The late start, combined with the extensive amount of work that had to be done on the house, meant that the 2004-05 class couldn’t finish the house by the time school ended in May. Construction trades students resumed work on the house last fall.

Howard is happy how the house remodeling worked out.

“The skills students learned were very valuable because the skills are exactly what they will use on their own homes someday. I would recommend the project to anyone.”

To give students enough to work on this year, class students have also built a garage behind the Habilitative Services group home at 260 Harvey Street.

In both projects, property owners buy building materials and will make a payment equal to 15% of the cost of materials to Tracy Public Schools. The owner contribution—which on the Morgan St. house is expected to be $3,000—will be used to purchase additional tools and equipment for the industrial arts program.

Western Community Action will be hosting an open house later this month for students who have worked on the house, their parents, and EDA officials.

The 37 Morgan Street house is the fourth Tracy house that Western Community Action has rehabilitated through the MURL program. A 1,100 square foot rambler planned this summer on the corner of Center and East Morgan will be Tracy’s fifth MURL house project.

Western Community Action has completed more than 40 MURL housing projects since 1993.

Students in the class this year are Kirby Arens, Matt Bauer, Tyson Bornitz, Sean Castle, Joel DeMuth, Drew Hebig, Mitchell Holm, Tristan Larson, Sam Lau, Chad Stibbe, Erich Swenson, Eric Tutt, Derrick Vandromme, Derek Vosberg, Lucas Walling.

Construction trades students last year were Brandon Alexander, Kirby Arens, Scott Debbaut, Matt Engesser, Paul Johnson, Sam Lau, Jon Lustfield, Josh Ruppert, Mike Schreier, Adam Snyder, Erich Swenson, Eric Tutt, and Derek Vosberg.


Hospital hosts free barbecue

A free “community appreciation barbecue” is planned at Sioux Valley Tracy Medical Center Thursday, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Hospital, clinic, and O’Brien Court staff will serve burgers and hot dogs “with all the fixings” in the north hospital parking lot. The public is invited, and there is no charge.

The event is a part of National Hospital Week activities.

A “Hunt for the Heart” contest began Monday. Clues to find a red, three-inch heart somewhere within Tracy city limits are being posted daily in the hospital lobby, John’s Drug, Minnwest Bank South. A new clue is announced daily over KMHL radio at 9:20 a.m. each day.

Other activities this week include facility tours by Tracy Elementary and St. Mary’s School fourth graders on Thursday, an employee potluck lunch on Friday, and the announcement of the “Luscious Legs” contest winner.