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Baseball veterans hear cheers again in ballpark

Two local men were among 15 Minnesota amateur baseball greats who were honored in a ceremony prior to a Twins baseball game at the Metrodome Sunday. Art Marben (top, center), a Tracy educator from 1953-85, played for the Springfield Tigers from 1947-52. Spike Dolan (second from right, bottom) played on six state tournament teams with the Milroy Yankees from 1947-69. Left, Jim McNulty fires the ceremonial first pitch for the Twins-Tigers game.

Tracy school enrollment drops

30-pupil decline is smaller than early estimates

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

Enrollment is down again this year at Tracy Area Public Schools.

Supt. Dave Marlette said Monday that enrollment is down by approximately 30 students this fall, compared to enrollment numbers in the spring. However, he said, the decrease was less severe than expected. The district had budgeted for a decrease of 39 students.

The district enrollment of 713 students is down from the fall of 2005, when there were 766 students enrolled, a difference of 53 students. In the past two years, district enrollment has dropped by nearly 100 pupils. In the fall of 2004, 812 students were on the district rolls.

The main reason for this decline in enrollment is the difference in numbers between the graduating class of 2006 and the incoming kindergarten class. Eighty-three seniors graduated from Tracy Area High School this spring. There are 38 kindergarten students this fall.

Marlette also said that a few more students may trickle in over the next few weeks. The official enrollment tally must be certified by the state on Oct. 1.

Enrollment at St. Mary’s School is also down this year, from 60 students last fall to 53 this year.

St. Mary’s has five students in kindergarten, 10 in first grade, nine in second grade, five in third grade, 10 in fourth grade, 10 in fifth grade, and four in sixth grade.

Eighty-three students are attending school in Milroy this year. There are 45 students enrolled at M.I.L.R.O.Y. Area Charter School in kindergarten through fourth grades. There are nine students in kindergarten, 11 in first grade, 11 in second grade, seven in third grade, and seven in fourth grade.

Thirty-eight students are attending Milroy Public School in fifth through eighth grades. There are 10 students in fifth grade, 12 in sixth grade, eight in seventh grade, and eight in eighth grade.

Tracy Public School enrollment:

Fall 2005 Fall 2006

Pre-K 7 8

K 31 38

1 48 37

2 39 43

3 44 42

4 38 45

5 53 33

6 54 54

Elem. Total 314 300


7 63 58

8 65 62

9 76 73

10 89 71

11 70 79

12 89 70

HS Total 452 413


Total: 766 713


Preliminary '07 city levy is up 10.5%

By Seth Schmidt

A preliminary 2007 property tax levy okayed by the Tracy City Council Monday represents a 10.5% increase from 2006. But city leaders indicate that they hope to reduce the increase before the city’s 2007 budget is finalized in December.

“We don’t want people to think that there is going to be a 10.5% increase,” said council member Sandi Rettmer Monday. Rettmer said she wanted it to be “very clear to the public” that the council will be reviewing the proposed 2007 budget and looking for areas to save money. “This is where we start to whittle down,” she said.

The preliminary levy approved Monday night will be used on the “truth-in-taxation” statements that Lyon County will mail to city residents this fall. The council can reduce, but not increase, the preliminary levy. The final levy must be certified by the end of 2006.

Tracy’s proposed 2007 levy totals $839,330. Tracy’s 2006 property tax levy was $759,313.

The levy has three parts: general fund, debt service, and permanent improvement. The proposed individual levies, compared with 2006 figures, are:

• $453,830 general fund, up from $412,813 in 2006.

• $345,000 debt service, up from $331,500 in 2006.

• $40,500 permanent improvement, up from $15,000 in 2006.

The local property tax levy represents only a small portion of city revenues, in part because of revenue generated by state aid. In 2006, state aid in the form of Local Government Aid is expected to total about $916,000. The city’s general fund budget for 2006 is just under $1.8 million.


‘Difficult budget’

“This has been a difficult budget to put together,” City Administrator Audrey Koopman told council members. “Revenues just don’t keep up with expenses.”

The 2007 budget pencils in a 3.3% annual wage increase for city employees. Employee health insurance premiums have seen a sharp increase, Koopman informed the council, and employees have accepted a higher deductible in order to limit the size of the increase.

Aquatic center operations and street seal coating are among the uncertainties in the 2006 budget.

Koopman said that she has $59,500 budgeted for aquatic center operations, although she doesn’t have all of the financial data from the recently completed 2006 season. The aquatic center budgeted spending could change depending on what the 2006 figures show.

A total of $40,500 is in the 2007 budget for seal coating city streets next year. Koopman said that this expense could be included in a 2007 bond issue, which would spread the expense over a longer period of time. The $40,500 could then be taken out of the 2007 permanent improvement levy.

The proposed levy does not include any money for paved shoulders along the Highline Road next year. Council members decided at their August 28 meeting that the paved shoulders, which would have been designated as bike lane, should be dropped from a 2007 Highline Road improvement. Council members decided that the estimated $85,500 city cost for the paved shoulders was not a city priority. A motion, suggested by Sandi Rettmer, reversed an earlier council decision, by deleting the Highline Road bike lanes from the 2007 budget.


Dental Health will close Tracy office

By Seth Schmidt

The Tracy Dental Health Center is closing because no dentist is available to serve the clinic. Nov. 1, 2006, is the effective date of the closing.

Dr. Randy Johnson, Marshall, who has provided dental care in Tracy since 1986, said that efforts to recruit a dentist for the clinic have been unsuccessful to date.

“It’s hard to attract health-care professionals to rural areas,” said Dr. Johnson. He said that he has been trying to attract another dentist with the help of a professional recruiting firm since the summer of 2005. Young dentists today, he said, have many opportunities to choose from because of a national shortage of dentists.

Dr. Johnson said that he will continue to explore all avenues to find a dentist for the Tracy clinic, which he said is a well-equipped dental facility. But for the time being, he feels that he has no alternative but to close the Tracy clinic.

“Tracy deserves to have its own dentist. But I can’t be in two places at once.”

Dr. Johnson is the only dentist at the Dental Health Center in Marshall. He said that the Marshall practice alone could support two dentists.

Dr. Johnson has been alone since Jan. 1 of 2006, when Dr. Brandon Ulstad left to start a dental practice in his hometown of Madison, MN. Dr. Ulstad’s departure resulted in most Tracy dental appointments being moved to the Dental Health Clinic in Marshall. Nancy Iversen remained to manage the office in Tracy and a limited amount of dental hygiene appointments were held in Tracy. But Dr. Johnson said that it does not make sense to continue that arrangement, since most dental appointments require a dentist. All Dental Health Center business and record-keeping, he noted, can be handled out of the Marshall office.

Dr. Johnson stressed that Tracy dental patients will still be served from the Marshall office. After Nov. 1, all records will be in the Marshall clinic. Tracy Dental Health hygienist Lezlie LaVoy and dental assistant Valorie Andree already work at Dental Health in Marshall.

• • •

Dental Health came to Tracy in 1986 after buying out the practice of Dr. Murray. At that time, Dental Health had three partners who rotated days in Tracy: Dr. Johnson, Dr. Waletzko, and Dr. Reeder. Drs. Waletzko and Reeder are now retired.

The Dental Health Center moved from Dr. Murray’s former clinic building on Fourth St. to a remodeled facility on Third St. in the early 1990s.

A letter announcing the pending closure of the Tracy Dental Health Clinic is scheduled to be mailed to patients later this week. The letter states, in part,

“We have been very proud and thankful to have had the opportunity to provide dental care in the Tracy community for over the past 20 years. We have appreciated the confidence, trust and support you have given our office as we tended to your dental needs.”

Three file for mayor, five for council

A three-way mayoral race is set in Tracy this fall.

First-term city council member Sandi Rettmer filed for the mayoral race just before the 5 p.m. Tuesday filing deadline. She joins Marv Van Acker and incumbent mayor Steve Ferrazzano as mayoral candidates. Ferrazzano and Van Acker both filed earlier for the four-year term. Van Acker ran unsuccessfully against Ferrazzano for mayor four years ago. Ferrazzano is serving his first term as mayor.

Five candidates—including two incumbents—have filed for three, four-year city council terms. Jan Arvizu and Russ Stobb are the incumbents seeking reelection. Tony Peterson, Lary Parker, and Michael Martin are the other city council candidates.

Tim Byrne, the other council incumbent, did not file for reelection.

Winners in the Nov. 7 general election will begin serving their terms in January.

Rettmer is now serving the second year of a four-year term, If Rettmer should top the mayoral election, her council seat would become vacant at the end of 2006, according to City Administrator Audrey Koopman. The city council would then have the responsibility of making an appointment to fill the vacated council seat, Koopman said. If Rettmer does not win the mayoral election, she would continue serving her council term.


Flu pandemic possibility triggers plans

By Seth Schmidt

If an influenza pandemic broke out in Lyon County, would you be prepared?

Jeff Moberg, educator for Public Health Services in Lyon, Lincoln, Murray and Pipestone counties posed that question in Tracy last week.

“Every individual and family should be thinking about what they would do if we had a serious outbreak of bird flu or some other emergency.”

Emergency planning, he says, is best begun on the individual and local level.

“One thing that was learned from (Hurricane) Katrina, is that you are on your own when something big happens. No one is going to come in on a white charger and take care of all of your problems. It’s going to take awhile for state and federal help to arrive.”

When a railroad derailment in Balaton spilled thousands of gallons of flammable ethanol in 2004, Moberg noted, it was local people who responded first.

What would happen if an influenza pandemic or some other highly contagious disease struck Minnesota and the U.S?

Moberg acknowledges that no one knows for certain how at risk we are for influenza outbreak, and what could happen if an influenza crisis did occur. But the Minneota Dept. of Public Health Services, and many other units of government and emergency response groups, he said, don’t want to be caught flat-footed. They want to do the best they can to make sure that public agencies, businesses, and individual people are as prepared as possible, he said.

“We’re hoping for the best but preparing for the worse.”

• • •

What is a worse case scenario?

“The worse case would be pandemic as bad as the influenza of 1918,” Moberg said.

The 1918-20 influenza pandemic killed about 30 million people worldwide. About 550,000 people died in the United States, with about 12,000 deaths occurring in Minnesota.

“If we had something as bad as 1918, it is projected that there would be 300 deaths in our four-county area,” Moberg said. About 15,000 of the 49,000 people in Lyon, Murray, Pipestone, and Lincoln counties would be ill. Forty percent of the workforce would be too ill to work.

In such an emergency, almost nothing would be “normal.”

“There would be up to 850 people in our four-county area that would need to be hospitalized. But we have only 250 hospital beds.”

For that reason, Moberg said that, hospitals and other groups are developing emergency contingency plans For example, Morberg said that 24 hospitals in a 16-county area of Southwest Minnesota counties have agreed upon mutual assistance plans.

The Department of Health, he said, is encouraging providers of essential services to cross-train personnel so there is adequate backup in case of illness.

“It’s not going to do any good to have a water treatment plant, and only two people know how to run it and they both get sick,” Moberg said, as an example.

All businesses and organizations, Moberg suggests should think about how an influenza pandemic could affect day-to-day operations and their employees, and plan accordingly. How would supplies and demand for products and services be effected? Who could fill in if essential employees become sick? How can employees be protected at work? Could employees work at home? How would the finances of a business be affected?

Individuals should be prepared at home too.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends that people stock a two-week supply of water and food. If a pandemic. Have non-prescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins. It is suggested that people check with doctors and insurance companies about getting an extra supply of regular prescriptions drugs.

Families and friends should discuss who would care for each other if someone got sick.

Authorities also issue a reminder about personal hygiene habits.

• Get in the habit of washing hands frequently with soap and water.

• Cover coughs and sneezes with tissue paper.

• Stay away from others as much as possible if you are sick. Stay home from work and school if ill.

More information is available at the following web sites:

Minnesota Dept. of Health—

Center of Disease Control and Prevention—

World Health Organization—

Flu pandemic would be different from seasonal flu

What is an influenza pandemic?

The Minnesota Department of Health defines pandemic flu this way:

“An influenza pandemic is a very large outbreak of flu, usually affecting the entire world. A pandemic can happen whenever there is a major change in the virus that causes flu.

“Flu viruses change over time. That’s why individuals need to get a flu shot every fall, to protect against the flu strains that will be around during the coming flu season. Usually these changes are gradual—this year’s flu viruses won’t be that different from last year’s viruses.

“But when a major change occurs, most people will have little or no immunity to the new virus. Unlike regular flu, a pandemic virus can show up any time of the year, and there probably won’t be a vaccine for it—at least not right away. Anti-viral drugs may or may not work, and they may be in short supply. The resulting wave of illnesses can spread rapidly across the globe, making many millions of people ill.

“(There have been) three pandemics in the last century—in 1918, ‘57, and ‘68. The 1918 pandemic was the worst…the 1957 and ‘68 pandemics were much less severe. We don’t know when the next pandemic will happen, or how bad it will be. But sooner or later, it will happen, and we need to be ready.”

• • •

Unlike seasonal flu viruses that usually strike from December through March, a pandemic flu can occur at any time of the year. Most people with seasonal flu illness will recover within a week or two without medical treatment. The very young, old and the very sick are most at risk of serious illness from seasonal flu.

According to the National Security Health Policy Center, in a pandemic flu outbreak, some people will not recover even with medical treatment, and people of every age may be at risk of serious illness.

Health officials worldwide are concerned about the risks posed by an influenza virus called H5NI. The H5NI virus, commonly called “bird flu” or “avian influenza,” has killed large numbers of domestic and wild bird populations.

Spread of the H5NI virus has been almost exclusively been confined among birds. Instances of bird to human contamination are rare. Public health leaders are concerned about the possibility that the H5NI virus will mutate into a form that can be passed easily from human to human, thereby causing a pandemic.