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News from the week of October 18, 2006


Tracy business owner remains hospitalized

A Tracy woman remains hospitalized in Sioux Falls, after sustaining back injuries in an Oct. 10 forklift accident

Pam Cooreman was hurt when a pallet of potting soil being moved into a warehouse at Tracy Floral tipped from the forklift and fell on her. She was transported by air ambulance to Sioux Valley Hospital, Sioux Falls, S.D., where she is being treated for a fractured back and pinched spinal chord. She underwent surgery late last week to align her back.

Cards can be mailed to Pam Cooreman, 1305 W 18th St., Sioux Falls, SD, 57117. Well-wishers can also leave a message at Cooreman’s web page at

Pam owns and operates Tracy Floral Gifts & Greenhouse with her twin sister, Tam Schons. Pam and her husband, Kendall, have two children: Cole and Chantalle.


Aquatic Center shows $78,000 operating loss

Tracy Aquatic Center operations lost more than $78,000 this summer.

A city financial report shows the pool generated $62,320 in revenues and $140,926 of expenses during its 2006 swim season.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman called the aquatic center loss “frustrating,” as she presented the report to the city council Monday. She recalled that the consultants who designed Tracy’s pool, had projected that aquatic center operations would break even or possibly show a small profit.

The 2006 season was the aquatic center’s first since 2003. The $1.8 million pool opened in July of 2002, and operated one full summer in 2003. Defects and design flaws were discovered after the 2003 season, resulting in the aquatic center being closed in 2004 and 2005. A $1.1 million repair project allowed the aquatic center to re-open this May.

Not knowing what to expect for resumed pool operations this year, the city council budgeted a $60,000 loss for 2006. The higher than expected loss, Koopman told council members, will have to be taken from city reserves this year.

About $13,000 of this year’s operating loss was due to one-time costs associated with re-opening the pool, council member and pool committee member Jan Arvizu said. For example, pool operations started about three weeks earlier than normal this spring so that lifeguards could be trained. More than $2,000 had to be spent cleaning motors of concrete dust caused by the pool reconstruction.


Changes for ‘07?

Arvizu said that the pool committee (she, Koopman and pool administrator Shorty Engel) planned to develop a comprehensive strategy for increasing revenues and reducing expenses for next year. Some possibilities include increasing prices for season passes and daily admissions, reducing staff, and modifying concession operations. Current Aquatic Center admission and pass rates, Arvizu said, are very reasonable and could easily be increased. More emphasis on marketing the aquatic center, she said, will also pay dividends.

The aquatic center’s concession’s department, Koopman and Arvizu indicated, had been a disappointment. Instead of making money for the pool, concessions lost money. All aspects of concessions would have to be reviewed, Koopman said.


Attendance increases

Admissions at the aquatic center totaled just over 18,000 for the summer, according to Engel, which was an increase from 2003. Sales of season passes also increased, he said.

There were 120 season passes sold to resident families, and 34 non-resident family passes. An additional 25 individual passes were sold.

Engel said he was not surprised at this year’s deficit, given the extra start-up expenses the aquatic center encountered this spring. He said that increased energy costs are a major reason that the aquatic center’s operating costs are greater than what was projected before the facility was built. Aquatic Center utilities, which include the cost of heating pool water, totaled $28,915 in 2006.

Koopman said that the good news about the aquatic center is that Tracy “has a fantastic facility and the people know it.” The recently completed swimming season, she feels, can be used as a baseline for improving future revenues and reducing expenses.


School shows black ink

Deficit had been forecast

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

During Jim Nester’s audit report to the District 417 board of education Monday, the word “positive” came up several times. It was a word that set the tone for the entire audit report of the school district’s 2005-06 fiscal year. The audit was prepared by Nester and Nester, P.L.L.P., Certified Public Accountants.

“You came out positive using both [cash and accrual] methods,” Nester told the board. “Not every school or city we audit is that way.”

Nester went through highlights of the report with the board. He first painted the district’s financial picture using the old, cash method. Nester said the cash method is often easier to understand.

Under the cash method, the district showed overall revenues over expenditures and an increase in the fund balance of $33,720. The ending fund balance was $881,005.

Using the accrual system GASBY34, required by the state, the district showed a positive change in net assets of $103,241, for a total of $3,839,135.

Nester said the accrual method takes into consideration factors that were not included in the old system, such as depreciation. The two other major considerations are capital expenses, and the district’s bond issue, which is not a direct expense under the accrual method.

Overall, the district had more revenues than budgeted, and fewer expenditures than budgeted. The district was positive in its budget in almost every area, Nester added.

Supt. Dave Marlette told the board that this result was not expected when the budget was created. A loss in the fund balance had been predicted; instead, it grew.

“It is really exciting that we were able to do that,” he said.

In its management letter, Nester and Nester pointed out a few areas of minor concern. The first area is segregation of duties, which is noted in the report every year because of the district’s small size.

“All of our schools and all of our cities get this comment,” Nester said.

Nester and Nester recommends that the district to continue to segregate as many duties as possible among its accounting personnel.

The second issue noted in the management letter is acknowledgement of contributions received. Nester said this is also not something new that the district just started doing this year, but said the state is pushing districts to have a policy in place for acknowledging gifts and grants in the school board minutes. He said Nester and Nester could provide the district with a sample policy.

The third comment centered on operating and fund equity transfers. During the course of the audit, several transfers were recorded that required retroactive approval by the school board. The board approved a resolution later in the meeting to make transfers retroactive to June 30, 2006, to closet out the reserve for re-employment and to eliminate deficit balances to food service and community funds. Supt. Marlette said it was not possible to make these transfers until the exact amounts were known.

Marlette also noted to the board that according to the Taher Food Service agreement, if the district takes a loss in the food service fund Taher will decrease its management fee by that amount. He said the paperwork had been submitted to Taher and that the district should be able to gain back the $10,580 that was lost.


Home away from home

Diana Trulock still loves children in 35th year as daycare provider

By Valerie Scherbart Quist

It’s a brisk fall morning in Southwest Minnesota. Inside Diana and Roger Trulock’s cozy farmhouse kitchen, the atmosphere is warm and inviting.

A group of smiling little girls is gathered around a child-size picnic table, coloring pictures of jack-o’-lanterns. They’re eager to show their colorful creations to the visitor who has just arrived. A bright-eyed toddler gives the guest a shy smile, while Diana feeds a bottle to the youngest member of the group, a sweet baby nearly 6 months of age.

Toys here and there indicate that there has already been a good deal of fun had here this morning. Freshly baked miniature loaves of banana bread cool on the counter for the children to eat later on. Music plays in the background and children’s giggles permeate the room.


Own children were start

It is easy to see why Diana Trulock’s daycare has been a popular home away from home for area children for more than 35 years.

Trulock began doing daycare so she could stay home with her own four children. She had worked at a daycare center in Tracy and decided to start a daycare in her home. Trulock said she planned to do something different when her youngest, Jeremy, entered kindergarten. He’s now 26 and she’s still doing daycare. Trulock says it’s a busy way of life, but one she enjoys.

“The only time you get to sit down is if you have a baby to feed,” she said. “I love it though. That’s why I still do it.”

She said she is uncertain how long she will keep doing daycare, but for now there is no end in sight. She simply can’t imagine what her day would be like without the children there.

When Trulock first started caring for children in her home, she wasn’t required to have a license. Twenty years ago she became a licensed daycare provider. She is now licensed for 12 children and has a variance to accommodate extra children after school. Trulock has a total of seven after-school children, with three to seven coming after school on an average day.

During the day, Trulock usually cares for eight to nine children. Under her license, she can care for two children under the age of two, one infant and one toddler.

She enjoys having the amount of children she cares for now, feeling that it is actually easier to care for a group of about eight or nine children than just two or three. The children play together well and help each other. She emphasizes to the children the importance of treating each other with kindness when they are in their daycare family.

Trulock said she can also do more activities with a group that size. On an average day the children do crafts, sing songs, read stories, and play together. The television is usually on in the background, but she said the children don’t usually pay much attention to it.

At some daycares, Trulock said, the children have one room designated for them. At the Trulock home, it’s just the opposite.

“The whole house is the kids’,” she said. “A few years ago Roger built a room just for us.”


Rules change, kids stay same

Trulock has experienced many changes during her years of doing daycare.

One change is that now all babies must be put on their backs to sleep, even if their parents request otherwise. Trulock said it was once common to put children to sleep on their stomachs, and her own children, now adults, slept that way too. The fear of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, changed that.

Trulock has to take classes on issues such as SIDS and shaken baby syndrome. Each year she is required to take eight hours of classes in addition to CPR and first aid.

Trulock is also on a food program, which reimburses her for some of the food as long as she serves well-balanced meals. This program is regulated and there are unannounced visits to ensure that the guidelines are being followed. Another safety precaution is that everyone who is living in the house must undergo background checks every year.

While there have been changes in the rules and regulations for daycares, Trulock said, children are the same as they’ve always been.

“Each has their own personality,” she said. “Even the baby.”

One attribute Trulock says is a must when working with children is a sense of humor. Patience is another. As with any job, there are good days and bad, and tasks you’d just as soon not do, Trulock said— potty training, for example. For Trulock, however, the good definitely outweighs the bad.

She has cared for hundreds of children throughout the years, and felt a special attachment to each one.

“I miss the kids so much when they go to school,” she said. “I cry when they start kindergarten just like their moms—just like I did with my own kids.”

The children have also formed a special bond throughout the years with the Trulocks’ son, Jeremy, who gives them rides on his horses. The children’s ears perk up at the mere mention of his name, and they ask if he’s going to give them a ride.

Trulock said her ultimate goal as a daycare provider is to provide a homelike atmosphere for the children.

“I don’t do anything fancy, I just try to make it a home away from home,” she said. “They are kids for such a short time.”


Diana Trulock’s daycare is a home away from home for her daycare children. They include (front, from left): Reilly McConnell, Mady Vandendriessche, Delaynie Meyer, Morgan Sanow. Middle: Jordan Grogan. Back: Avery Boyer (Diana) Ashton Squires. Not pictured: Jacob Tauer and Lane Schmidt.

Mellenthin hopes third time is charm for House election

By Seth Schmidt

Pat Mellenthin is the DFL endorsed candidate for Minnesota House District 21A. But she doesn’t consider herself “much of a party person.”

“I support many of the principles of the DFL, but sometimes it is necessary to cross party lines.”

For a time, she said, she considered running for the legislature as an independent. “The partisanship that we see at the state legislature concerns me. It’s not helping our people,” Mellenthin comments. “Our leaders need to be able to work together.”

This is Mellenthin’s third campaign against Republican Marty Seifert of Marshall, who has served five terms in the Minnesota House. She was the DFL’s District 21A candidate in 1996 and also in 2004. Each time, Seifert won handily. Two years ago, Seifert won re-election with just over 60% (10,930) of the votes cast. Mellenthin received slightly over 39% of the votes (7,085).

She believes that this time, her campaign will win.

“What we have been hearing from the people has been, very positive. What I’ve heard more than anything else from people is the ‘it’s time for a change.’ We know that we can win this time. Our challenge is getting our supporters out.”


Hearing from people

Mellenthin is executive director of ARC Southwest, an advocacy group for people with disabilities. She and her husband, Jon, farm near Marshall. The Mellenthins have three married children ages 24-28 who live in the Marshall area. They have five grandchildren and are expecting a sixth.

A 1974 Marshall High School graduate, Mellenthin has actively campaigned for the legislature since August of 2005. As of early October, she said her campaign had connected with about 10,000 households—6,000 through a door-knocking campaign, and 4,000 via the telephone.

“It’s been really interesting to talk to people and hear what is important to them,” she said. “It’s been amazing.” The candidate says she has heard many good ideas. “A lot of the best solutions can be found right in our communities.” Her goal, she said, is to contact every household in the district before the election day.

What have local people been saying?

“People are concerned about the cost of health care and health-care insurance, You won’t believe the number of people I have talked with who don’t have any health insurance, either because their employer had dropped it or because they couldn’t afford the premiums any longer. Or I hear about people who are paying higher premiums for higher deductibles, who thinking about dropping their health insurance because they can’t afford it.”

A father without health insurance told her recently that he goes to bed every night worried that someone in his family will become seriously ill, and his family will lose their house because they don’t have any health insurance.

“He said that it’s either pay the mortgage or pay the insurance premium. That’s not right. These are hard-working families.”

Mellenthin criticizes budget decisions made by the legislature and the Pawlenty administration that she says eliminated 30,000 to 40,000 families from Minnesota Care, the state-subsidized health insurance program .

Dropping people from Minnesota Care, Mellenthin contends, simply shifted the state’s budget shortfall to struggling families and local hospitals and clinics, who end up providing more charity care for uninsured patients.

The Minnesota Care rollbacks, Mellenthin asserts, are part of a larger pattern that has had the effect of state government balancing its budget at the expense of the poor, the working middle class, students, and the elderly.

She agrees that Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the state legislature faced a difficult task in 2003 when they inherited a budget shortfall of more than $4 billion. The candidate disagrees with how the budget was balanced. Mellenthin feels the governor and the legislative majority have transferred state budget problems to the local level.

It is not true, she maintains, that state government balanced its budget without tax increases.

State cuts in Local Government Aid, forced units of local government to increase property taxes, Mellenthin says. She cites statistics showing how Local Government Aid cuts have affected District 21A municipalities. The City of Tracy has lost $285,505 in state LGA aid over the past three years, compared with 2003. (Tracy’s LGA funding was $941,515 in 2003, $792,431 in 2004, $829,779 in 2005 and $916,830 in 2006). Balaton showed a three-year combined LGA loss of $73,152; and Milroy received $10,176 less in state LGA aid.

State policies for funding K-12 education aid, have forced more school districts to turn to operating levies, also increasing upward pressure on property taxes, Mellenthin says. Students at state universities and colleges have had to pay sharply higher tuition. She said that she disagrees with a state policy that has the effect of having private-pay nursing home residents pay a $2,025 per bed annual state surcharge

Mellenthin says she is not in favor of raising the sales, income or property taxes. She said she would consider increasing those taxes only as a last resort. Based on current state revenue estimates, Mellenthin does not think there is a need to increase state property, sales or income taxes.

“If—and that is a big if—we find we need additional revenues to support the state’s priorities like education, property tax relief and health care, only then would I look to make the income tax more equitable for high-income households.”

Instead of increasing taxes, Mellenthin feels the state needs to do a better job of collecting the taxes that are already on the books. Minnesota, she says, needs to become more aggressive in collecting an estimated $1.5 billion in unpaid state taxes, and work to “close corporate tax loopholes.”

Mellenthin supports increased state support for Minnesota Care, and nursing homes and hospitals. To pay for this expense, Mellenthin says supports an audit of all state health care expenditures to make sure unnecessary amounts are being spent on administrative expenses and executive salaries. She feels that the state can save significant amounts by negotiating better prices from drug companies and reducing unnecessary state regulation.

State government, Mellenthin feels, needs to become “more creative” in managing its social services program. Growth in the current system, she says, is not sustainable. Mellenthin says she favors a pro-active approach to social programs, and would rather see taxpayer money spent to prevent problems, rather than deal with problems after they occur.


Transportation needs

Inadequate state funding for roads and highways, she says, has left Minnesota’s state transportation needs “ten years behind. “ Getting caught up, she says, will be far more expensive than if Minnesota had kept up with road and highway maintenance in the first place.

The candidate said she would support a three to five cent a gallon increase in the state’s gas tax, if it is part of a comprehensive transportation bill that puts the extra money to use building and maintaining roads.

Mellenthin said that she also supports a transportation amendment that would dedicate 100% of the sales tax paid on new and used vehicle sales toward state highways and transit needs.

“Right now it is the only thing we have on the table to fund transportation needs in this state.” Passage will provide “desperately needed funding for transportation” but won’t be enough to take care of all the state’s transportation needs, she comments.

Accounting shifts that helped balance the state’s budget, but also moved obligations into the future, Mellenthin says, are also an example of bad state policy. The budget shifts, simply mean that taxpayers will have more obligations to pay for in the future, she says.


Education is priority

The candidate wants state government to make a greater investment in education.

“I think that we should provide funding for all-day, every day kindergarten across the state, and I think that we need to raise our standards for science, technology and math across the entire K-12 system. I also think we need to restore funding for our Early Childhood programs. Every shred of evidence shows that this is the best investment we make in education, a solid start for every child. We can not afford to not make this investment.”

She acknowledges that state K-12 education funding has seen dollar increases over the past four years. But she argues that much of the increase has been eaten up by increased health-care and energy costs, and unfunded mandates like No Child left Behind,

“In terms of real dollars for education…we are certainly not putting more money into the classrooms. I think that is especially true in our smaller, rural districts where declining enrollment is also hurting us in terms of the dollars we get.”


No PAC money

Mellenthin says more than 100 people have worked on her campaign. Her campaign, has raised enough to spend the maximum $30,100 allowed by state law. Her campaign, she continues, has been financially supported by the Lyon County and Senate District 21 DFL, but not the state and national party organizations, and has not accepted money from political action committees.

District 21A includes all of Lyon County and most of Redwood County.

Mellenthin and Seifert are scheduled to participate in two debates prior to the Nov. 7 general election. A Pioneer Public TV debate is scheduled to air Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. The Marshall Chamber of Commerce and the Southwest Minnesota State University Political Science Department plans a Nov. 2, 8 p.m. debate at the college.

Wellness Center groundbreaking

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled Monday, Oct. 23, for a new Sioux Valley Tracy Medical Center wellness center. The ceremony is set at 3 p.m. at the new wellness center site south of the Prairie View Healthcare Center.

At the October meeting of the SVTMC advisory board Wednesday morning, it was reported that an agreement had been signed with wellness center developer RWS Joint Ventures. Besides a wellness center, the new building will also house the SVTMC therapy department.