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News from the week of November 29, 2006


TNH closing date is now Jan. 31

One-third of home's residents have already moved out


By Seth Schmidt

The process of closing the Tracy Nursing Home continues.

“We are working with residents and their families as closely as we can,” commented Tennes Eeg, Tracy Nursing Home administrator.

One month ago, the Tracy Nursing Home’s board of directors announced plans to close the nursing home operation, and sell its licensed beds to the owners of the Prairie View Healthcare Center. Eeg indicated Monday that the process of merging Tracy’s two nursing homes into one operation is continuing.

“We are doing the best that we can,” Eeg said. “Our residents will be taken care of.”

The Tracy Nursing Home had 22 residents as of Monday, Nov. 27, a decline from 33 a month ago. Eeg said that 11 residents had moved from the Tracy Nursing Home since the Oct. 31 announcement was made about the planned Tracy Nursing Home closure. Eeg said that he anticipates that most of the Tracy Nursing Home’s remaining residents will move to another home by the end of December.

The Oct. 31 announcement said that the Tracy Nursing Home would be closing effective Dec. 1, and that any subsequent operations at the nursing home would be conducted by Tealwood Care Centers Inc., the business that operates Prairie View. However, Eeg said Monday that the official date of the Tracy Nursing Home’s closing is now Jan. 31. Eeg said that nursing home must provide a 60-day notice prior to closing, and that this notice had been provided to the Minnesota Dept. of Health effective Dec. 1.

For that reason, Eeg indicated the staff operating the Tracy Nursing Home will continue to be employees of the Tracy Nursing Home, Inc. until the closure occurs.

Eeg, who is the acting administrator for both nursing homes during the transitional period, said that Prairie View is boosting its staff by hiring some of the Tracy Nursing Home staff. Job applicants from the Tracy Nursing Home continue to be interviewed at Prairie View, Eeg said, and some individuals have already been hired. Some of the Prairie View hires, he said, will be oriented to work at Prairie View, but continue to also work at the Tracy Nursing Home until that facility closes.

Some Tracy Nursing Home employees have already accepted positions elsewhere. But Eeg said that he doesn’t anticipate retaining enough staff to operate the Tracy Nursing Home until the last resident leaves.

“The Tracy Nursing Home staff has always had a very caring attitude towards our residents, and that’s continuing. They’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty to make sure our residents are taken care of.”

All commitments to Tracy Nursing Home employees, he added, such as vacation and sick pay, will be honored, and that plans are being made to give employees some kind of severance pay.

• • •

The Tracy Nursing Home’s Resident Council meets Wednesday, Nov. 29, at 5:30 p.m., to update residents on their options for moving. Gail Sheridan, one of the Tealwood partners, will be among attending. State and county social services employees will also be present.

The proposed purchase and transfer of the Tracy Nursing Home’s state-certified beds to Prairie View remains pending. If approved, the beds could be used for a future expansion at Prairie View. At the present time, Eeg said, Prairie View is full and can not accept any additional residents until the state approves the transfer of the Tracy Nursing Home’s beds. Many of the 11 residents who have left the Tracy Nursing Home have moved to facilities outside of Tracy.


Drainage plan moves ahead

Mid-summer completion is ‘best case’

By Seth Schmidt

A plan to improve storm water drainage in South Tracy took a step forward Monday.

Tracy City Council members ordered engineers to complete final plans and specifications for an estimated $360,000 drainage improvement project. The council’s action was contingent upon a completed purchase of land needed for a planned water retention area.

The council’s action means that project bids could be sought this winter, and construction started this spring or early summer.

Steve Robinson, consulting engineer for SEH Engineers of Worthington, told council members that under ideal circumstances, the drainage improvements could be complete by mid-summer. “Under no circumstances,” Robinson said, would the project be completed prior to April and May, when heavy rains have periodically caused surface flooding in South Tracy areas.

The drainage improvements are designed to move surface water from the northeast edge of the high school property and east from Spring St. to a new 42” storm sewer along South Fourth. Excess water would be discharged into a five-acre area on the southwest corner of the former Central Livestock property. After excess water had been held for a time in the retention area, water would eventually move through storm sewers toward an open country drainage ditch near the railroad tracks, and northeast out of the city.

Robinson said that the plan will ease the flooding problems that now occur now during sudden, heavy rains, But, he stressed, the improvements would not eliminate drainage problems. In order to correct the city’s drainage issues south of the railroad track, Robinson indicated, the city would need to build a series of retention ponds on Tracy’s southwest perimeter. City leaders have rejected the additional retention ponds because of estimated costs that exceeded $1 million.


Assessing the benefits

The council conducted a preliminary assessment hearing Monday for benefiting property owners.

If the city’s past assessment policy is followed, 50% of project costs would be shared by all city taxpayers. The remaining 50% would be paid through special assessments levied against benefiting property owners.

Parts of both the Greenwood and Broadacres neighborhoods are included in the assessment area.

The Greenwood area is bounded by the Highline Road on the west, Greenwood Ave. on the north, Fourth St., on the east, and Pine St. on the South. The benefited area in Broadacres extends 850 feet west of Fourth St., between Greenwood Ave. and Pine St.

Both the elementary and high school property are in the assessment area.

Actual assessments would be calculated on a square foot basis. Commercial/industrial property would be assessed at a higher rate than residential.

The city calculates that there is 4,205,710 square feet of commercial/industrial property to be assessed, and 1,212,500 square feet of residential property to be assessed. Based on an estimated project cost of $359,994, just under $180,000 (50% of project costs) would be assessed to benefiting property owners. The preliminary assessment rate based on that cost would be .03803 cents a square foot for commercial/industrial property and .01654 cents per square foot for residential property. At these rates, a 10,000 square foot piece of residential property (100x100-feet) would have an assessment of $165.40. Commercial property of 10,000 square feet would have an assessment of $380.30.

Exact assessment rates won’t be known until actual construction costs are known, and the council makes decisions on how property will be assessed.

The council could designate some undeveloped real estate as “planned open space.” The open space would be assessed at a lower rate than residential and commercial/industrial property, which would then have higher assessment rates.


Land deal sought

Tracy City Council members met in a closed session Nov. 20 to discuss the city’s attempts to buy a portion of the Central Livestock property for the drainage project. Nothing has been disclosed publicly about the negotiations for the land purchase.

Contacted Tuesday, City Administrator Audrey Koopman declined to comment on whether the city had made an offer on the property or whether an agreement on the land purchase had been reached.

Koopman reminded council members that money for any land purchase, and the initial financing for the drainage improvements, would have to come from the sale of city bond.


Highline connection

Council member Jan Arvizu asked whether the planned reconstruction of the Highline Road next year would improve drainage. In extreme run-off conditions, Arvizu said she has seen water flowing across the Highline Road from west to east.

Robinson said that the Lyon County project would keep more water out of southwest Tracy. The new roadbed would be higher than the present road, he said, and the ditch on the west side of Highline would be configured to carry more water further north on the Highline Road. After surface run-off had flowed north on the west side of the ditch, the water eventually would go underneath the road through a larger culvert, the engineer said.


Automatic payments?

Shut-off notice for past-due utility bill sparks discussion


By Seth Schmidt

Are Tracy residents interested in an automatic payment option for their city utility bill?

Tracy City Council members want to know.

An automatic bill payment option would deduct the amount owed for a utility bill from an individual’s checking account on the 15th of the month. Utility customers would still be responsible for reading their water meter, and either calling or e-mailing the information to City Hall.

City Council members decided to seek out public opinion on the automatic payment option Monday night. The city has published a notice on page 11 of this newspaper. Interested people are asked to drop off a completed form to City Hall by Dec. 15.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman said that there might be many people who find an automatic payment plan convenient.

“Let’s find out how many are interested,” said councilman Bill Chukuske.

City Finance Director Dave Spencer said that a minimum number of participants would be needed to justify the costs of setting up the automatic bill payment program.

“If 150 people do it, it’s worth it. If it’s only 10 or 15, then it’s not,” he said.

An automatic bill payment program would reduce the city’s costs in printing and mailing utility bills each month. Tracy’s utility bills include charges for water and sewer service, and residential garbage pickup.


Billing questions raised

The automatic payment option was discussed after a complaint was aired about City Hall’s methods for mailing utility bills and sending delinquent customers water shut-off notices.

Marv Rialson, a former council member, he had been asked by an elderly woman to address the issues with the council. He said that woman became “really disturbed and upset” when she received a “utility disconnection notice” in the mail this month.. The notice, Rialson said, warned that her utility bill was past due, and that her service would be terminated if her bill was not paid by the 10th. The woman’s anguish and confusion was heighten, Rialson said, by a typographical error that said the bill must be paid by Oct. 10, 2006, when she had only received the disconnection notice on Nov.2.

Rialson said that the woman had not paid her October bill because she had not received the bill from the city. He said that several things concerned him about the disconnection notice.

• Too short a period of time to respond. Instead of ten days to pay the bill or face disconnection, customers should have 30 days, Rialson said.

• The notice didn’t say anything about “water.”

• The tone of the notice was “threatening.”

• No phone number or name was listed where the customer could call with questions.

Rialson also asserted that the city’s present system of sending utility bills on a post card made it too easy for bills to be lost or misplaced in the mail. Instead of a post card, Rialson suggested that the city send its utility bills out in envelopes with first-class postage.

“This is not how we should be treating our residents,” said Rialson. He said this was the first time the woman had not paid her bill.

• • •

Dave Spencer, city finance director, said that delinquent utility bills are a continual problem. He said that the city’s computerized billing system is set up to allow for a one month grace period in not sending a disconnection notice the first time an individual fails to pay their bill. A disconnection notice is automatically sent for each subsequent missed payment.

It is not unusual, Spencer said, for City Hall to send out 60 to 70 disconnection notices each month. This past month, Spencer said he had to mail out 77 disconnection notices. Most delinquent accounts do pay by the 10th of the month, Spencer indicated. However, 2 to 4 customers who still fail to pay their bills have their service shut off each month, he said. Tracy has about 940 utility accounts.

Spencer said that it is possible that city utility bills do get lost in the mail. If the elderly woman had only called someone at City Hall, Spencer said, he would have apologized to the customer and the matter could have been quickly resolved.

Kathy Christians, city administrative assistant, said that the disconnection notices sent out each month tend to be the same people, over and over.

• • •

Koopman said that mailing utility bills with first-class postage and an envelop would be considerably more expensive for the city and would also require extra labor for stuffing envelopes.

Rialson responded that a city that spends $65,000 to keep a swimming pool open for three months could afford an extra postage and envelop expense if it resulted in better service for its customers.

Several council members expressed sympathy for the plight of Rialson’s neighbor.

Chukuske said that, looking at the city’s notice from the perspective of an elderly person receiving it, the notice did seem “threatening. Maybe we need to make this more understandable, maybe more friendly.” Jan Arvizu said that the notice should have a phone number, and list the word “water” to make it clear what service was at risk of being disconnected

The council directed city staff to “soften up” the disconnection notice language, and make it “more friendly.”

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said that ultimately, people have to be responsible for paying their bills. An individual who doesn’t get a city utility bill, he said “should realize that they can always call and ask for the bill.”


Here's what's cooking

New school program teaches food service management skills


By Valerie Scherbart Quist

Students at Tracy Area High School are getting first-hand experience in the food service industry through a program that teaches them the ropes.

The program, called ProStart, was developed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF), is a two-year curriculum designed to teach high school students the management skills needed for a career in the restaurant and food service industry.

“It’s nice to give the kids these skills,” said teacher Tamara Wee. “Many of them will end up working in the food service industry in college.”

She said the district was able to get a grant through the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative to fund the program. About 11 school districts in the area are implementing ProStart.

Wee said that the program involves teaching students more than just how to cook. They also learn about food safety issues such as how to prevent food-borne illnesses and how to handle a knife properly. They also learn skills in customer service and management.

Students who currently work in the food industry also have the opportunity to earn a college credit.

Recently, the students had the chance to implement their newly learned skills when they operated a sandwich shop for teachers prior to conferences. All students in the program had to apply for positions such as managers, waiters, chefs, and hosts.

Adam LeClaire was one of the managers. He said the teachers were given tickets beforehand, which they brought in with their selection. The tickets were given to the chef, who would plate the meal.

“It went pretty well,” he said.

Brittany Norstegard was also a manager.

“We had to make sure everything was going smoothly and fill in where needed,” she said.

Norstegard said she had worked in the restaurant business before, but that it was different serving the teachers because she knew them.

Preparation was also very important. The students made the food ahead of time so it was ready to serve when the teachers arrived. During the last period of the day, the students arranged the tables and set them.

“Everyone worked together as a team so it went very smoothly,” she said.

Chad Cooreman was a host. It was his job to seat everyone and pull out their chairs for them. All the hosts wore shirts and ties, and the waiters and waitresses all dressed alike, he said.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “The teachers really enjoyed it too. It was a fun learning experience.”

Cooreman, who works in the kitchen at Prairie View Healthcare Center, is taking the college credit for the class. He has enough hours through his job at Prairie View in addition to the class to earn the credit.

Most of the students say learning to cook is one of the main reasons they took the class.

LeClaire said he has learned a lot so far, from making desserts to cinnamon rolls to omelets.

“I took this class so when I get into college I won’t have to live off mac & cheese and pizza,” he said.

Norstegard agreed.

“I like to cook and eat, and pretty soon we’ll have to cook for ourselves,” she said. “I like the hands-on nature of the class.”

Derek Evans said that in addition to being able to eat in class, there has also been much to learn.

“We learn a lot of the basic stuff,” he said.


St. Mark's move is imminent

If all goes as expected, a Tracy landmark will be moved to a new location Friday.

The former St. Mark’s Episcopal Church building is scheduled to be moved to the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum on Friday.

“We haven’t been told a specific time, but we have been told that it will be moved on Friday,” reports Janet Randall, Wheels museum treasurer. The Thein Moving Company of Clara City will move the former church.

St. Mark’s has anchored a triangular lot at the intersection of Second, Center, and North streets since 1937. After the Episcopal congregation disbanded in the 1960s, high school teacher LeRoy Marcotte operated an art studio in the building. After Marcotte’s death, St. Mark’s became a museum operated by the Lyon County Historical Society. In the early 1980s, the historical society gave St. Mark’s to the City of Tracy, which has maintained the building as a museum. The St. Mark’s Church was built in 1901, at the corner of Fourth and Morgan streets, and later moved to its present location.

In October Wheels Across the Prairie Museum board members asked city officials for permission to move St. Mark’s to the Wheels property. City leaders agreed to transfer St. Marks’ ownership to the Wheels group, and gave their blessings to the move.

St. Mark’s new location will be west of the Wheels museum’s 19th century log cabin. A foundation has already been prepared.

Wheels museum volunteers feel that St. Mark’s will be a good addition to the museum, and make St. Mark’s more accessible to the public. For the past 20 years, St. Mark’s has been open for only a short time during Tracy’s Box Car Day weekend. At its new location, St. Mark’s will be open when ever the Wheels museum is open, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

The estimated cost of moving St. Mark’s and placing it on a new foundation is $20,000 to $25,000. The Wheels museum has begun a drive to raise money for the move.


Auxiliary hopes to continue services to residents


The Tracy Nursing Home Auxiliary hopes to continue its mission, despite the planned closing of the nursing home.

“We would like to continue at Prairie View, if they will have us,” said Auxiliary President Kay Radke.

The auxiliary, which was organized in 1966, traditionally has helped provide small extra services for nursing home residents. Those extras having included shopping for residents, sending birthday cards, and giving residents Christmas gifts. Helping with the nursing home’s Christmas party for residents and a Mother’s Day Tea are annual projects for the auxiliary.

“Our pie social is our biggest project,” Radke said. The event, held on a Thursday evening in June, has raised money for a variety of Tracy Nursing Home projects. New card tables and chairs, a patient lift, and an outdoor patio are recent auxiliary-supported projects.

If Prairie View management will allow it, Radke said that the auxiliary would like to continue its projects. Prairie View does not now have an auxiliary.

“Some of the residents (at the Tracy Nursing Home) have asked us if we will continue doing what we are doing,” Radke said. “We said that we will if we can. We don’t know how things are done at Prairie View.”

Radke said that she and other auxiliary members were saddened by the recent decision to close the Tracy Nursing Home. But she also hopes that the change can also be an opportunity for the auxiliary to not only continue to serve the elderly in the community, but also add members.

“We hope that we will have more people turning out for our annual meeting.”

The auxiliary’s annual meeting has been scheduled for Feb. 5, 2007. An inquiry has been made as to whether the gathering can be held at Prairie View.

The Tracy Nursing Home Auxiliary now has 30 members. Dues are $5 a year. Other officers are Mary Lou Anderson, vice president; LaVerne Jessen, secretary; Goldie Wilking, treasurer.