News from the week of December 13, 2006
$10 month hike likely for Tracy utility bills
By Seth Schmidt
More expensive water and sewer rates are on tap for Tracy residences, businesses, and institutions.
Tracy City Council members took the first step to raising the rates Monday, by calling for a Jan. 8 public hearing on the rate increases. The proposed hikes would help pay for about $770,000 worth of utility improvements.
The planned increases will add $10 a month to the typical Tracy utility bill.
Monthly water and sewer rates would each increase $4 a month. The monthly sewer rate is proposed to increase from $7 to $11 a month for each individual user.
The utility surcharge fee will increase $2 a month for all categories. For example, a single-family home would see an increase from $12 to $14 a month.
No changes are proposed in the citys volume water rates, which are now $2 per unit (750 gallons).
It is estimated that the new water and sewer rates would generate an extra $89,000 annually, and that the utility surcharge increase would raise $22,000 a year.
Some of the money would go to pay off a revenue bond that the city likely issue in order to finance planned utility projects next year. Some of the added revenue will also go toward replenishing the citys utility fund, which has been used to finance past city projects. For example, the utility fund money has already gone toward a completed $42,000 fire hydrant replacement and repair campaign.
If the council approves the utility rate increases at their Jan. 8 meeting, the rates would become effective in February. Customers would begin paying the new utility rates on the city utility bills that are payable in April.
The proposed utility rate increases are the second for Tracy customers in a little over a year. The council also increased rates in October of 2005.
Utility improvements being considered by city leaders, and estimated costs, include:
Mapping the citys underground utilities using global positioning technology, $20,000
Construction of larger Eastview sewage lift station, $118,000.
South Tracy drainage improvements, $318,000.
Land acquisition, South Tracy drainage improvements, $124,000.
Safety equipment, $5,000.
Backhoe purchase, $28,000.
Drug-sniffing dog gives school demonstration
By Valerie Scherbart Quist
Tracy Area Public Schools board of education members got a first-hand look this week at how the Interquest Detection Canines service works. The board approved use of the service at their November board meeting.
JoEllen Peters attended Mondays school board meeting along with her dog Kory, a 4-year-old lab. Peters explained that Interquest Detection Canines is a nationwide-service headquartered in Houston. There are two branches located in Minnesota.
Peters said the dogs are trained not to sniff people; rather, they are trained to sniff out substances in cars, bags, and lockers. The Interquest Detection Canines use what is called a passive alert. When they detect something, they sit down. They do not scratch at cars or lockers, and do not bark. Peters said the process is less disruptive that way.
The dogs can detect illegal substances such as drugs, as well as alcohol, gunpowder, and medication.
Peters explained that when she arrives at a school to do a search, she checks in at the office first and has someone escort her around the building. If there is an alert, the student is brought out and asked to identify his or her locker or car.
The student is then asked if there is a reason why the dog would show interest. The student is then asked if it is okay to check the locker or car. Peters said she tries to be respectful of the students at all times.
We try to make them feel as comfortable as possible, she said. We try not to intimidate. Many times, she added, there is a logical explanation such as prescription medication.
If an illegal substance is found, Peters said, she fills out an evidence report and leaves it at the school. It is then up to the school to decide what action to take.
Students themselves are not searched and Peters does not ask them to empty their pockets. However, the school can ask the student to do so if there is reasonable suspicion, Peters said.
Peters said she likes to do a presentation for students before she does searches. That way she can explain to students how the service works and that sometimes when there is an alert, it is no big deal. Telling the students that searches will be done is also a deterrent, she said.
It makes students think twice, she said.
Peters demonstrated for the board how the detection process works. She planted two items in the room for the dog to detect. When the dog detected the item, it sat down as Peters had described. When the dog finds something, it receives its toy as a reward. Because of this, Peters said, she often plants items when she does searches so the dog can receive its reward even if nothing else is found.
She emphasized that it is important to notify students and parents that the searches will be taking place throughout the school year. While there will be notifications that the searches will be taking place, the exact date and time of the searches will be unknown.
Peters said Interquest Detection Canines does not endorse doing official lock-downs during the search process. Teachers can be asked to keep students in the classroom if possible, but students should not be kept in school if they need to leave for a doctors appointment or something of that nature, Peters said.
High School Principal Chad Anderson expressed concern that if a student is pulled out of the classroom he or she would have to endure teasing from classmates. Peters said this has not been a problem in the schools she has worked in, and added that that is why it is important to do a presentation to students ahead of time and notify students and parents that searches will be done.
Board member Peggy Zwach said that when searches were done in the past, a random group of students would be pulled out of the classroom in addition to those whose lockers were being searched and no one knew exactly whose lockers were being searched. Anderson said he thought that was a good idea and would look into the possibility.
Frank Nielsen to establish law practice at City Hall
Tracy attorney Frank Nielsen is establishing his own law practice.
After Jan. 1, Nielsen will operate from an office on the second floor of Tracy City Hall. Nielsen has been associated with Tracy attorney Jim Kerr since 1984.
The Nielsen law office will be located on the southeast corner of City Halls second floor, space has seen little use since the 1980s, when Tracy Community Education moved from the office. Nielsen has worked out an agreement with the Tracy City Council to lease the office space for $2,000 a year. Nielsen will be putting in his own phone, but does not yet know what the number will be.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Nielsen moved to Arizona as a boy, and was graduated from high school and college there. After earning a law degree at the University of Arizona in 1977, Nielsen practiced law in Kingman, AZ from 1978-83. While in Arizona, Nielsen met his future wife, Margie, a Minnesota native. Margies Minnesota ties influenced the couple to move to Minnesota in 1983. Nielsen practiced law in a small town near Alexandria for a short time before accepting employment at a Tracy law practice owned by Eugene Irons and Kerr. Margie Nielsen is a paraprofessional at Tracy Elementary School.
Nielsen has been the Tracy City Attorney for the past six years, working as a lawyer with the James E Kerr & Associates law practice.
Nielsen and the Tracy City Council have agreed to a legal services contract for 2007. The contract calls for Nielsen to provide all of the citys legal services for an all-inclusive fee of $40,000.
10 days remain for Tracy Nursing Home
Last resident is scheduled to depart Dec. 22
By Seth Schmidt
The last days of Tracy Nursing Home operations continue to tick down.
Only 12 residents remained at the home on Tuesday, with more discharges expected this week. Administrator Tennes Eeg said that he expects the homes last resident will depart from the Tracy Nursing Home on Friday, Dec. 22.
Our remaining residents and their families have made plans to move, Eeg said. All but one, he said, will be moving to the Prairie View Health Care Center in Tracy.
The Tracy Nursing Home had 33 residents on Oct. 31, when it was announced that the home would be closing, and that Prairie View was acquiring the homes state-certified beds. The homes official closing date with the Minnesota Dept. of Health is Jan. 31, 2007, but Eeg said that remaining residents want to get to their new homes before Christmas. The pace of residents being discharged from the home has accelerated in recent days. Two weeks ago, the nursing home had 22 residents.
Dwindling numbers caused the nursing home to move the remaining upper-floor residents to the homes main floor on Monday. The nursing homes kitchen is scheduled to close after Dec. 17. Food trays for the homes last week of operations will be transported from Prairie View.
Eeg said that employee morale at the Tracy Nursing Home remains positive, despite the impending closing.
Im very proud of our staff and their dedication, and have been for a long time.
The process of closing a nursing home, and helping move residents, has not been without challenges, Eeg said.
Its been a difficult and complicated process. But Eeg feels that both staff and residents have been understanding during the transition. Staff at Prairie View, Eeg noted, have also had to make adjustments as former Tracy Nursing Home residents are admitted at Prairie View.
As of Tuesday, Eeg said that five or six former Tracy Nursing Home residents had moved to Prairie View.
To help accommodate the influx of new residents, some Tracy Nursing Home employees have been hired at Prairie View. Eeg said that eight certified nursing assistants and nurses from the Tracy Nursing Home had been hired at Prairie View, along with three dietary department people, one housekeeping person,, one person from activities, and one maintenance person. The Tracy Nursing Home had about 60 full and part-time employees on Oct. 31.
Eeg said that Prairie View still has a need for additional staff, particularly in direct resident care personnel.
The administrator said that the Tracy Nursing Home board is hoping to organize some event after the nursing homes closure, to honor its past employees.
Building use undecided
The future use of the Tracy Nursing Home building remains uncertain. Eeg said that some inquiries have been made about the building, but nothing has been decided. Eeg said that the building will be maintained after nursing home operations cease.
Lift station gets okay
By Seth Schmidt
The City of Tracy is moving ahead with plans for a $118,000 sewage lift station.
Tracy City Council members gave engineers the green light to develop detailed plans for the project Monday night. It was also agreed to hire Kendal Cooreman Construction to begin excavations for a portion of the project.
The expanded lift station, council members have been told, is needed before the planned Tracy Wellness Center opens next spring. The lift station, located near the intersection of Union and Fifth Street East, pumps sewage from a low-spot in the citys mostly-gravity sanitary sewer system. The new lift station will also help the city meet Minnesota Pollution Control Agency standards.
Council members agreed with a recommendation from Public Works Director Rick Robinson, to have 700-feet a four-inch sewer pipe installed as soon as possible, between the lift station and a sewer main at Third St. East and Union. The four-inch main will replace a smaller piper. The city has covered the 700-foot path with mulch, in hopes of protecting the ground from frost.
The concrete lift station structure will include pumps, an alarm system, and control panels. The city has a diesel generator at the site to operate the lift station during a power outage.
Other points of council discussion Monday included:
The council also gave its blessings to a plan to install 1,300 square feet of tilling in the Eastview Addition. The $52,000 project is designed to reduce the volumes of groundwater that Sunrise Drive sump pumps are discharging into the sanitary sewer during cold weather months.
A preliminary assessment roll prepared by the city shows 22 properties that would benefit from the project. A $2,800 hook-up fee has been proposed for benefiting properties.
Public Works Director Rick Robinson said that it is important for the city to have an on-going effort to keep clear water out of the sanitary sewer. At present, infiltration and inflow problems, he indicated, are straining the citys sanitary sewer treatment lagoons. After a heavy rain event, the lagoons will receive 5 million gallons of water a day, even though city water use is only 300,000 gallons a day.
We need to get the sump pump water out of the sanitary sewer when we can, Robinson told the council. Not reducing the volumes of clear water entering the sewage treatment system, he indicated, will mean the city will have to install and pay for a larger and more expensive system when the sewage lagoons are upgraded.
Robinson said that the city should correct I & I problems whenever a street project is tackled. When Fourth Street East is improved, for example, improper drainage connections to the sanitary sewer will need to be fixed, he said.
Worker is injured
The Public Works Dept. is short one person.
Gary Garrels, the citys building inspector, sustained a broken ankle on Dec. 1 while looking for a curb stop, and will be unable to work for an unknown period of time.
Council members authorized Robinson to hire temporary help, at a wage of $25 an hour, to assist with snow removal operations from city streets. Robinson and City Adminstrator Audrey Koopman said that the citys snow removal system would be disrupted with the absence of one individual. The council okayed the temporary hiring of an individual, with the understanding that the person would be used only when needed for snow removal. To date, Tracy has had virtually no snow this winter.
Approval was granted to hire a retired building inspector from Pipestone, to cover the citys building inspection needs as needed. The mans fee will be $45 an hour, plus milage.
Robinson said that contractors and homeowners will have to realize that the city will need some advance notice for inspections while Garrels is gone.
New officer coming
Police Chief Bryan Hillger said that the police department should be up to full force soon. A new police officer, who is currently working as a corrections officer in a Steele County jail, will be joining the police department shortly after Jan. 1.
Hillger said that police reports were down somewhat this fall due to the department being down an officer. Activity likely will increase after the new officer does on duty.
The chief indicated that a new police squad car, a Ford Crown Victoria, was working out well for the department. The Ford replaces a Dodge Intrepid with high miles that had become increasing unreliable.
New water meters are being installed, Robinson reported, with large institutional meters being replace first. The meters being replaced are old and thought to be inaccurate, resulting in under billed customers. The new meters have the capability to be radio read by a city worker outside the structure.
Ninety new residential meters are also being installed. Robinson said that the new meters will be installed first in the Greenwood and Broadacres neighborhoods. The meter replacement is expected to continue through the city as money is available to buy meters.
Robinson also reported that a chain link fence had been installed between Swift Lake Park and the airport runway, Christmas decorations had been erected along Hwy. 14 with beefed up brackets, a faulty curbstop had been repaired by city crews with a rented backhoe, and that the foundation of the recently moved St. Marks Church building had been leveled and filled in.
Koopman reported that negotiations continue between city and Sioux Valley Hospital representatives, over a possible extention of the hospital lease. Sioux Valley has a lease to operate the hospital, medical clinic, and OBrien Court through 2017.
Koopman said that consideration is being given to the city giving up something in the lease payments paid by Sioux Valley, in exchange for an extended lease. An unknown in the discussions, is possible improvements to the hospital facility, and how those improvements will affect patient services, revenues and lease payments, Koopman indicated.
The negotiations are on hold, she said, until architects complete remodeling plans and estimated cost projections.
Approval was granted for a 2007 legal services contract with Frank Nielsen. The $40,000 contract is to be all-inclusive for all city legal services. The contract does give Nielsen the right to request extra compensation, if more than 500 hours of work are expended for the city. Steve Ferrazzano and Jan Arvizu, members of the councils attorney committee, recommended the contract. Ferrazzano said he liked the contract because it is simple and clear-cut.
Councilman Bill Chukuske said he would have preferred that the council had sought proposals from other attorneys also. He suggested that for 2008, the council issue a request for proposals for legal services.
Senior Dining contract
A contract with Lutheran Social Services was okayed that allows the agency to use the Tracy Senior Center for the senior dining program. Lutheran Social Services recently was awarded a contract to operate senior dining in the region. The approval was contingent upon Koopman and Nielsen, the city attorney, ironing out several small details in the contract.
Liquor store patio
Ron Radke, Tracy liquor store manager, said that good progress is being made on an outdoor courtyard improvement on the east side of the liquor store.
Barring unforseen events, Radke said it looked like the project would be completed in a reasonable time next spring.
The council agreed to split the difference in about $700 worth of travel and milage expenses accrued by James E. Kerr & Associates in handling the citys legal services.
Koopman told council members that the law firm had exceeded its travel expenses as allowed by contract. Kerr told the council that the added expenses had occurred because of a greater than expected number of city cases taken to court in Marshall.
Arvizu recommended that the difference be split, with the city agreeing to pay about $350 and the law firm absorbing the rest.
The $700 at issue is for mileage through October. Council members felt that the law firm should shoulder all of the travel expenses in November and December.
Chukuske asked council members whether it would be useful to establish a three-member council committee to hear employee concerns. Chuksuske said he had been contacted recently by a number of employees who he said werent comfortable taking their concerns directly to a supervisor.
Koopman said that the proper way for employees to address concerns was to talk to their department head, and then if necessary, to the city administrator.
There is a chain of command to follow, aged Charlie Snyder.
Chukuske said that he agreed, but that in a small town, it was almost inevitable that council members would hear about employee complaints. He wondered if a council committee that would hear both sides would be useful.
Ferrazzano said that such a committee could have merit, if the employee first went through regular channels.
Councilman Sandi Rettmer and Koopman said that if an employee has a grievance, they should be utilize the channels of their union.
Chukuske said hed like to have other council members think about the committee idea, and also get an opinion from Nielse.
The Monday meeting was the last regularly scheduled meeting for Jan Arvizu. The senior council member, who has served on the council since 1981, will be going off the council in January when her term expires. Several council members expressed gratitude from her service.
Thank you, Jan, said Snyder.
Cemetery research brings names to life
Cy Molitor documents125 cemeteries
By Valerie Scherbart Quist
Hanging around in cemeteries might not be everyones idea of a good time. But for Cy Molitor, cemeteries hold a certain fascination.
Molitor has compiled a list of more than 55,107 names of people buried in Southwest Minnesota cemeteries. So far, he has documented over 125 cemeteries in nine or 10 Southwest Minnesota counties. Thirty-four of those cemeteries are in Lyon County.
When I started this, I realized it would be a lot of work but it will help people, said the Lynd man, formerly of Tracy.
Molitor, who volunteers at the History Center at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, began the process about three-and-a-half years ago.
Molitor said Danebod Cemetery in Tyler is the largest in the area, with 9,000 people buried there. Marshalls city cemetery has about 7,000 and the Tracy city cemetery about 6,000 people buried in them.
It takes about two to three days to document one cemetery. Generally three or four people walk the cemetery row by row and write down all the information listed on a tombstone. If a person is buried next to a spouse, that persons name is included. Childrens names, if listed, are also written down. Later, daughters married names are added.
That way people can tell who they married and can trace it down better, Molitor said.
Once everything is written down, the information is entered into a computer. Research is also done through the Death Certificate Index and Social Security Death Index.
All of the information that is found is entered into a computer database. Molitor has published the database into two volumes that total over 1,200 pages.
I typed every last letter, Molitor said.
Occasional frustrations are part of the process, Molitor said. For example, some grave markers do not have full dates, only years. Because of this, a persons age might be incorrectly calculated.
Some graves are unmarked. In those cases, information can sometimes be obtained by looking through obituaries. As of last week, Molitor was up to drawer 91 in the History Centers obituary records. As he goes through them, he is adding information to the list.
Other frustrations come from obituaries. Some obituaries do not include information on where the person is buried or other important information such as dates.
Despite some difficulties, obituaries can also provide a great deal of useful information. When he is going through the obituary cards and finds in an obituary that the persons husband or wife is deceased, he then enters that persons name in the Death Certificate Index or Social Security Death Index to verify birth and death dates. Those names are then also added to the database.
Molitor said when he is finished with the obituary catalog at the history center, the work will slow down somewhat. Then, names will be added from current obituaries that are printed in local newspapers. Molitor said he spends about 30 hours a week going through obituary cards, adding names, and putting together a newsletter published by the History Center.
Names are organized alphabetically. Other information such as date of birth, date of death, cemetery, and personal information such as spouses and childrens names and military records are included if available. The names of the cemeteries and the counties they are located in are coded. The code is printed at the front of the book.
Since new information is being added constantly, Molitor said the printed version of his research is already outdated. However, the information is also available on CDs. Molitor has donated copies of the books and CDs to the History Center and the Marshall-Lyon County Library. People can also order copies of the CD for their personal use. The CDs will be updated every six months or so, Molitor said.
While the process of gathering and documenting all this information may seem tedious to some, Molitor says he enjoys the work.
Its a lot of fun looking through this stuff, he said. There are a lot of stories!
One cemetery near Tracy located just into Redwood County is home to the remains of a police officer killed in the line of duty in the 1930s. The earliest burial he has recorded was in 1830.
Molitor has also found out interesting information about his own family and has published books on that research too. For instance, Molitor and his brother are the only tall Molitors in the family. In his research, Molitor learned that he and his brother inherited those genes from their grandmothers brothers.
You learn a lot from this stuff, he said. Ive found out so much about my family.
Others are finding the research useful as well.
People love it, Moltior said.
Copies of the CD can be ordered by contacting Molitor at firstname.lastname@example.org or (507) 865-4712. The cost is $24.95.