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News from the week of December 4, 2002

State deficit threatens state park campgrounds

The elimination of overnight camping at many Minnesota state parks—including Shetek and Camden—is one possible impact of a projected state budget deficit.

“That's the worst possible scenario,” said Bruce Eliason, Lake Shetek State Park manager.

Under one state budget plan, only 12 state parks would offer camping services after July 1 of 2003. No overnight camping would be allowed at 54 other state park. Shetek, Camden, Blue Mounds, Flandrau, Fort Ridgely, Kilen Woods, Big Stone, Kilen Woods, Split Rock Creek, and Upper Sioux Agency would be among the parks losing overnight camping. Sibley State Park, north of Willmar, and Lake Carlos State Park, would be the closest state parks with camping.

“We are all hoping that we don't have to do that,” said Eliason. “We don't think that the legislature wants that, and we don't think that the public would want that.” The Shetek campground, he said, runs close to capacity from Memorial to Labor Day.

“It would not be good for the park and it is not going to be good for visitors,” said Bill Dinesen, manager at Camden State Park.

The Minnesota Department of Finance has projected a $1.6 billion deficit for state government's 2004-05 budget. The DNR's Division of Parks and Recreation has been instructed to reduce its 2004-05 budget by one third, or $9.77 million, to prepare for the anticipated deficit.

Closing the campgrounds is just one money-saving possibility, Eliason said. Perhaps the campgrounds will remain open, but no staff will be available to maintain a reservation system, he said. Maybe just some of the campgrounds would be closed. Maybe park maintenance will be reduced.

“Everything is up in the air, really,” said Eliason. “It will really depend on what the new governor, the new DNR commissioner, and the legislature decides to do.”

Fee increases are also a possibility, according to Eliason.

This isn't the first time that budget cuts have threatened programs at state parks. But both Eliason and Denison say this is the worst money crunch state parks have ever faced. In addition to the camping closures, a 30% reduction in DNR resource management is planned for the state park system's 250,000 acres.

Kiwanis marks 80th

The Tracy Kiwanis Club is celebrating its 80th birthday.

Loreena Ennenga, Kiwanis Lt. Governor from Worthington, is the keynote speaker at a Saturday night banquet at the Mediterranean. The event commemorates the service club's founding in Tracy in 1922.

Vernon Grinde is master of ceremonies at the 6:30 p.m. banquet. Janet Randall, the current club president, will welcome attendees.

Kiwanis was originally an all-men's organization, comprised exclusively of business and professional people. A Nov. 29, 1922 an organizational meeting attracted 37 men, including some of Tracy's most prominent leaders.

Warner G. Workman was the first president, Don Casselman the vice president, Ray Walker the secretary, and H. M Algyer the treasurer. A.R. English was the Tracy Kiwanis Club's first district trustee. Local directors were W. H Valentine, H. J. Partridge, W. H Wilder, RR. Sorenson, W.R Mitchell, I. J Fitch, and T.A. Nelson.

Early Kiwanis projects included the development of wading pools, and an ice skating rink on the north end of Central Park and the sponsorship of swimming lessons at Shetek State Park. For many years, the Tracy Kiwanis Club sponsored an AFS student in Tracy. Current service projects include scholarships for high school seniors, books for first graders, a community children's Easter egg hunt, Children's Miracle Network, Kiwanis International iodine deficiency project, and donations to many community organizations.

The format of the weekly Kiwanis luncheon remains much the same as it was 80 years ago. Each noon lunch includes singing, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a program featuring an outside speaker. Changes have crept into the club too. Women have been welcomed into the club since the late 1980s, and there is no longer any limitations to having no more than two members in each businesses and professional category.

For ticket information, people can contact Keith Stanton at 629-3650.

State money woes cloud Tracy budget & tax levy

The state budget deficit cast a long shadow at the City of Tracy's “truth-in-taxation” hearing Monday night.

Uncertainty about possible lost money from state aid cuts dominated discussion.

“The concern that we have to face is the real possibility of either unallotment or aid payment deferment (from the state),” said City Administrator Audrey Koopman.

With the State of Minnesota facing a 2003-2004 budget shortfall that could exceed $3 billion, Koopman said that local units of government are certain to lose state aid. The question remains how much, and what form the cutbacks will take.

Tracy's proposed 2003 budget and property tax levy is based upon an assumption that the city will lose $94,000 in state aids next year. The $94,000 represents a 10% loss in state aid.

To prepare for the possible lost revenue, the city council is proposing to levy an extra $94,000 in property taxes for 2003. The extra $94,000 is largely responsible for the proposed 17.1% increase in the city's property tax levy for 2003. Other general fund increases for 2003 amount to just $16,000.

Council members indicated that if finances are better than expected for 2003, and the city does not lose state aid, the extra $94,000 could be used to reduce the city's 2004 property tax levy.

Koopman noted that Tracy, with a relatively small tax base, is especially vulnerable to state aid cuts. In 2003, 62% of city general fund revenues come from state aid. Twenty percent comes from miscellaneous sources, such as the municipal liquor store and various fees. Only 18% comes from property taxes.

Precautions suggested for copper in drinking water

Copper levels in Tracy drinking water are slightly above the action level set by the state, according to the latest drinking water report.

The action level for copper is 1.3 ppm. The homes tested in Tracy had a level of 1.99, according to the report.

Water plant supervisor Joel Adelman said the problem stems, in part, due to the use of copper piping. He added that there are many other factors that could be involved.

“I don't think it's a natural contaminant,” he said. “It depends on how much water the homeowners use. The longer it sits in the pipe, the worse it's going to be.”

Water is left in the pipes for six hours before it is tested, Adelman said.

While the copper levels tested above the action level, the health risk is minimal, according to the report. In fact, copper is an essential element for living organisms, including humans. But too much copper may cause vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea. Some people who drink water containing copper in excess of the action level over many years could suffer liver or kidney damage, the report states.

It also suggests several ways that people can reduce their potential exposure to copper, as well as lead, from their plumbing. They include:

• Always run the cold water faucet at least 30 seconds before using the water for drinking or cooking.

• Do not use water from the hot tap for drinking or cooking; rather, draw water from the cold tap and then heat it.

• Keep a container of cold water in the refrigerator for daily use to reduce the frequency of flushing.

• Whenever water has been sitting idle in the plumbing for more than six hours, flush the entire plumbing system by running the cold water until you feel the water getting colder.

If the city meets the 90th percentile, testing only has to be done once a year. If it doesn't meet the 90th percentile, testing is done twice a year, Adelman said.

He said that one way to reduce the copper levels is to use phosphate to stop corrosion in the pipes.

He again stressed that the copper levels vary from home to home.

“It depends on how much water you use.”

Ringing in the Holidays

A large crowd turned out for the Tracy elementary School Christmas program Monday night. Students in grades K-6 put on "Hear the Bells at Christmas." Many songs were accompanied by students ringing bells. Ade Miller directed.

Christmas Preludes concert set Dec. 16

Tracy Public Schools' annual Christmas Preludes Concert is planned Monday, Dec. 16, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in the high school gym.

The high school choir and band, the junior high choir and band, the chamber choir, and the sixth-grade band will perform. Traditional and contemporary music of the season will be performed. There is no admission charge.

Some businesses find advantages in hiring cognitively impaired

The Hy Vee food store in Marshall was approached some years ago about hiring workers with developmental disabilities.

for the first several months, government subsidies paid for job coaches, Gary Ortmann, assistant store director said.

"It wasn't a whole lot of extra effort on our part as long as we could train the job coach as to what our expectations were," Ortmann said. "they took it from there and actually trained the employee to do the job."

Periodically, Ortmann needs to remind some of them why they have a job. But he needs to remind most everyone else once in awhile, too, he said.

"I don't think you're dealing with any extraordinary circumstances," Ortmann said. "We employ about 425 people here, and out of that 425 you don't make a good hire every time. I have problems with people who don't have disabilities."

One of his workers with cognitive impairments just received an award given to part-time employees. "He just beamed because he got a little pin saying that he worked for Hy Vee for one year," Ortmann said. "It's rewarding."