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News from the week of February 6, 2002 Headlight Herald - Serving Tracy, Minnesota, since 1880

All aboard! DM&E on track with final federal okay

Railroad moves forward with historic improvements, construction could begin next spring

The largest railroad construction project to take place in the U.S. in more than a century could be moving across Southwest Minnesota next year.

Elated by final approval from a federal regulatory board last week, Dakota Minnesota & Eastern Railroad officials are expressing optimism that a $1.5 billion rebuilding of the railroad will begin in Spring of 2003.

“We are anticipating that we'll be able to begin construction early next year,” said Lynn Anderson, vice president of transportation for the DM&E in Brookings. “Our employees are excited. This has been a long time in coming and we are anxious to begin so we can provide better service to our customers. It's going to be a win-win situation.”

The DM&E project involves the reconstruction of about 600 miles of existing rail between Winona, Minnesota, and western South Dakota. About 280 miles of new track will be built to improve connections and extend service to coal mines in the Powder River Basin of northeastern Wyoming. The construction will last three years.

The federal Surface Transportation Board granted final approval to the project last week, culminating a four-year review process. The DM&E plan is the largest railroad project ever reviewed by the federal board. The revitalized DM&E will be the first Class One railroad build in the last half-century in the U.S.

Tracy would lose $189,916 under Ventura deficit plan

The City of Tracy faces a $189,916 drop in state revenue this year, if Gov. Jesse Ventura's budget-balancing plan is adopted, according to estimates from the Minnesota Department of Revenue.

Reductions in state aid to municipalities are one aspect of a Ventura administration plan to eliminate a project $1.95 billion shortfall in the state's current two-year budget. The plan, the administration says, is designed to “share the pain” of the budget deficit. However, Tracy will suffer greater losses of state aid than many other area towns under the Ventura plan.

Slayton and Springfield—towns similar in size to Tracy—would face respective losses in state aid of $65,088 and $77,807 this year. Marshall, a town five times larger than Tracy, has a projected state cutback of $172,641.

The projected state government aid loss to Balaton is $6,469. Currie would lose $2,238, Garvin, $1,748; and Walnut Grove, $5,627.

The reason Tracy stands to lose a disproportion amount of state aid lies in the formula devised by the Ventura administration. The formula uses both the amount of the existing state aid, and the amount a city levied for property taxes 2002. Under the formula, the more a city increased its property tax levy for 2002, the greater the state cutback.

Tracy, where voters passed a $1.5 million bond referendum in 2001 to replace a half-century-old outdoor pool, had a 30% increase in its 2002 property tax levy.

Citizen's help needed for grant

High response needed for 12-block housing survey

Homeowners in a 12-block area near Downtown Tracy take notice.

Your cooperation could help the City of Tracy qualify for state grant funds to help improve your home.

A door-to-door effort is planned Friday, Feb. 8, to distribute surveys to homeowners and renters in the targeted area. The survey asks homeowners and landlords if they are interested in low-interest loans and grants to repair houses and apartments.

City leaders are applying for a Minnesota Small Cities grant that includes money for housing rehabilitation. If approved, the program would provide money to cover one-third of housing improvement costs. Low-interest loans assumed by the owner would pay for another one-third of housing renovations. The property owner would pay for the remaining improvement costs.

The neighborhood targeted for the housing redevelopment is bounded by Fifth Street on the west, Rowland Street on the north, Center Street on the east, and South Street.

Twenty-five Tracy residents from the proposed redevelopment area attended an informational meeting last week at Tracy City Hall. Most neighborhood residents expressed an interest in pursuing housing improvements. However, for Tracy to qualify for the grant funds, a high percentage of property owners must fill out a survey.

Rick Goodemann, executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, told the city hall gathering that a nearly 100% survey return rate is needed. The 12-block neighborhood, which includes the downtown Tracy commercial area, contains about 97 houses.

A redevelopment grant is also being pursued for the downtown commercial buildings. Downtown property owners were surveyed in January.

Prospective buyers emerging for proposed Tracy call center

When, if ever, will a proposed call center in Downtown Tracy move from the planning stages to reality?

Perhaps sooner rather than later.

The Tracy Economic Development Authority (EDA) was advised Friday that several potential buyers have emerged for the call center. Robert Gervais, Tracy Economic Development director, told EDA members to think about the terms it wants in a sales contract.

“The more we get into this, the more I'm convinced that we are doing the right thing,” Gervais said, of the EDA's plans to develop some type of “tele-work” center in downtown Tracy.

Last fall, the EDA hired Everest Information Systems of Lakefield to develop a business plan for a technology-based business at a cost not to exceed $20,000. The EDA also spent $10,000 to buy the former Korner Krafts Building for the call center.

Gervais reported that Dale Petelinsek, CEO of Everest, “is pretty confident that by June 1 we will be up and running” with a call center in Tracy.

The EDA authorized spending up to $20,000 for the tele-work center business plan. The cost for the Korner Krafts building was $10,000. EDA members indicated that they would be willing to sell both for about what they city has invested, as long as they achieve their goal of creating permanent jobs in Tracy.

“We want to be able to tell someone, here is the business plan, here are the people willing to work for you, here are the prospective clients, here is the building, now let's make it work.” Besides the initial costs of the building and business plan, Gervais noted that a buyer would also need to invest money for equipment and remodeling costs.

The EDA recently completed a telephone labor survey for a Tracy telework or call center. About 400 Tracy area people were called. Retired Senior Volunteer Program participants made the calls.

The survey results, according to Gervais, show a good pool of potential workers.

Kerry Knakmuhs buys Peterson Real Estate

Duane Peterson to remain with Tracy business

Peterson Real Estate of Tracy has been purchased by a three-generation family business based in Walnut Grove.

Last week, Kerry Knakmuhs announced the purchase of Peterson Real Estate from Duane Peterson. The Tracy business will be called Knakmuhs Real Estate.

“This is a good opportunity for us, and it's a good opportunity for Duane,” explained Knakmuhs.

The Tracy office fits into the Knakmuhs family's plans of bringing two sons into the business, he said. However, Knakmuhs stresses that the real estate services offered at the Tracy office will remain the same. Peterson, a licensed real estate broker, and associate broker Bob McCoy will continue to operate the Tracy office.

“We're happy that they have agreed to stay on,” said Knakmuhs. “They have so much experience with the Tracy real estate market that it's a big plus having them here.”

Peterson has been involved in the Tracy real estate business since 1975.

“I still enjoy what I do, but I'd like to be less tied down,” Peterson said. Selling the business, he said, gives him more flexibility in his schedule, while freeing him from the extra responsibilities of owning and managing a business.

Matt Knakmuhs, a 2001 graduate of the University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM), will also work out of the Tracy real estate office. He and his wife, Angie, have bought a house on North Street in Tracy. Matt has already become licensed in both real estate and insurance. He will work primarily in Tracy, but will also spend some time in the Knakmuhs Agency office in Walnut Grove.

Nate Knakmuhs, who will graduate from UMM this spring, is also joining the family business. Nate will work mostly in Westbrook, where the Knakmuhs Agency recently purchased an insurance and real estate business from Steve Severson.

“We've been talking about this for quite a few years,” Kerry Knakmuhs explained, of his sons' decision to return home after college. “They feel that living in a rural community is the way to raise a family and enjoy life.”

Popular magician booked, Chamber tickets could disappear into thin air

Well-known magician and hypnotist Gary Tyson headlines the Tracy Chamber of Commerce's annual banquet Saturday night.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a social hour and silent auction. A banquet will be served at 7 p.m., followed by a program and Tyson's performance. All activities are in the banquet room of the Mediterranean restaurant.

“Gary (Tyson) is fantastic and comes highly recommended,” comments Bob Gervais, Tracy Chamber of Commerce manager. “Who knows who might be cut in half or made to disappear! Come and find out.”

Tickets remain on sale at the Chamber office, Minnwest Bank South, or any Chamber of Commerce board member. The Chamber banquet is open to both members and non-members.

Other highlights will include the announcement of the Chamber's Boss of the Year, Outstanding Citizen, Outstanding Chamber member, and Distinguished Farmer awards.