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News from the week of October 5, 2005

 EDA buys downtown building

The Tracy Economic Development Authority (EDA) has purchased the Downtown Tracy building that once housed Stassen Photography.

The EDA paid $2,500 for the building at the Lyon County auction for tax forfeited property last week. The EDA’s bid was the sole offer submitted for the property.

Robert Gervais, Tracy Community Development director, reports that the Tracy Economic Development Authority hopes re-sell the property to someone interested in operating a business in the building. He indicated that he has prospects for the building, but nothing definite.

The 130 Third Street building was one of three properties purchased by the EDA and the City of Tracy at the Sept. 27 tax-forfeiture auction.

The EDA also purchased a blighted property at 174 Center Street for $1,000. The EDA’s has discussed tearing down the vacant house and garage on the property, and deeding the land to Western Community Action. Western Community Action has expressed interest in building a new house on the lot for low-to moderate-income families.

A vacant lot at 354 South St., west of the Tracy Municipal Liquor building on South Street, was purchased for $50.

Gervais had the EDA’s blessings to purchase a narrow lot at 78 Morgan. The lot is one of five properties the EDA needs to acquire for a proposed tax-increment finance plan to clear about 260 feet along Morgan and build two new houses. However, Gervais did not bid on the property, which had an assessed value of $10, after two other parties began bidding. Matt Rohde bought the lot for $50.

• • •

Several other parcels of tax-forfeit Tracy real estate were sold at the auction.

George Hebig bought a vacant lot on Fourth St. south of the State Farm office for $10.

Brandon Londgren bought a lot at 477 Morgan (former Tracy Lanes site) for $50.

Robert Courtney bought a vacant lot at 424 Emory (northwest corner of Third & Emory) for $10.

Ron Gramstad bought three adjacent lots at 361 South Fourth St. for $100 each.

Art Peterson bought a property at 301 Sixth St., for $500.

• • •

Twenty-nine of the 39 properties listed on the tax delinquent action were in Tracy. Among the real estate that did not attract bidders were: former Coast-to-Coast building, appraised at $1,500; vacant house at 451 Sixth St., appraised at $500; vacant house at 131 Morgan, appraised at $2,500; vacant house at 200 East Morgan, appraised at $2,000.

Full-time EDA post questioned

Is a full-time economic development director a wise investment for City of Tracy residents?

No, says Tracy City Council member Sandi Rettmer.

“I don’t think that we can afford a full-time EDA director,” Rettmer said at the Tracy City Council’s Sept. 26 meeting.

Yes, says councilman Bill Chukuske.

“I would rather give up our council salaries than give up our full-time EDA director,” Chukuske told fellow council members.

“Maybe,” says Jan Arvizu, another council member.

“I think we need at least another year to evaluate this,” she said. Arvizu said she has concerns about the cost of a full-time economic development director. Arvizu said she voted for the position a year ago, in part because she hoped the move would help Tracy attract a corrections facility.


Issue surfaces

City council members have discussed the economic development position at two straight meetings.

On Sept. 12, Rettmer suggested the city reconsider a proposed Lyon County economic development position. The city may be able to save money, she said, by sharing a county position rather than funding a full-time director of its own.

“All I’m saying is that it is worth taking a look at,” Rettmer said.

The Lyon County Enterprise Development Corporation has asked the City of Tracy to contribute $5,500 toward a $120,000 countywide economic development budget. The concept calls for Lyon County and all municipalities in the county to contribute to the countywide effort on a per capita basis. The county economic development office would work for all communities in the county.

This spring, the council rejected the funding request. The council accepted a recommendation from the Tracy Economic Development Authority that the city continue its own full-time economic coordinator.

Rettmer has told other council members that she doesn’t think Tracy can afford its own economic development post, and said she knows of no other town Tracy’s size that has a full-time economic development director.

The Lyon County group recently renewed its appeal to Tracy for financial support. Rettmer suggested that the county proposal, and Tracy’s economic development job, be discussed as a part of the council’s review of its 2006 city budget.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano responded that the city can’t afford to be without a full-time economic development position.

“This is something we have to be doing,” the mayor said, if Tracy is to grow and move ahead. He told council members that Gervais “is doing a good job.”


Action questioned

Several council members were critical of Rettmer last week for asking Gervais to compile a list of his accomplishments during his 4 1/2 year tenure as EDA director. Chukuske, Ferrazzano, and Tim Byrne said that if Rettmer had questions about Gervais’ job performance, she should have first talked with City Administrator Audrey Koopman. Any requests of Gervais, they said, should have come from Koopman. Rettmer’s action to make a request from cGervais, on her own, they said, did not follow the city’s “chain of command.”

The five-page memo that Gervais prepared in response to Rettmer’s inquiry was given to all EDA and city council members. (See related story).

At last week’s council meeting, Rettmer began questioning Gervais about his responses. Her first question was how many new jobs his actions had created in Tracy. The questioning stopped after Chukuske said he considered Rettmer’s questions out-of-order.

Rettmer said that she had nothing personal against Gervais. Her issue, she said, is whether Tracy should have a full-time economic development position.


Long history

Tracy has had an economic development director since about 1993.

Con Rettmer was hired to serve as a half-time city economic development director. The position was combined with a half-time Tracy Chamber of Commerce manager job, which Rettmer had held since about 1991.

Rettmer continued in the dual position until the late 1990s when he resigned the Chamber job, but continued as the city’s half-time economic development director. Jennifer Kainz and Sarah Kemp served short tenures as part-time Chamber of Commerce managers.

In 2001, City of Tracy and Chamber of Commerce leaders decided that they again wanted to have a combined-full time EDA/Chamber of Commerce position. Gervais was hired to the post.

In September of 2004, Gervais asked the Tracy City Council make him a full-time economic development director. He told the council that it was difficult to do justice to the position on a part-time basis, and that a full-time economic director position would pay dividends for the city. Council members agreed, and he began full-time status as the city’s economic development director in January.

The Chamber hired JoAnn Biren in January to fill the Chamber manager vacancy. Biren resigned in September, and Jason Swanson was named as her successor.



Proposed ‘06 spending

The proposed City of Tracy’s 2006 economic development budget calls for spending of $89,111.

Of this total, $15,000 is penciled in for the EDA’s revolving loan fund for businesses. Most remaining costs are people related.

A total of $39,848 is proposed for the economic development director’s salary, and $12,834 for a part-time office assistant. Employer fringe benefit costs are budgeted at just over $19,000.

The proposed 2006 budget for the mayor and council totals $24,330. Salaries are $2,500 for each council member and $3,000 for the mayor, plus $30 a meeting for the mayor and $25 a meeting for each council member.

Snafu omits some charges on Tracy utility bills

City of Tracy utility bills this month have both good and bad news for customers.

The good news is that most statements show a smaller amount due than normal. The bills are smaller because they don’t list water and sewer surcharges, and a 9.75% solid waste management tax. A 6.5% sales tax for that applies to commercial garbage customers isn’t listed either.

The bad news is that customers will have to pay the missing fees and taxes next month.

A billing snafu caused October utility bills to be mailed out last week without the taxes and utility surcharges added on.

“We’re not sure what happened,” said Finance Director Dave Spencer. Whatever the glitch, the city’s computer-generated statements were printed without the extra charges. No one noticed the mistake until after the statements had been mailed. The omitted charges, Spencer said, will be added to the November utility bills that will be mailed at the end of this month.

New Yule decorations will light up Tracy

Tracy is decking its streets with—not boughs of holly—but new Christmas decorations.

The Tracy Chamber of Commerce, City of Tracy, and the Tracy Revitalization Committee are purchasing $13,500 worth of new holiday finery. Each of the three groups is contributing $4,500 to the cost.

The lights and decorations are expected to arrive prior to the 2005 holiday season,

The Yule decorations will be pole mounted, and installed along Hwy. 14 and in downtown areas. Many of the lighted units are about five-feet high.

The decorations include:

• 20 snowflake silhouettes.

• Two angel silhouettes.

• Two tri-star burst.

• Two zig-zag trees.

• Two single bells.

• Nine tri-candle wreaths.

• Eight tri-candle Christmas trees

The new decorations will supplement 15 used decorations purchased earlier this year from Pipestone. Plans are to utilize the older decorations on the outside fringes of downtown.

Most of Tracy’s existing Christmas decorations have been in used since about 1993, when they were purchased used from Marshall.

Tracy utility system upgrades proposed

By Seth Schmidt

An estimated $255,000 worth of improvements have been proposed for the City of Tracy’s water system. Increased water rates have been suggested to help pay for the improvements.

The improvements are:

• Replacement of old, inaccurate water meters with new radio-red meters. Estimated cost: $130,000.

• Repair/upgrade of water treatment plant controls; replacement of inoperable fire hydrants. Estimated cost: $85,000.

• Replacement of watermain valves. Estimated cost $40,000.

In addition, two water-related maintenance projects have been proposed. Cleaning the city’s water tower has an estimated price tag of $3,000 to $5,000. A new corrosion control program in the water treatment plant designed to counter-balance the city’s “aggressive” water would cost an estimated $9,000 in additional chemicals, plus a $2,500 set up fee.

The proposals were outlined in a Sept. 15 memo sent to Tracy City Council members. The council is scheduled to consider the proposals on Oct. 10.


Unbilled water

The memo—compiled by City Administrator Audrey Koopman, Public Works Director Rick Robinson, and Public Works Director Dave Spencer—spells out rationales for the improvements.

Meter replacement—An estimated 38 million gallons of treated water is running through the city’s water system without being billed. Old, inaccurate water meters, that run “slow” are thought to be the major reason for the “lost” water. The 38 million gallons represents a 35.5% water loss in the system. (The difference between the amount of treated water that leaves the water plant and the amount that is billed). A 10% system loss is considered acceptable.

The new meters that are recommended would be radio-controlled. Instead of relying on customers to fill out and return a card each month, meters could be read by an electronic device that would not require access to the home or business. It is estimated that all meters in the city could be read within one to two hours.

The City of Tracy does not have a systematic, on-going program to replace old meters.

Water plant controls—The reliability of controls are described as being “an on-going problem.” The goal is to find a way to upgrade the controls “in a more timely and cost-effective manner.” The water plant is 15 years old.

Water hydrant replacement—Eight fire hydrants in the city are inoperable.

Water main valve replacement—At least 16 shut-off values are inoperable on city water mains. The large number of non-functional valves often forces the city to shut-off water service to larger areas than normally would be needed when repairing water main breaks.


Sewage lagoons on horizon

The memo notes that the city’s sewage treatment ponds need to be improved at some point in the future, but listed no timetable for implementing the project. To finance sewage lagoon repairs/upgrades, the memo suggests that the city seek state government grants and/or low-interest long-term loans.


South Tracy drainage

The memo calls the completion of a south Tracy storm water drainage project as the city’s No. 1 utility system priority.

A new storm sewer from the northeast corner of the high school property and an open drainage ditch from the intersection of Front and South Fourth northeast to County Ditch 23 near the railroad tracks have been proposed. Estimated cost is $500,000.

Engineering plans for the project have been delayed until the council makes decisions about the drainage ditch’s route. Both ditch options will require the city to purchase land from Dave Anderson on what is commonly known as the “former Central Livestock property.”

An open ditch along Front Street would require the purchase of about seven acres of land. A shorter, less expensive ditch could be built by taking a more direct route to Ditch 23, northeasterly across the Anderson property. However, then the City would need to purchase the entire 30-plus acre parcel. The $500,000 estimate includes money to buy seven acres.

City staff members have been directed to talk with Anderson about a possible land purchase.


Paying the bill

The memo proposes that the city sell a $755,000 bond to provide up front financing for both the drainage project and the water system upgrades.

Repayment on a $755,000 bond would require an estimated $75,000 in annual revenue over a 15-year period. To help generate the $75,000, the memo proposes a $2 increase in the base monthly rates for both water and sewer, and a 20 cent per unit increase in water rates. Property tax assessments to property owners that would benefit from the drainage project would also help make bond payments.

Several other small changes are proposed in the memo.

The fee for the city reading a water meter would increase to $10. A fee for estimating water usage would be set at $5.

Charging a hook-up fee to non-city residents who request city water service is also recommended. (The city recently agreed to a water service request from a Highline Road homeowner with the stipulation that they pay 1.5 times the water rate charged to city residents). City ordinance requires a $140 hook-up fee for new water customers within city limits. The memo indicated that the hook-up fee has not been charged to non-city residents.

Changes in city utility rates and fees would have to be done through amendments to city ordinance.