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News from the week of February 21, 2007



Highline Road bike path grant sought

A state grant application has been made to build paved bike lanes along Tracy’s Highline Road (Lyon County Road 73).

The City of Tracy is seeking the bike path money from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s “Safe Routes to School” grant program.

Earlier consideration had been given to including paved bike/pedestrian lanes in a Lyon County project to rebuild the Highline Road this summer. But the City of Tracy would have had the added cost of the paved shoulders—estimated at $85,000—and council members dropped the item from their 2007 budget.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman has informed Tracy city council members it should be known in March whether the city’s bike path grant application has been successful. Koopman reports that if the city does get the money, the bike lanes would likely be built in 2008.

The one-mile Highline Road segment on the west edge of Tracy would link designated city bike lanes on Pine and South streets. City leaders have felt the paved shoulders along a rebuilt Highline Road would improve safety for bikers and walkers who use the narrow, paved road. The Highline Road is a major route to and from Tracy Area High School, which is at the corner of the Highline Road and Pine.


Clinic, ER coverage set

Physician search is 'going well'

Dr. Leon Nesvacil will be joining the medical staff at Sanford Tracy Medical Center effective March 5.

The family medicine physician will provide “locum tenum” coverage while efforts continue to recruit a full-time resident physician to succeed Drs. Nida Latif and Haseeb Khawaja.

Dr. Nesacil will see patients in the medical center’s primary care clinic and emergency department. He served in Tracy in 2005 when he filled in for a vacationing physician.

A graduate of University of Wisconsin, Madison, medical school, Dr. Nesvacil has practiced medicine in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area and is a former University of Minnesota faculty member. He has held membership in the Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians and Society of Teachers of Family Medicine.

Dr. Nesvacil has committed to remaining in practice in the Tracy Medical Clinic until a full compliment of physician coverage has been reached. In addition, long time Tracy physician, Dr. Wilfredo Apostol has also agreed to assume additional clinic coverage. Sanford Tracy Medical Clinic also has three nurse practitioners—Kelly Hoffman, Janet Marti and Dawn VanRuler.

Rick Nordahl, chief executive officer for Sanford Tracy, said that physician search process to permanently fill Tracy medical needs is going well. Several prospective full-time physicians will be visiting Tracy within the next month, he reported.

“Our close association with Sanford Health gives us many opportunities to communicate with physicians looking to locate in rural areas. I feel our recruitment efforts are going well and I am confident our physician team will be back at full strength in the near future.”

Drs. Latif and Khawaja, who are married, have announced plans to return to their native country of Pakistan.

First wave of water meter replacement is nearly in place

Some replaced meters more than half-century old

By Seth Schmidt

The first of Tracy’s new “radio read” water meters are expected to go on-line this spring.

Public Works Director Rick Robinson told council members last week that staff training sessions on the new system is scheduled in March.

The new system will allow city employees to record customers’ monthly water use from locations outside the home or business by using digital radio signals. The city began installing the new generation water meters late last year. About 90 new residential and 43 new commercial are being installed. The residential meters are being installed first in the Greenwood and Broadacres neighborhoods. But city leaders hope that eventually, the city can purchase and install radio-read meters for all of Tracy’s 900 water users.

The cost for the first 130 water meters, and the computer software and hardware to handle the system, is about $40,000.

Robinson has told city leaders that the investment in the new meters and the radio-read billing system will pay off over time through more accurate billings. About one in three gallons of water produced at the city’s water plant now goes unbilled. Robinson feels that inaccurate water meters, which run more slowly with the passage of time, are one reason the city is under-billing its treated water.

Most of the residential meters being replaced were more than 25 years old, with some substantially older. A meter replaced in the city liquor store dated from 1934, Robinson said. Meters replaced in Tracy schools, the hospital and the Prairie View Healthcare Center are thought to date from each building’s original construction 35 to 45 years ago.

City water users are now required to record their own water readings each month, and mail or drop off the readings to City Hall. Readings must then be manually posted into the city’s utility billing system.

EDA to offer 'free' building lots


By Seth Schmidt

The Tracy Economic Development Authority plans a new marketing initiative to sell three building lots on Union Street.

The plan is to market “free” lots to anyone who builds a house on the 100-foot lots within 18 months. Prospective buyers would have to pay a non-refundable $1,000 “deposit” that would include the costs of transferring title and providing a city water hook-up. The buyer of each lot would also need to assume about $4,400 in assessments. If the buyer does not start construction within 18 months, ownership of the lot would revert to the EDA.

Only three lots are to be included in the offer. All are on Union Street south of O’Brien Court. The lots had been priced at $8,000 each, plus assessments. The undeveloped property has been for sale for about ten years and had originally been priced at $14,500.

EDA members are modeling their incentives after a program in Luverne. The Luverne EDA, Community Development Director Robert Gervais reported, has spurred housing construction by offering “free” building lots for a $600 non-refundable deposit.

Gervais said that according to figures he received from the Lyon County Assessor’s office, a new homestead house in Tracy with an assessed value of $150,000 would generate about $2,750 in property taxes. Of that amount, the City of Tracy would receive about 69% or about $1,900.

Several EDA members expressed the opinion that discounting the lots will pay off if the move results in new housing, a broadened tax base, and possibly attract new residents. Gervais said that he thought that new houses on the lots could also encourage prospective developers to invest in a new Tracy housing addition.

EDA members instructed Gervais to have City Attorney Frank Nielsen draft a purchase agreement document with their conditions of sale. EDA members set a goal of approving the document at their March 16, meeting. The three lots would then be available for sale for the $1,000 deposit by Monday, March 19.

“What if we have five buyers lined up at the door Monday morning?” someone asked.

“That would be a nice problem to have,” Gervais said.

Council balks at backhoe purchase recommendation


Tracy City Council members have rejected a staff recommendation to purchase a used backhoe for just over $47,000.

Public Works Director Rick Robinson told city council members that the backhoe would save the city money, and insure that the city always has a backhoe available for city projects.

Council members felt that the city could continue to rent a backhoe.

As proposed by Robinson, two-thirds of the backhoe expense ($33,015) could have been financed in the city’s 2007 bond issue, and the remaining third ($14,150) from an equipment replacement fund.


Savings cited

In a memo to council members, Robinson estimated that the city’s public works department had saved about $25,000 in the past year by renting a backhoe and doing needed utility projects rather than hiring a private contractor. Installing 12 new fire hydrants with city staff and a rented backhoe this summer saved an estimated $1l,325, he said. Repairing eight water main breaks, one water service line, and two curb stops with the rented backhoe and city staff saved another estimated $11,410. City crews and rented equipment saved another $2,200 by removing foundation walls at St. Mark’s and digging test holes at the liquor store, Robinson estimated.

Council members Russ Stobb, Charles Snyder, and Tony Peterson, in a brief discussion, wondered why the city couldn’t continue to rent a backhoe for $45 an hour.

Robinson responded that always having a backhoe available would be an advantage to the city. Robinson told council members that he sees the need for many other utility improvements, which public works department workers can do as they have time. For example, Robinson said that he knows of at least 35 faulty main line water-gate valves that city employees can replace with a backhoe.

The public works chief felt that there is also a financial advantage to the city owning its own backhoe. A backhoe depreciates about $12 for each hour of use, he reported, compared with the rental cost of $45.

The city’s ownership of large pieces of equipment is not unprecedented, Robinson said. The public works department’s grader and snow blower are two expensive pieces of equipment that have relatively few hours of annual use.

Council members remained unconvinced.

Stobb and Snyder said that considering other city financial needs, the backhoe purchase is one expense that the city can get along without.


Valentine strikes responsive chord


By Seth Schmidt

For a moment, the Tracy Public School bus garage became a concert hall last Wednesday.

Four-part harmony resonated through the metal building as a female quartet serenaded Dave Scott.

“Cuddle up and be my valentine,” the feminine voices cooed to the slightly embarrassed bus driver.

The singers—Nancy Grams, Sue Shuckhart, Chris Schoberg, and Lori Scott—belong to the Song of the Prairie Sweet Adelines chorus in Marshall. The Sweet Adelines spent Valentine’s Day delivering musical valentines to unsuspecting people from their sweethearts. The quartet that performed in Tracy made about a dozen musical stops during the day.

The musical Valentine was especially sweet for Scott, since Lori is his wife.

“This is the best Valentine I’ve every gotten,” Dave Scott said after hearing the song.

Scott’s fellow bus drivers, who listened in on the musical serenade, applauded.

The Sweet Adelines collected $25 for each musical valentine. Money raised is earmarked for buying new music.