Worthington feels the tax-reduction heat

News from Greater Minnesota

Hey, remember that funny deal last summer when the Legislature cut our taxes and said it wouldn’t have any effect on our pocketbooks? Those guys, they slay me with their jokes. I bet the folks who live in Worthington are looking for someone to slay these days, too. According to Ana Anthony of the Worthington Daily Globe, taxes are going up 11.9 percent in the city. It’s not all because of the machinations of those sent to St. Paul. A TIF district around Interstate 90 was decertified, causing a 7.6 percent increase in taxes. But the Legislature’s decision to amputate the Market Value Homestead Credit and the cuts in Local Government Aid mean that Worthington leaders had to raise taxes another 4.3 percent to service its citizens. Kevin Donovan was the only Worthington resident at the Truth in Taxation meeting. “I’m disappointed that I’m the only person here from the city that has a concern, but it’s because we’ve been told it’s not going to do us any good,” Donovan said. 

I’ve been going to school board meetings for about 100 years, and at about every fifth meeting someone comes to the meeting and gets agitated because they aren’t allowed to speak their mind. I’ve never seen this, though: Last Tuesday, Mower County sheriff’s deputies had to forcibly remove three citizens from the Lyle School Board meeting, including the mother of one of the board members. Here’s the story from the Albert Lea Tribune, but make sure you catch the photos here and here.  Apparently, residents — including board member Dan King — have a beef with the way Lyle Superintendent Jim Dusso goes about his business. More than 80 residents attended Tuesday’s meeting and watched as Connie Branchaud, Tammy Whalen and Sandra King were rousted. Branchaud had criticized the board for not allowing public comments to be added to the meeting agenda. “We’re tired of not being heard,” Branchaud said. Branchaud, King and Whalen were taken into custody and released by 9 p.m. Wendy King, Dan King’s wife, was also ejected, though she left of her own accord. It was unclear what she had done to warrant the ejection. “I know too much,” she said. “They were trying to get me out of there.” If you want the gory details, follow the link above. But if you ask me, smart school board chairs and superintendents make an allowance for criticism at meetings. If people feel like they are at least being treated with respect, they generally don’t need to be carried from meetings by deputies.

In the journalism biz, we call this kind of story a roundup, because we “round up” a bunch if information into one package. Get it? Hey, no one said we had to be clever to get in this game. Anyway, the Huckle Media family of southern Minnesota papers pulled together a roundup of Black Friday results. The day was positive in Waseca. 4-Seasons owner Cindy Piche said sales were on the upswing. “It was as good if not better than other years.” In Faribault, sales were about the same as last year. JCPenney store manager Regina Marshall said the store “sold out of door busters early in the day [Friday].” In Northfield, Eclectic Goat co-owner Suz Klumb said sales were good. “We found many folks from out of town visiting family and friends stopped in,” she said. In Owatonna, St. Clair’s for Men’s saw slow sales on Friday but “Saturday was absolutely stupendous,” said manager Greg Krueger. In St. Peter, Family Dollar store manager Cory Frankenfield estimated the store was 25 percent to 30 percent busier than Black Friday 2010. Kudos to Huckle Media staffers Samantha Bushey, Jeffrey Jackson, Jackie Pavek, Zach Hacker and Ed Lee for the report.

Let’s give a little love to our favorite meat processing multinational: Hormel Foods. Adam Harringa of the Albert Lea Tribune writes that Hormel is dishing out $16.5 million in bonuses to employees. It’s a record amount and employees received checks based on about two to two and a half regular weeks’ pay, Hormel’s Austin plant manager Tim Fritz said. Hormel released its fourth quarter and annual earnings report Tuesday, and while it reported a 3 percent drop for the fourth quarter, annual net earnings climbed to a record $474.2 million, a 20 percent jump from 2010. And while we’re gathered for a Hormel love fest, let’s note the Austin Daily Herald story that says the Hormel Foundation plans on giving out $5.7 million in contributions in Austin. The main recipient is The Hormel lnstitute, which performs research and education in the biological sciences with the major focus on cancer prevention and control. You can see a list of other recipients if you follow the link above.

In these days of economic woe, a town can’t waste anything. But that’s exactly what Western Lake Superior Sanitary District in Duluth found during a trash survey. John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune  coughs up the details: In October, WLSSD staff donned sorted through about 13,000 pounds of trash over five days. They found food waste that should be composted, paper that should be recycled and even a few microwaves and water heaters that are illegal to trash. But the plastic beverage bottles and aluminum cans stunned the survey crew. “It came to more than 18 million pop and beer cans, and another 19 million plastic bottles, every year,” WLSSD spokeswoman Karen Anderson said. And that’s only from Duluth, Hermantown and Proctor. The WLSSD figures the lost value of aluminum that could have been recycled at $402,000 annually, with almost another $200,000 in plastic. In all, the estimated value of recycled material being trashed is more than $721,000 annually, just in the Duluth area.

Finally, Christmas tree growers say the crop is doing well this year. Bethany Wesley of the Bemidji Pioneer reports that locally grown Christmas trees are thriving despite needing some water. “It’s actually been a really good growing year,” said Natascha Smrekar, the owner of Smrekars Acres Tree Farm in Guthrie. Smrekar said the dry fall means that trees will likely need lots of water once they get home so they don’t dry out. “The trees are really going to want to drink,” she said. Fred Pick, who operates Pick’s Tree Farm northeast of Bemidji, agreed. He said the trees are dry, but still very nice.

John Fitzgerald is a journalist and longtime Minnesotan. He lives in Buffalo.

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