Budget deal comes home

News From Greater Minnesota

The good folks in Fertile have suffered through a crime wave. While the crimes may not be linked to the fact that, without state support, the town had to get rid of its only police officer, certainly the lack of a local officer didn’t help. Ryan Bakken of the Fargo Forum outlines the crime spree: “Lewd graffiti, a burglary at the Polk County Fair office, a drug store robbery and a series of thefts from unlocked cars and garages happened in town. And, outside the city limits, a barn of Amish farmers was a victim of arson.” Through 2010, Fertile had a contract with Polk County that provided an officer for 40 hours. Now Fertile can’t afford that service, nor can it afford to hire an officer on its own. An officer would mean a 25 percent increase in Fertile’s budget. The loss of local government aid from the state has meant a downturn in the town’s ability to provide essential services. “If you’re not growing, property taxes are stagnant. With an older population on fixed incomes, there’s not much room to make up the difference. We’ve fought real hard here to stand still,” City Administrator John Frohrip said.

The issue of state underfunding for essential services isn’t limited to police. Trey Mewes of the Austin Daily Herald reports that the Lyle school district is likely to resort to short-term borrowing to pay its bills now that the state has delayed school payments to balance the budget. He also reported that Austin Public Schools opened a line of credit for short-term borrowing earlier this year. Jodie Tweed of the Brainerd Dispatch reports that the Brainerd school district will ask voters to renew the district’s expiring $199.24-per-pupil operating levy as well as ask for an additional levy amount that has yet to be determined. Dave Aeikens of the St. Cloud Daily Times reports that the Rocori school district is going to voters in November to renew a 2001 tax that provides $276,000 a year, or to renew two taxes that would provide $1.1 million for 10 years. He also writes that Central Minnesota districts such as Royalton, Sauk Rapids-Rice, Sartell-St. Stephen, Foley, Melrose, Milaca, Paynesville, Princeton and Upsala are all considering going to voters for levies to make up what the state won’t pay. In fact, of the state’s 320 school districts, only 36 don’t have a voter approved levy. Two of them are Royalton and Sauk Rapids-Rice. Does this put an end to the myth that voter levies are just for “extras”?

Two interesting crop reports from opposite sides of the state this week. Matt Peterson of the Albert Lea Tribune reports that timely heat and rain have helped the corn and soybean crops. Doug Sheely of Brownsdale said more rain and slightly warmer weather will help fill in the now-empty tops on most ears. As for beans, some rain would be good. Farmers are currently checking and spraying for aphids. Meanwhile, wet conditions have hampered the wheat crop in northwest Minnesota, reports Ann Bailey of the Grand Forks Herald. “Barring rain, by the end of the week we will be seeing a fair amount of combining under way,” said Jim Stordahl, University of Minnesota extension agent. Fields are in good shape now, but it wouldn’t take much rain to change that, he said. The Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting smaller corn and soybean production in Minnesota than in 2010. Corn projections: 1.27 billion bushels, down 2 percent; soybeans projections: 284 million bushels, down 14 percent.

Here are some items that fall into the “tickle my fancy” column. The New Ulm Journal reports that the Renville County Sheriff’s Office called out the Bloomington bomb squad to dispose of approximately 100 sticks of old dynamite found northeast of Hector. The dynamite is believed to have been stored inside a building at the site for more than 40 years, according to the release. No big news here, but I bet the dynamite blowed up real good.

The Journal also reports that Cassidy Hacker of rural Sleepy Eye and “Baby,” her 270-pound breeding gilt, are headed to the Minnesota State Fair. Hacker was named Reserve Champion in the 4-H Swine Show Saturday at the Brown County Fair. She named the 6-month-old pig “Baby” after baby back ribs and also showed “Wilber,” a 298-pound pig named after one of her favorite books, “Charlotte’s Web.”

T.J. Jerke of the West Central Tribune was sent to the Kandiyohi County Fair to scope out the food. He turned up all the usual suspects except one I had never seen: klub, a traditional Norwegian dish. It’s made by forming ground potatoes and flour into a ball with ham in the center and boiling the ball in ham broth. It was sold by Mike Schroeder of The MORE Café in Milan. I thought my Irish heritage exposed me to every kind of boiled food possible, but I was wrong.

See Moua will be the first Hmong teacher at Tracy Area Elementary School this year, reports Jenny Kirk of the Marshall Independent. Moua said she doesn’t mind being a bridge between education and the Hmong community in Tracy, where 25 percent of the student population is Hmong. “It would have been really great to have had a Hmong teacher when I was growing up,” near Green Bay, Wis., Moua said. “I really want to set a model for these students. If all they see is white people standing up in front of the classroom, they don’t always relate to that. But when they see someone like themselves, they say, ‘I can do that’ and ‘I want to be a teacher like you.’” Moua is more than happy to share herself with the students. “Kids ask if I’m Chinese or if I know karate, but I’d rather they ask. The more awareness I can bring, the better for our world. People hate because they don’t understand. I was born in Laos and my parent came here with four kids, speaking no English. They did that for us. The least I can do is carry on some of that culture for myself and others.”

A Clara City woman was found in the ruins of her home after it exploded Saturday night from an apparent gas leak. There was no fire at the two-story farm house, but the damage was so extensive that firefighters who responded to the scene didn’t expect to find anyone alive, reports Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune. However, after about an hour on the scene, rescuers found Janice Harms alive. She was initially taken to the Chippewa County/Montevideo Hospital and later airlifted to North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale. Harms had been in critical condition Saturday but was upgraded to fair condition Sunday night, according to a hospital spokesperson. Her dog perished in the explosion. Firefighters said a refrigerator close to Harms may have shielded her.

Twice-weekly flights between Duluth and Phoenix will begin in October, Allegiant airline announced. The Duluth News Tribune reports that one-way tickets could cost $89.99, plus fees. The airline already offers flights from Duluth to Las Vegas and Orlando, Fla., in season. The new flights will be Friday and Monday. Flights will depart Duluth at 7:45 p.m. and arrive at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport at 9:10 p.m. Flights leaving Phoenix-Mesa will depart at 1:55 p.m. and arrive in Duluth at 7:05 p.m., local times. The airline will fly 150-seat MD-80 jet aircraft.

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

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