News From Greater Minnesota
When the state pulls back on funding for cities and counties and they need more money to provide essential services, their elected bodies take a vote and act accordingly. But when the state fails to provide enough money for schools to operate (or, even worse, withhold school funds and force schools to either borrow against good credit or draw down savings, thereby using schools as the state’s piggy bank) and schools need more money to provide essential services (like special education, which has never been fully funded), they have to go to the voters and ask them to raise their own taxes. As school levy proponents know, that’s a dicey proposition. No one wants more taxes. Sometimes schools boards wish they had the same taxing authority as their city and county brethren. That’s why two stories in the Fergus Falls Journal this week caught my eye.
In the first, Ryan Howard reports that the 2012 tax levy in Fergus Falls will rise 3.03 percent from the 2011 levy. This will bring in about $4.22 million to city coffers. He added this tidbit: Since 2008, the state has not paid the city almost $2.35 million in promised local government aid and market value homestead credit. To help make up for that lack of funding, Fergus Falls leaders have to lean on local taxpayers.
The other story was from Tom Hintgen, who wrote about the nearby Pelican Rapids school levy proposal to raise taxes $600 per student. Pelican Rapids is unusual in that it is one of only about 30 of the 322 school districts in the state that do not have an operating referendum. “Pelican Rapids has been frugal but can no longer provide the educational system that is needed and expected,” said School Board member Don Perrin. This is the fourth levy referendum in four years in Pelican Rapids. Unlike cities and counties that have levy authority to meet the needs of their constituents, without a positive levy referendum students in Pelican Rapids may get a worse education than those in other areas of the state because of state underfunding.
Remember this argument? If uninsured or underinsured people have access to quality health care, they’ll use it and the whole community will benefit from better health and cost savings? It’s happening in Willmar. Carolyn Lange of the West Central Tribune reports that the Willmar Migrant Health Service is too small for the 3,500 patients it sees each year. The clinic offers primary health care for as little as $8 per office call, which people are choosing rather than going to costly hospital emergency rooms that can cost hundreds of dollars. That means savings to taxpayers. Site manager Lori Boike recently reported to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on efforts to expand Migrant Health Service’s facility into a full-fledged community health clinic by 2013. While the service targets people working in agriculture, the clinic serves everyone, including low-income people, those who have no insurance and those who have insurance with a high deductible that makes it unaffordable to use. The clinic provides basic primary health care as well as preventive care. Because it does not provide some services offered at other clinics — like X-rays and EKGs — the migrant health clinic isn’t in competition with local clinics, instead using vouchers for qualified individuals to cover part of the cost for additional tests and treatments provided by other clinics. The clinic also keeps people out of emergency rooms for simple-to-treat issues like sore throats. The high cost of those emergency-room visits is often passed onto taxpayers or other hospital users in higher fees.
Per Peterson of the Marshall Independent is unraveling the mystery of the upcoming pheasant season. He says the Department of Natural Resources claims the state’s pheasant index has fallen more than 60 percent from 2010, unlike the mallard duck population, which is 17 percent higher than last year’s estimate. The culprit is a second consecutive severe winter along with cold and wet weather during the April through June nesting period that resulted in low brood counts. Pheasant hunters are expected to harvest about 250,000 roosters this fall, the lowest harvest since 1997, the DNR said. Also a problem: Nearly 120,000 acres of grass habitat enrolled in programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program have been lost since 2007, and the DNR estimates that contracts for 550,000 acres of CRP lands are scheduled to expire in the next three years. If not re-enrolled, this would reduce CRP acres in Minnesota by 36 percent. “We’re signing up fewer acres than we’re losing because it’s more profitable to grow crops,” said DNR wildlife biologist Kurt Haroldson.
The Brunswick Corp., which owns and operates Lund Boats, has announced a facility expansion of an additional 22,000 square feet to Lund’s New York Mills manufacturing facility, reports Sam Benshoof of the Fargo Forum. Demand has been high for both the Crestliner and Lund boat brands. Crestliner production began at the New York Mills facility last year. New York Mills Mayor Larry Hodgson said the expansion was definitely good news for the city. The project is scheduled to break ground this month and could be completed by the end of the year.
This story tickles me for two reasons: First is the name of the festival. The second is who beat whom in the contest. Steve Browne of the Marshall Independent spent Saturday at the 14th annual chili cook-off at Minneota Boxelder Bug Days. The cookoff winner was Hillary Devlaeminck. Second place went to her son-in-law, Eric Ferris. “I got beat by my mother-in-law!” Ferris shouted. Man, if I had a nickel ….
And over in Hibbing, the Associated Press reports that “Iron Range’s top maids will get a chance to ‘fold for the gold’ when they compete in the upcoming Housekeeping Olympics. Teams from hotels and motels across the Iron Range will compete at the Hibbing Park Motel. Timed events include laundry-folding and bed-making contests. The most popular event is the grand finale. Competitors have to navigate an obstacle course of cones, stop to scrub toilets and shower stalls, make beds and then race to the finish line. The Olympics are held as part of International Housekeepers Week.
Stoner Avenue in Bemidji will remain Stoner Avenue for the time being thanks to the pleas of Stoner Avenue residents, reports Anne Williams of the Bemidji Pioneer. The city considered changing the street’s name to Franklin Avenue because street signs are stolen at the rate of about 15 per year and a cost of $100 each to repair. But residents said they should have to bear the brunt of the hassle and costs of changing their identification on bank checks and driver’s licenses. They said taller poles and better security (read, different screws) would be a cheaper way to address the problem. Craig Gray, city engineer/public works director, told the council that replacing each sign post could cost the city between $4,000 and $5,000, not including the labor costs of city staff to research better ways of attaching signs to the new posts. After discussing the issue, the council unanimously voted to table the issue indefinitely and tasked Gray with finding more secure sign solutions. “We’ve tried different kinds of bolts,” Gray said. “We’ve spot-welded the signs to the posts. We’ve tried a lot of what was talked about here tonight. One thing we haven’t tried is the higher sign posts. I’m thinking that’s probably where we’ll go with it.”
John Fitzgerald is a long time Minnesotan and freelance journalist. He lives in Buffalo.