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Foley turns to private security firm in cost-cutting move

ALSO: New Ulm’s levy election; farmers generally pleased with ’11 crop; Hormel Institute to expand

News From Greater Minnesota

Many cities and school districts in Minnesota are finding themselves financially unable to provide security and educational needs of their citizens. We look first at a story in the Strib by Pam Louwagie that outlines how city officials in Foley can’t afford police protection. Faced with state aid cuts, the city of 2,600 eliminated the police department eight years ago and contracted with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office for extra patrols. The cuts kept coming: Foley’s expected funding has been cut more than $200,000 since 2008. So now Foley will spend $210,000 on a private security service instead of the $296,000 it paid the sheriff’s department. Here’s the catch: Sheriff’s deputies will still investigate crimes and respond to 911 calls in Foley — just without any contribution from Foley. The private firm will likely be limited to writing parking tickets and enforcing rules on nuisances such as barking dogs. Foley residents aren’t stupid. “If somebody breaks into my garage, I’ve got to call the sheriff’s department anyhow,” Foley resident Martin Reberg told Louwagie. “If somebody steals something and speeds away, they [security guards] can’t stop them.” This year, Foley has seen 67 calls for thefts, 19 for domestic assaults and 90 for driving complaints.

Suzanne Rook of the Northfield News takes another look at cash-strapped cities. She writes that cities that responded to a 2010 survey by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities reported cutting back on parks and recreation, roadwork and street maintenance as well as eliminating staff positions and reducing library hours. She focused on Northfield and Dundas, which both plan to cut back on snow removal. While plows used to come out in Dundas shortly after the first flakes, this year drivers won’t start their engines until there’s a few inches on the ground. “If there’s a three-inch snow on Friday night, you might not see a plow until Sunday,” Dundas Administrator John McCarthy admitted.

I don’t know if Kremena Spengler of the New Ulm Journal was aware of it, but she nailed a two-fer on stories that show how state education funding is failing Minnesotans. On Monday, she wrote a preview of next week’s levy election in which New Ulm school officials will ask voters for $725 more per student so they can pay the district’s bills. State funding has been flat for five years and delays in state payments for several years have caused cash flow shortages. Conversely, the schools’ costs of health insurance and utilities have been rising, putting a strain on the budget. Remember that canard that local funding will comprise 5 percent of all school funding? In New Ulm, local taxes amount to 15 percent of the schools’ budget. To meet these challenges, the district cut $1.3 million this year; $895,500 in 2010; $298,000 in 2009; $146,478 in 2008; $584,100 in 2007; and $922,200 in 2006.

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Meanwhile, on Friday Spengler wrote that the number of special needs students in New Ulm schools jumped from 10 percent to 20 percent of the student body since 1997. Increasing special education numbers can be attributed in part to increased sophistication in the identification process: Students with autism spectrum disorders increased from 3 to 48; students with severe multiple impairments increased from 0 to 6; students with “other health disabilities” increased from 22 to 51; students with developmental delays doubled from 29 to 61. And agencies have changed the way they deliver services, keeping students in the community rather than placing them out of state. This, of course, means a lot of money at the school district. The number of licensed staff and paraprofessionals in the district has increased at the same time as the cuts listed above.

Farmers are generally pleased with this year’s crop, and sunflowers are the only crop with many acres left in fields, writes Stephen J. Lee of the Grand Forks Herald. Farmers are receiving record or near-record prices for their crops. That’s countercyclical to the more typical dive in prices as the crops come in. But a clear sign of the bullish demand that has been around for a year or more, propped up by some supply problems globally. Even with average yields for most crops, record or near-record prices means the region’s farmers will gross $600 to $700 per acre on edible beans, corn and sunflowers, and $350 to $450 per acre on soybeans and wheat, based on reported average yields and prices received in October. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly crop progress survey, 93 percent of the corn was harvested by Sunday, compared with only 60 percent by Oct. 30 on average from 2006-2010; all but 10 percent of the sunflowers were combined, ahead of the five-year average pace of 63 percent by now.

Several manhole covers and catch drain basin grates have been stolen from streets in the Brainerd Industrial Park in what police believe is a new target for scrap metal thieves. Matt Erickson of the Brainerd Dispatch “Who does this? This is the first I have ever heard of something like this,” Brainerd Police Deputy Chief Mike Bestul said. “It doesn’t seem to me that they would be getting that much money for even 100 pounds of this.” Five manhole covers and basin grates were noticed missing Friday and seven more were taken last weekend. The city had a few spares to replace some of the stolen covers but the city will have to order more to replace the rest. The manhole covers and basin grates cost several hundred dollars each. The coverings weigh about 125 pounds each and as scrap they would only be worth $20 to $25 each.

Speaking of metal, John Myers of the Duluth News Tribune writes that St. Louis County commissioners are expected to give their approval today to a $50 million mining operation near Chisholm. Magnetation will process leftover iron ore mine waste from the Douglas, Niles and Duncan mine tailings basins into 1 million tons of high-value concentrate each year for at least four years. Mesabi Nugget will turn that concentrate into iron nuggets at its plant near Hoyt Lakes. The joint effort is expected to create about 65 jobs. St. Louis County land commissioner Bob Krepps said one issue that remains is the relocation of the recreational Mesabi Trail through the county-managed land at the mine site. Krepps said the county’s lease will require Mining Resources LLC to relocate about one mile of the popular biking and snowmobile trail.

Speaking of jobs, Adam Harringa of the Austin Daily Herald notes that the Hormel Institute plans a $27 million expansion that will create 125 jobs. The Austin Port Authority wants the state to pony up $13.5 million in state bonding funds, which would cover half of the expansion cost. The rest would be through an Austin Port Authority bonding issuance, meaning the port authority would own the expansion and the Hormel Foundation would make the bond payments. The expansion would be three stories and add 15 research laboratories. The 73,750-square foot addition would nearly double the size of the existing institute. “Bioscience is one of the fastest growing industries in the country,” said Ann Bode, associate director of The Hormel Institute. “We think we here in southern Minnesota are in the center of it.” The average starting pay for the 125 new jobs would be $40,000 to $50,000. Bode said many would be paid by Mayo Clinic, as the institute renewed its partnership on Oct. 4 with Mayo and the University of Minnesota for “translational cancer research.”

Science is all well and good, but can it produce a better “Laser Floyd?” Sam Benshoof of the Fargo Forum reports that a new $60,000 Elumenati digital projector was installed at the Minnesota State University Moorhead Planetarium last weekend. The projector, coupled with special Uniview scientific software, allows the planetarium to expand its programming. The new projector’s images are generated by a computer and then are projected onto the planetarium’s dome by a fisheye lens. All the positions of planets, asteroids, moons or even spacecraft are calculated by the computer. Files also get updated as new information becomes available. The projector can also be used for other fields, such as chemistry, physics, geosciences, Earth science and more. Or the system could be used to explore local issues. Images could be downloaded to explore flooding in the Red River Valley region.