A weight room project to remodel the high school weight room, and ways in which that could be funded was presented to the New London Spicer School Board This week. Supt. Paul Carlson says a substantial donation is being considered by the New London-Spicer Booster Club. The board did approve the project and plan to continue with that. In other business the board awarded a Tennis Court Project bid to Duininck Inc. They’ll be working on the district’s new tennis courts, including the addition of an eight court this summer.
Kindergarten Roundup for the Litchfield School District shows that numbers are strong right now. Interim Supt. Dan Fraizer says they have more kids expressing interest in kindergarten next year than they were anticipating. The board also approved some policies, and membership in the Minnesota State High School League. In other business they accepted some resignations, one from a paraprofessional, and one from the head varsity football coach. The board concluded the meeting by discussing the calendar for this year and how it affected the Holy Week activities during spring break week.
The Alexandria City Council held a public hearing on the Boys Avenue Improvement project this week. City Administrator Jim Taddei says they received a petition some time ago for paving that gravel street. At that time it was referred to the city engineer for a study. The public hearing was to review those costs. The issue is the cost of those improvements. The total cost is about $73,000, so $7,300 per property owner to pave that street. One of the property owners recommended just doing the cul-de-sac portion of the street, which would reduce the cost substantially to the property owners. It was referred back to the city engineer to revise the cost estimate for that and then come back to the council with another consideration to see if the property owners wanted to do that.
The U.S. Senate is debating immigration reforms this week, with several pieces of legislation under review. One proposal includes an e-Verification system, requiring all US employers to verify the employment eligibility of all non-U.S. citizens. Minnesota Senator Al Franken says the system still has an error rate that is too high, returning a "false positive" about 1 in 124 times. Franken says changes to immigration and work eligibility is important for agriculture; especially dairy farmers. The current system allows seasonal workers to enter the States temporarily but requires constant workplace turnover. He says a pathway to permanent working status could be a boon for worker permanency in the dairy industry.
The Minnesota Senate will be taking up the DFL's Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill soon, and Republican Senators are airing their concerns. Elbow Lake Senator Torrey Westrom says the bill introduces a whole slew of tax and fee increases, including one tax tied to the price of gasoline. Westrom says the bill introduces a new distributor gross receipts tax (sales tax) at a rate of 5.5 percent. This tax is based on the value of the fuel, not volume. The base gas tax rate is reduced from .25 cents per-gallon to .19 cents per-gallon to offset only a portion of this big increase. Since this new "sales tax" is tied to the price of fuel, revenue collections would automatically escalate with rising prices. Based on these estimates and recent gas prices, the tax would be equivalent to about a 10 cent a gallon increase, Westrom says. This is expected to generate $447.6 million annually by Fiscal year 2016-17.
As legislators at the Minnesota Capitol debate budgets and taxes for the coming biennium, local governments are hoping the numbers will be high enough to meet budgetary needs. Morris City Manager Blaine Hill tells the Morris City Council future payments of Local Government Aid (LGA) could be higher for the city. In 2014, the city could see an LGA increase of $170,000. In 2015, the City of Morris could see an increase in funding of $200,000 under the House plan.
A University of Minnesota, Morris student approached the Morris City Council this week about introducing an ordinance to regulate composting. The city currently has no rules regulating the waste-reduction practice, but Alicia Beattie has drafted a resolution she hopes the council will pass. Encouraging composting could reduce waste, Beattie says. The city currently spends over $90 a ton to transport and incinerate waste at the Pope-Douglas Solid Waste Management facility in Alexandria. A centralized composting site in the City of Benson costs about $80 a ton to process, Beattie says. A city focus on compost could translate into a savings on transporting solid waste. The council plans to review the compost ordinance and consider action at a future meeting.
Before venturing out to campgrounds, trails and public water accesses statewide, the Department of Natural Resources advises people to check online or call ahead to avoid surprises. Because of the late ice out this year, DNR crews have been unable to inspect and repair launch ramps or put the docks in at the DNR-operated public water access sites. They will get them ready as soon as possible, but are at the mercy of Mother Nature right now, says a DNR representative. As for roads and trails, the DNR anticipates the need for temporary closures in state forests, state parks, recreation areas and wildlife management areas, due to wet conditions. Road and trail conditions are deteriorating rapidly this spring, and many are not yet firm enough to support vehicle traffic without being damaged. The temporary closures could remain in effect until sometime in May, depending on weather conditions.
After opening statements yesterday (Thursday) in the murder trial of 47 year old Timothy Huber of rural Paynesville, several people were called to testify. Among those were his father, 82 year old Delbert Huber, who is serving 30 years in prison for the murder of 43 year old Tim Larson of Albertville in October of 2011; Debra Larson, the widow of the murdered man; Norman Larson, the father of the murdered man; and several officers. The 911 call was played for the jury as well. Huber, wearing white gloves and an orange prison jumpsuit, testified for two hours, continuing to say the murder was accidental and his son had nothing to do with it. He said he took his gun along to the Larson property because he believed Tim Larson was going to kill them and the gun went off accidently when he was fiddling with the trigger. The trial continues today and is expected to last ten days.
Wednesday, the Minnesota House passed the Omnibus Higher Education Finance bill. Included in the bill is funding that will directly benefit students by freezing tuition at both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and University system, including Ridgewater College. Representative Mary Sawatzky of Willmar voted in support of the bill. The tuition has been frozen for two years, she said, noting the students have way too much debt when they’re getting out of college and being able to start their careers and their life and their families.
The Paynesville City Council Wednesday night, approved some temporary street closings for throughout the summer in the downtown area for a flea market and a farmers market. Mayor Jeff Thompson says the Farmers Market is moving back to the downtown area after being in the American Legion parking lot for a few summers. They also heard a report from a group of concerned Lake Koronis residents about the spread of Aquatic Invasive Species. Thompson says they’ve approached the city and are asking for some financial assistance to help with checking boats coming and going for aquatic invasive species. The council had some questions about the legality of contributing or helping with this so the city attorney is doing some more research as is the council. Thompson said the city has a beach, park and boat landing as part of Veterans Park so there is an interest there as well as keeping Lake Koronis as clean and attractive as possible.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation advises motorists to be mindful of cracks and potholes on area highways. With warmer spring air moving into the region more vehicles, especially motorcycles, will be on the roads. A number of highways finished the winter with increased pavement damage: Highway 15 from Hutchinson to Highway 212; Highway 12 from Litchfield to Darwin; Highway 71 near Olivia; and Highway 71 from Redwood Falls to Highway 14. Maintenance crews across the region are currently working on repairing the cracks and holes on area highways.
The Stearns County Sheriff’s Office was called to a rollover yesterday afternoon (Thursday) on County Road 157 west of Freeport in Oak Township. 43 year old Amr Hanafy of Sauk Centre approached a slow left curve, drove onto the shoulder of the roadway, over-corrected, veered to the center line, over-corrected again, then rolled two to three times down the roadway, entered the ditch and rolled once more. Hanafy was taken to the Melrose Hospital.
Senator Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake calls the DFL’s recently introduced Omnibus Transportation Finance Bill an ‘uff-da’ bill and says everyone is going to pay more under the Senate Democrat’s budget. He says the bill calls for increases in the wheelage tax, the driver’s license filing fee, motor vehicle lease tax, the gas tax, and more. Westrom says we need to have a government that’s more efficient and responsible with the taxpayer’s dollar, and before asking for a semi-load of new taxes from hardworking taxpayers, they need to go line-by-line through Minnesota’s budget to ensure that current spending is as effective as possible.
Today (Friday) is National Arbor Day, around the country and in Morris. Mayor Sheldon Giese read the official declaration at a meeting of the Morris City Council this week. Trees are beneficial for shade, Giese read, for wildlife habitat, for bugs and birds. And with the emerald ash borer likely on its way, a focus on forestry is especially important. National Arbor Day is celebrated annually to encourage tree planting and an increase in community forests.
Pioneer Public Television and Arts of the University of Minnesota Morris, say the next episode of ‘Postcards’ is Sunday night at seven with ‘Fine Arts on the Prairie.’ This episode looks at the role fine arts played in developing a public liberal arts college in Morris in 1960 and the vision key individuals had in creating an active arts community.
Highway 12 two miles east of Grove City is is closed due to a crash. Motorists are advised to avoid the area and seek alternate routes. The detour is Highway 4, County Road 16 and Highway 22. The highway was closed at 8 this morning and is expected to be closed for two to three hours.
At 3:51 this morning (Friday), the Meeker County Sheriff's Office received a report of a two-vehicle crash on Highway 12, west of Litchfield involving a minivan and a semi. 27 year old Matthew Lindquist of Willmar was traveling west, when his vehicle crossed the centerline and collided with a 1997 International semi-truck/trailer driven by 58 year old Kevin Roelike of Sauk Centre. Lindquist was taken to the Meeker Memorial Hospital. Assisting at the scene were the Minnesota State Patrol, and Litchfield Police Department. The crash is under investigation by the Minnesota State Patrol.
Yesterday afternoon (Thursday), the Meeker County Sheriff’s Office was called to a grass fire in Union Grove Township by a MN DNR Conservation Officer. Also dispatched was the Paynesville Fire Department. The conservation officer, who was on patrol in the area, saw the fire, which was out of control and assistance was needed. The burn was originally being tended to by 57 year old Stephen Kummet of Eden Valley. He had obtained a permit for the fire; however, the wind caused the fire to spread beyond control. There was no financial loss as a result of the fire; however, approximately five acres of grassland were burned. The property is owned by the Boyden Farm Trust. The incident is being handled by the MN DNR.
Yesterday morning (Thursday), the Litchfield Police Department was called to a crash at a North Gilman Avenue/East 3rd Street location. An 86 year old Dassel female was charged with fail to yield. She will be appearing in Meeker County District Court on a later date. There were no injuries.