School Board considers levy for 2018
By Doug Voerding
With the start of the 2017-2018 school year just days away, the District 877 Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose School Board heard information about the tax levy that will fund the district in 2019.
According to Gary Kawlewski, District 877 Director of Finance and Operations, there are five items that will have the largest impact on the levy that will be approved by December 2017, collected from property owners in 2018, and used by the district in 2019.
First, there will be an increased allowance for the third year of the Long-Term Facilities Maintenance Revenue (LTFR) program. LTFR was started by the state three years ago, combining Health and Safety Aid and Deferred Maintenance Aid into one aid program.
Now, the district is in the third year of this program, and the formula allowance goes up one last time for fiscal year 2019 from $292 per pupil unit to $380 per pupil unit. This increased formula allowance could generate approximately $2.25 million for fiscal year 2019 in total, if the district decides to levy the full amount.
In the past two years, the district has chosen to not levy the full amount allowed by the state, preferring to maximize the state funds that come to the district while keeping property tax increases low.
If the decision is made to keep the levy in this area the same, there will still be an increase in money coming to the district from the state. Going above that will mean a raise in property taxes. The board will have to make that decision before the final levy is certified in December.
Second, the impact from the new School Building Bond Ag Credit is not clear yet. The law, passed by the legislature earlier this year, will give owners of agriculture property a credit. The district will receive the same amount as the credit from the state.
Third, the district could continue levying less than needed for debt service. The district has had a fund balance in the debt service fund which has helped to keep the tax levy for this fund lower than allowed. The district could decide to continue this practice.
Fourth, there will be savings from refunding the bond the district had for Other Post Employment Benefits. The bond refund will save the district $200,000 without affecting taxes. The end of the tennis court lease will also be saving the district $40,000 a year.
Fifth, there will be an overall increase in the other levy categories due to the increase in property values which results in less state aid and a higher local share. The board was not expected to and did not take any action. Kawlewski will be asking the school board to approve the maximum allowed levy at the board's regular meeting on September 25, as the deadline is September 30.
Approving the maximum levy is common practice since the Minnesota Department of Education usually does not have the final levy corrections completed by that date.
The Truth in Taxation hearing will be held on December 11. After the hearing, the board is expected to adopt the final levy. The board may set the final levy less than the September 30 amount, but it cannot set it for more.
After the meeting, Kawlewski said that there were "many moving parts. Probably more than 500 different calculations will be needed to determine what the final property tax levy will be."
Kawlewski also said that he and the district staff are trying to use creative and legal ways to also build up building maintenance funds and develop a strategic plan for annual building maintenance needs.
"We want to be proactive in using the LTFR money," said Kawlewski, ìto keep our buildings and facilities in great condition by maximizing the state revenue and carefully managing the local tax impact."
According to school district policy, "the school district may consider obtaining and possessing epinephrine auto-injectors to be maintained and administered by school personnel to a student or other individual if, in good faith, it is determined that person is experiencing anaphylaxis regardless of whether the student or other individual has a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector."
The policy goes on to say that "A comprehensive plan will be developed and submitted to the school board for approval for implementation."
At the regular board meeting on July 31, the district nursing staff presented a comprehensive plan.
On Monday, the board learned of the revisions needed to be made in the parent notification forms to meet the requirements of the comprehensive plan and then approved the plan that will be used to implement the district policy.
The districtís purchase of the epi-pens can be covered with Long-Term Facilities Maintenance money since the epi-pens are part of the districtís emergency plan.
The board is proud of the 2017 BHS Tatanka yearbook staff who earned All-American recognition from the National Scholastic Press Association. Marks of distinction were received in all five areas of judging including, essentials, coverage, writing and editing, design, and photography, In addition, scores in each category placed among the top five percent of all books submitted.
The editors-in-chief were Mac Loomis and Molly Jungwirth. Meghan Cahill was the managing editor. The 2018 Tatanka yearbook staff has already received a first place recognition at this summer's Balfour Publishing Camp.
The board accepted a donation of $200.00 from Allina Health/Community Shares and Anita Bazan for the Herd, the Buffalo High School Marching Band.
In other action, the board
- welcomed James (Jack) Oistad, the student representative from the Buffalo High School Student Council. Oistad told the board about the plans for ìBison Battles,î the theme for this yearís homecoming.
- reviewed and adopted handbooks for Buffalo High School, Phoenix Learning Center, PRIDE, ECSE, ECFE, and Volunteers.
- authorized Thielman to act as the Identified Official with Authority for the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose ISD #877. Thielman has access rights and may authorize other district employees to have access rights to the Minnesota Department of Education secure systems.
- authorized signatures for official depositories to be Board Chair Dave Wilson, Board Clerk Melissa Brings, Board Treasurer Laurie Raymond, Thielman, Kawlewski, Miranda Kramer, Erica Fiske, and Michelle Kivi.
- designated Bremer Trust, National Association, as an official depository of Independent School District 877 and authorized Thielman, Kawlewski, and Kramer to conduct business transactions with Bremer Trust on behalf of the Independent School District 877.
Community solar garden under construction in Montrose
By Doug Voerding
About two years ago, two companies approached the city of Montrose with plans for developing solar arrays. Now, one of those projects is complete, and the other is under construction.
In 2013, the state passed a solar energy law that requires investor-owned utilities like Xcel to get at least 1.5 percent of their electricity from the sun by 2020, just three years away.
With that directive from the state, companies approach-ed Wright County cities about building solar energy farms. Those companies plan to sell the solar energy to Xcel with the possibility of benefiting local governments and residents. The solar garden under construction is south of Highway 12 and east of Highway 25. The work is readily visible from both highways.
Back in 2015, the Mont-rose City Council granted a 27-year interim use permit (IUP) to SunShare, LLC, for the construction of a solar energy farm. SunShare holds a contract to provide solar energy to Xcel Energy. SunShare has since been purchased by Gen-erate Minnesota Commu-nity Solar 1, LLC, a company registered in Delaware.
The 38-acre site is part of a larger tract owned by Terning Family Holdings and abuts the north side of the city's sanitary sewer ponds.
This solar photovoltaic facility, not a city project and not on city land, is expected to be comprised of about 25,000 modules that can each generate 300 and 315 watts of electricity.
The IUP was recommended by the Planning and Zoning Commission and came with 27 separate conditions.
The major conditions include constructing a fence and planting trees as a buffer along Highway 25, meeting the standards of the Minnesota and national electric code, avoiding any construction on sanitary sewer and storm water easements, and dedicating a 66-foot road right-of-way for a future collector street.The Generate Minnesota Community Solar project is a community solar garden that will give the benefits of clean and local solar power to the community. While homeowners have yet to be contacted, anyone will be able to subscribe to the solar garden. Xcel Energy will continue to deliver their energy, and Generate Minnesota Community Solar customers will re-ceive credits on their Xcel energy bills, thus lowering their electricity bills.
The City of Montrose has already subscribed to the Generate Minnesota Com-munity Solar community solar garden.
In November of 2015, the council decided to subscribe to Generate Minnesota Community Solar with the company's fixed discount option, possibly saving money on city electricity costs.
That option had lower electric bill savings for the first year, but by the end of the 25-year contract, the city will save nearly $250,000. Those savings could even be more, depending on any increases in the Xcel Energy rates over those same years.
The savings applies to the electricity used by the city except for street lighting, which is metered in a different way.
According to then-City Attorney Andy Pratt, participating in the SunShare, now Generate Minnesota Community Solar, plan has no liability issues for the city.
The solar array that is already completed, which is expected to generate up to 4 megawatts of energy, was built by Aurora Distributed Solar, LLC, in Woodland Township just south and west of Rock Brook development on agricultural land. Access to the property is on the south end of Bishop Avenue.
That array is built on 35 acres of land that abuts the city's current southern border. The project area is zoned by Wright County as Transitional Area (TA).
Although the Aurora array is not within the city limits, the council needed to approve an easement crossing agreement. The 15-foot wide gravel access road crosses the sanitary sewer line that connects the wastewater treatment plant with Waverly.
The easement crossing agreement was signed in November of 2015.
The Aurora project was never advertised as a community solar garden.
Friends of Buffalo Library start outdoor patio
The Buffalo Library recently held a ground-breaking for the Friends of the Buffalo Library outdoor patio project. The patio will provide a larger outside reading area that will have a beautiful view of Buffalo Lake. The Buffalo Lions and Buffalo Rotary provided financial support for the project. From left are Amy Wittmann, Library Services Coordinator; Roger Krueger, Lions; Mark Boyd, Rotary; Jason Nelson, Rotary; Cheryl Thompson, Lions; Martha Robeck, Lions; Jeff Thompson, Lions; Gaye Ann Gandel, Lions; Judy Sandeen, Lions; and Jane Dorn, Friends of the Buffalo Library. (Submitted photo)
Extra DWI patrols in Wright County continue
Whether it's having fun on the boat or sitting around a campfire, it's easy for a person to lose track of how much they're drinking while out celebrating the final days of summer. That's why if Minnesotans are planning to drink at all this holiday weekend, it's time to line up a sober driver.
Deputies, officers, and troopers from more than 300 agencies, including the Wright County Sheriff's Office, Annandale and Howard Lake Police Departments, and the Minnesota State Patrol will be working overtime through September 3 with funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Safe Communities of Wright County encourages everyone to:
- Plan for a safe ride, designate a sober driver, use a cab/public transportation, or stay at the location of the celebration.
- Speak up and offer to be a designated driver or be available to pick up a loved one anytime, anywhere. If you see an impaired person about to get behind the wheel, get them a safe ride home.
- Buckle up as the best defense against a drunk driver.
- Report drunk driving by calling 911 when witnessing impaired driving behavior. Be prepared to provide location, license plate number, and observed dangerous behavior.
More drunk-driving-related deaths happen over the summer months than at any other time. From 2011-2015, for example, there were 150 deaths from June through August, compared to 84 from December through February. And there are more DWI arrests per hour over the Labor Day holiday period than over any other holiday time frame. Why Labor Day is the most dangerous holiday period to be on the road with drunk drivers is something Minnesotans should all be asking and trying to change.
The enhanced DWI enforcement campaign is a component of the state's Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) program. A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior. TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes - education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma response.
Postmaster warns of mailbox burglaries
Buffalo Postmaster Brad Polivany reports that there has been a rash of burglaries from postal mailboxes in the last few days.
Persons, usually two or more, in cars have been pulling mail and packages from mailboxes and opening the mail, searching for money and valuables.
The mail is then discarded along the road or street or placed in another mailbox.
Letter carriers have been finding the discarded mail along their routes.
The only people allowed in a mailbox are the owner, the letter carrier, and postal management with identification.
Any suspicious activity should be reported to the police or the sheriff immediately. Include a vehicle description and, if possible, a license plate number.
$1 million Powerball ticket sold at Pit Stop in Howard Lake
A $1 million Powerball ticket was sold at the Pit Stop, 620 Dutch Lake Drive in Howard Lake. The winner has yet to step forward to claim the prize. Pit Stop earns $5,000 as a bonus for selling the winning ticket.
The winning Powerball numbers for Aug. 23, 2017 were 6-7-16-23-26 and Powerball 4. The Power Play multiplier was 4.
A $200,000 winning ticket was sold in Bloomington, and three $50,000 tickets were sold in Scandia, Isanti, and Maplewood.
The jackpot run lasted for 21 drawings and ended with a $758.7 million winning ticket, the largest grand prize ever won on a single ticket in the United States. That ticket was sold in Massachusetts.
During this jackpot run, 511,867 winning tickets sold in Minnesota won $4,084,276. Powerball sales of $24.5 million from the 21-draw run generated $9.4 million for Minnesota's environment and State programs: $3.1 million for the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, $577,686 for the Game and Fish Fund, $577,686 for the Natural Resources Fund, and $5.1 million for the General Fund, which supports state programs including education, public safety, and health and human services.
Chase and Vader help law enforcement
The Wright County Sheriff's two K-9 teams assist in searching for suspects, evidence and drugs
Story and photos by Doug Voerding
It's hard to imagine that your closest working partner is a dog. Not just any dog, but a well-trained dog that is with you 24/7.
That's the work of two Wright County Sheriff's deputies.
"This is the best job ever," said Dan Cotten. "It is a lot of extra hours, but it is rewarding to see my dog Chase doing what he is trained to do."
"It is rewarding and exciting," said Josh Tester, "for Vader to find evidence or apprehend a suspect."
Cotten with Chase and Tester with Vader are the K-9 Unit of the sheriff's department.
The deputy/dog teams are used for drug searches, evidence searches, and suspect searches.
Both Chase and Vader came from a kennel in Slovakia, where dogs are bred specifically for police work. Chase, who is two-years-old, is a cross between a German shepherd and a Belgian Malinois, while Vader, who is six-years-old, is a pure German shepherd. Both are about 70 pounds.
The dogs, picked out personally by Steve Pearson of Performance Kennels, came to the United States with no training when they were about a year old.
Chase and Vader were and continue to be trained locally by Pearson, whose Performance Kennels is in Buffalo Township, but the training process is much more than training the dog.
The training actually began in the homes of Cotten and Tester. The dogs first got to know and bond with their handlers. That basic training in the home was guided by Pearson.
After about six weeks, the formal training began. That training was eight hours a day for four weeks for narcotics and twelve weeks for patrol.
The dogs are trained for obedience, agility, tracking, and searching.
In the obedience training, the dogs learn to sit and stand, walk controlled, respond to verbal commands and hand signals, heel, and be controlled from a distance.
The agility training includes the broad jump, climbing, jumping hurdles, and jumping at least six feet over an A-frame obstacle.
For tracking and suspect search, the dogs learn human odor and how to find it. The dogs may be used to find a burglary suspect in a building where there may have been forced entry. When subduing a suspect, the dog will go for the right arm, but if the right arm of a suspect is hidden in some way, the dog will grab any body part.
In searching for evidence or drugs like methamphetamine and heroin, the dogs are trained to sit and wait near the evidence until the officer gets to the evidence. If the dog tries to pick up the evidence, it may destroy valuable evidence needed for the court.
The training is reward-based. Deputy Cotten called it, "Happy, happy, happy."
"The rewards are fun," said Cotten. "If it is fun, they will do what we want them to do to get that reward."
"They are eager to please," said Tester.
Surprisingly, food and treats are not used with the dogs. The main reward is a tug, a dog toy with handles at each end. The dogs love to tussle with their handlers. Hard rubber balls and Kong toys are also favorites.
When the training and final testing is complete, both the officer/handler and the dog are certified together.
That certification lasts only for a year. The team will then be tested for recertification. To keep the certification, Tester and Cotten are constantly training their dogs to make sure they maintain their skills. The dogs might be involved in an evidence search, for example, once a month, but those search skills need to be practiced daily. Occasionally, both Tester and Cotten will return with their dogs to Pearson for any needed reinforcement training.
The continuous training is often done at home when the officer and the dog are off-duty.
The work on the job
The two teams work the night shift in the Northeast Quadrant of Wright County, but are on-call for all parts of the county and at all times.
The dogs live with their handlers and the handlers' families.
Each dog has its own kennel in half of the back seat of the police vehicle. They will respond when they hear the radio go off and hear their handler responding to a call, but they will not leave their car kennel, even if the door is open, until commanded to do so.
So far this year, the dogs have been deployed for specific tasks 75 times.
In the past, Tester told about Vader finding a loaded gun that had been hidden by a suspect. Vader was able to find the gun hidden under a flowerpot a couple of blocks away from the suspect's home.
Another time, Chase found a screwdriver that had been used for a burglary.
The dogs are rarely used for searching for lost children or adults.
Cotten said, "We have to evaluate that situation carefully because if I use Chase who is trained to subdue, that lost person might get injured."
The work in the community
Tester and Vader and Cotten and Chase are frequently seen at community events, giving demonstrations of the work of their dogs. They also attend many DARE graduations at schools across Wright County.
The dogs are trained to know when they are working and when they are not. They can be friendly at community events, but when commanded become working dogs.
In spite of the extra work and in spite of the extra hours with their dogs, both Tester and Cotten love their dogs and their work. And, Wright County residents are benefiting from that commitment. When you see Vader and Tester or Chase and Cotten, thank them all for their service to law enforcement in Wright County.