Annual medical examiner report presented to County Board

By Ed DuBois

The annual medical examiner report coincided with the annual Boy/Girl County Day at the Wright County Board meeting last Tuesday, April 26.

Dr. Quinn Strobl, whose medical examiner organization serves 19 counties, presented a report.  County Board Chair Pat Sawatzke mentioned the cause of death examination following the recent death of music legend Prince is being completed by Dr. Strobl's office.

She was not at liberty to discuss the Prince case, but she presented numerous statistics regarding the work of her office for Wright County.

In 2015, her office handled 481 Wright County cases.  A total of 49 autopsies were performed.

Among the deaths in 2015, there were six due to motor vehicle crashes.  Two deaths were homicides, and they both occurred in one incident (Besser case in St. Michael).

Suicide deaths totaled 17.  Dr. Strobl was asked about the average number of suicide deaths per year.  She said the percentage has been about the same each year.

Five incidents of found bones were investigated.

The number of cremations approved was 357.

In other business:



The Board asked County Coordinator Lee Kelly to draft a letter to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) expressing concern about the Aurora Solar Project underway in Buffalo Township.

The Board is concerned about a lack of communication with local governments, and the Board is also concerned about activities that local officials were reportedly told would not happen.  For example, utility poles were added to the project site, and local officials and residents were reportedly told utility lines would be underground.  The Board is concerned about trees and black dirt being removed, and gravel being brought in for an access road.

The letter being drafted could be reviewed by the Board next Tuesday, May 3.



In other actions, the Board:

* discussed a culvert replacement project needed in Woodland Township and possibly changing the elevation of the culvert;

* called for drafting a letter to Stearns County saying Wright County is in favor of no term limits for watershed district managers;

* authorized attendance at a watershed district discussion on May 25 at 3 p.m. in the Sauk Centre City Hall;

* conducted a question and answer session with Boy/Girl County Day participants, who included students from area high schools accompanied by local American Legion and Legion Auxiliary members;

* approved filling two openings for sheriff's deputies, plus an opening for an accounting technician in the Auditor-Treasurer's Office;

* approved Extension Committee appointments of Tammi Dahlman and Joey Hartley;

* approved five property tax abatements due to clerical errors, as well as one reverse abatement due to a clerical error;

* approved $328,670 in claims involving 313 transactions with 169 vendors.



Financial matters occupy BHM School Board Monday

By Ed DuBois

Financial matters mostly occupied the Buffalo Hanover Montrose (BHM) School Board last Monday, April 25.

A ten-year Long-Term Facilities Maintenance (LTFM) Plan presented by Gary Kawlewski, director of finance and operations, was approved.

The plan includes the following types of expenditures: health and safety costs, deferred maintenance costs, preventive maintenance programs, items that did not make the final bond issue but are still deemed necessary, other items that have come up since the passage of the bond issue, and other items anticipated over the next ten years.

Kawlewski said he is working each year to manage the tax impact of the plan.  He commented he would prefer a five-year plan rather then a ten-year plan because many more changes can occur over the course of ten years.

Next, the School Board approved the capital outlay and LTFM budgets.  John Heltunen, director of buildings and grounds, spoke to the Board about a few additions to the capital outlay plan, which includes maintenance project across the school district.  The capital outlay budget approved by the Board is $1.54 million.  The LTFM budget approved by the Board is $737,666.

Finally, the last financial matter before the Board was a report by Kawlewski on school district budget adjustments.  He said the general fund is looking better, and one reason is an increase of pupil units from 6,290 to 6,304.  State aid is paid on a per-pupil basis.  Also, tuition for local students placed in other districts (such as in special education or in an alternative learning center) are down.  Due to the mild winter, operation and maintenance costs are down.  Nonetheless, the fund balance is expected to decrease, and school district officials will need to keep an eye on growth, revenue and the possible need to reduce costs in coming years.

The projected ending fund balance (as of June 30, 2016) in the general fund is $15.05 million, which is down about $1.55 million.

Kawlewski said the food service fund is in a positive position with a projected ending balance of $154,931.  The community education fund is improved with a projected ending balance of $8,448.  The building construction fund balance is expected to drop just over $10 million to $20.3 million.  The debt service fund is staying fairly steady with a projected balance of $1.67 million.  Likewise, the OPEB trust fund balance is not changing much, and the projected ending balance is $13.3 million.  The HRA trust fund's ending balance is projected to increase about $350,000 to $1.12 million.  The total projected ending fund balance is $51.56 million.

Budget approval will likely occur in June.

In other business:



In other actions, the Board:

* approved an out-of-state trip to Boston for six Business Professionals of America (BPA) students to attend the National BPA Conference/Competition from May 5-9 with advisers;

* received a student council report about RAVE (Respect and Value Everyone) Week donations to Love INC and the Buffalo Food Shelf, as well as student council election results;

* stated the Board is "Proud of" student council representative Allie Swearingen, who has taken part in all school board meetings and will be a student council co-president next year;

* accepted donations and a grant adding up to $25,035, including $6,776 from Montrose Elementary School (MES) Families and Friends Jump Rope for Heart to MES and $6,442 from Bid Partner - Night Out for Music for the Buffalo High School Music Department;

* approved instructional resources and technology for the Secondary Career & Technical Education (CTE) Program (which includes the following departments: Agriculture, Business & Computer Technology, FACS, Tech Ed., and the BCMS Technology Class); and

* approved the non-renewal of teaching contracts with two probationary teachers, and approved the discontinuance of long-term substitute contracts with 12 teachers.



Upcoming meetings include:

* Staff Retirement Luncheon, Friday, May 6, noon, Discovery Center Board Room;

* Board Retreat, Monday, May 9, noon to 4 p.m., conference room near the superintendent's office in the Discovery Center;

* Board Workshop, Monday, May 9, 4:30 p.m., Tatanka Elementary School; and

* Board meeting, Monday, May 23, 7:00 p.m., Board Room, Discovery Center.



Discovery steps replacement project underway

Steps to the auditorium at the Discovery Center in Buffalo have been in place since the mid-1930s.  They were completely redone back in the 1980s.  A steps replacement project is now underway and is one of many projects approved as a part of a bond referendum in November 2014.  About $50,000 was allocated to the steps project.  Work began on Wednesday, April 20 and is expected to be completed in June.  A portion of the steps area will become a patio area that extends out from the front doors of the auditorium.  The remaining area where the steps were located will become green space.  The steps will no longer exist.  People will access the auditorium doors from the existing ramp and a set of stairs to the north of the auditorium doors.  The patio and green space are replacing the steps.  (Photo by Ed DuBois)



Red Cross helping after fires that lightning likely started last Sunday in Otsego

American Red Cross volunteers are helping four adults and six children following two house fires believed to be related to lightning strikes last Sunday, April 24 on the 12000 block of 76th St. NE in Otsego.  The Red Cross received a call at 10 a.m. to provide assistance.

Two homes were destroyed by fire, and a third was damaged, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  The fires started shortly before sunrise Sunday.  At the Rich and Jessica Wade house, a youth soccer group was staying overnight.  Everyone got out safe, but the home was lost.  The Keith and Chey Jones home was also lost.

The Albertville, St. Michael, Elk River, and Monticello Fire Departments responded.

Go Fund Me accounts have been set up to help the families (Wade family, and Jones family,, the Star Tribune reported.



Work on CSAH 12 starts

Work on Wright County State Aid Highway (CSAH) 12 northwest of Buffalo has started up again this month.  A detour is in place while remaining work on the project is completed.

Construction activities on CSAH 12, from Highway 55 to the new roundabout at Co. Rd. 138, include turf establishment and final cleanup and work on this segment, should be completed by mid-May, the Wright County Highway Department reports.

Relocation work by privately owned utility companies will continue on CSAH 12 from the new roundabout at Co. Rd. 138 and to the north to CSAH 37.  Removal of sand surcharge sections, placement of gravel, turf establishment, paving, and final cleanup are anticipated to be completed by the end of June, 2016.  Please note that all time frame estimates are weather permitting.



I-94 non-rush hour lane closures being planned

Motorists may encounter delays as Interstate 94 lanes close in St. Michael and Rogers beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, April 29.  The closures will occur on both directions of I-94 during non-peak travel times through 12 p.m. Sunday, May 1.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) says motorists planning to travel I-94 in Rogers and St. Michael should slow down and be prepared to stop and move over when possible to give crews and equipment room to work safely.

The lane closures are tentatively scheduled as follows:

* Eastbound I-94 will be reduced to one or two lanes during the following times: April 29 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; April 30 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.; May 1 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

* Westbound I-94 will be reduced to one or two lanes during the following times: April 29 from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.; April 30 from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; May 1 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The closures are needed while crews conduct bridge deck testing, warranty work and bridge deck sealing on the two I-94 bridges spanning the Crow River, just east of Highway 241 in St. Michael.

For real-time travel information anywhere in Minnesota, visit



Lake Constance being treated

Constance Lake Association, in conjunction with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Wright County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), will be treating the lake April 28 though May 6 for aquatic weed control.

Please call Bob Meeker, lake association president, at 763-267-8979 with any questions.


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Cats that need a job

Working Cats Program coordinated at Animal Humane Society location near Buffalo

By Ed DuBois

The Animal Humane Society has cats that need a job.  Maybe you are one of those who could put some of the cats to work doing what they do naturally, catching mice.

These are cats that might not make good pets, but they do not need to be good pets to go to work for you.  So, if you have a place (a barn or a shop) that needs a mouse catcher or two ... or three, perhaps give the Animal Humane Society a call.

The Working Cats Program office is at the Animal Humane Society location near Buffalo (along Highway 55 about halfway between Buffalo and Rockford), and the program is coordinated by site manager Anne Lally-Rose (762-432-4874,,

Working cats can be adopted through any of the Animal Humane Society locations, which include: Buffalo, Coon Rapids, Golden Valley, St. Paul, and Woodbury.  Adopted working cats can be transferred from the Buffalo site to any of the other sites to be picked up.


Three-part umbrella

The Working Cats Program is under a three-part "Community Cats" umbrella, Lally-Rose said.  The first part is a Return-to-Field Program, which involves a stray surrender process of mainly feral cats.  An evaluation is conducted to determine whether or not a cat is appropriate for adoption.  The cat is spayed or neutered, and also vaccinated.  If it is a good fit for the Return-to-Field Program, the cat is "returned to where it was thriving, but it is not able to reproduce," Lally-Rose said.

The second part under the Community Cats umbrella is a Targeted Trap, Neuter and Return Effort in the Buffalo and St. Michael area, which has a large outdoor cat population.  This group of cats includes many barn cats and colonies of cats.  The targeted effort involves sterilization (to prevent reproduction), vaccinating and then returning the cats.  A goal of this effort (and all the Community Cats programs) is to bring about humane outcomes, Lally-Rose said.  In the past, an alternative was to put cats down.

The third part is the Working Cats Program.


Not necessarily a pet

"We noticed we had another group of cats with no environment (to be returned to) and were not appropriate for households," Lally-Rose said.  "Some of these cats have behavior issues.  Some are fine to be with humans, but only so much."

The Working Cats Program can provide adoption of cats for barns or businesses.  They need a supportive environment, which means they need a place where they can relax and get acclimated.  Some might be approachable at times.

"It's hard to tell at the shelter which cats might be approachable.  We look at their history, which is the truest predictor," Lally-Rose said.


Information by email

The program started in January, and adoptions were slow at first.  Lally-Rose sends out emails to interested parties and tells about the cats that are available for adoption through the Working Cats Program.

A form is available online to sign up for the program.

When working cats are adopted, the participant is advised to keep the cat or cats contained in a small area for two or three weeks.

"During this time, the cats learn 'this is my territory.'  They get acclimated as they realize 'this is my new home,'" Lally-Rose said.

The participant agrees to provide food and fresh water each day.

"The cats can't survive on mousing alone," Lally-Rose commented.


Some just need a job

Almost 70 working cats have been adopted so far.  This is in a system that sees close to 9,000 cats a year (at all locations).

Most of the cats need a home, but some of them just need a job.  They are fine with living in a barn or a shop and left alone most of the time, as long as they have mice to catch, food to eat and fresh water each day.

They won't reproduce, and when adopted, their vaccinations are up to date.

They are cats looking for something to do.

And they are available through the Animal Humane Society location near Buffalo.