Growth in area tops stories for 2000

This article submitted by Linda Stelling and Michael Jacobson on 1/3/00.

The year 2000 started with a bang and a whimper. Huge celebrations marked the change to the year 2000, mixed with tremendous hype about the Y2K bug.

The Y2K bug fizzled, turning out to be a lot of hot air. Instead, these developments emerged to be the top local stories of the year.

New developments
For the first time in 15 years, the city annexed land in 2000.

With most lots in town developed, and a shortage of affordable housing, the city twice annexed land from the township and signed an orderly annexation agreement that should provide a basis for future annexations.

In February, the city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township agreed to allow the city to annex about 15 acres of land south of Highway 55. This land was used for an 18-lot residential development.

The city constructed an extension of Spruce Street through the area, and serviced the lots with sewer and water as in conjunction with their summer street project. The extended Spruce Street also provided another exit for the Chladek Addition.

Two new homes have already been erected in this development and a third is under way.

Another new development is in the works on the west end of Paynesville, on the north side of the Crow River. Eventually, this could be a 34-lot development. Work on the streets started last fall, but couldn't be completed before the onset of winter. The street and city services should be finished in the spring.

It was a busy year for builders in 2000. The city issued 84 permits for building new homes, or remodeling and expanding existing ones. The estimated cost of the building permit projects in 2000 was $5.6 million, more than doubling the work done in 1999.

Permits Valuation
200084 $5.6 million
199983 $2.5 million
199882 $1.6 million
199727 $0.9 million

Paynesville wasn't the only city to annex land in 2000. St. Martin also annexed eight acres for the first time since 1989. The development will house 15 half acre lots.

City of St. Martin officials are hopeful that the recent expansions in their industrial park will lead to more houses in town. The last lots in St. Martin's industrial park were also bought in 2000, so annexing more land for that is another priority for the city.

PAHCS continues to grow
The Paynesville Area Health Care System experienced another successful, profitable year in 2000.

The growing health care system increased its professional staff, its facilities, its equipment, its membership and its profits in the last year.

Three new medical doctors - Dr. Heidi Malling, Dr. Larry Strate, and Dr. Clemma Nash - joined PAHCS last summer, bringing the number of doctors to ten. In addition, the system hired Dan Lillquist, a physician assistant, and Todd Lemke, a Pharm.D., increasing its total medical staff to 16.

In July, PAHCS presented a session on interdisciplinary care at the Minnesota Rural Health Conference and won the Rural Health Team Award in recognition of that care.

For facilities, the system opened a brand new clinic in Richmond, remodeled its clinic in Belgrade, and operated the Integrated Health Center and a satellite clinic in Watkins for an entire year.

At the start of 2000, a major remodeling was expected to begin at the hospital and Koronis Manor. Scaling back the project and the intricacy of the engineering plans delayed this $6.78 million project, but the bids will be let this winter and construction should start in the spring.

The biggest news for equipment was the arrival of a state of the art CT scanner last spring. PAHCS is one of four facilities in the state to have the million dollar piece of equipment. The new scanner and new software provide for better pictures and more procedures, including cardiac scoring. This looks for build up in arteries around the heart to gauge risk of coronary disease.

The district that owns the hospital added another member with the entry of the city of Lake Henry. The district now includes seven cities and four townships.

This all added up to another profitable year, as PAHCS netted $650,000 in their 2000 fiscal year. PAHCS is counting on profits like this to finance the remodeling project and their future expansion.

School addition
Work began on a new $3.4 million auditorium and fitness center for the school in June.

Construction of the 499-seat auditorium and the 2,900-square foot fitness center went very well due to the dry weather in the summer - excellent for mortar work and excavating - and the mild fall. The addition will be located on the north side of the high school, where the tennis courts used to be located.

Four new tennis courts were built to replace these courts. The new courts, completed in July, are located between the vocational building and district garage.

While construction has been ahead of schedule - with the cold weather of December slowing progress a bit - the project's finances have been tight since the beginning.

Air conditioning has been added to the project, but to pay for it corners had to be cut elsewhere.

After an $83,000 accounting error was discovered, the project faced a deficit of $150,000. But $48,000 in cuts and $93,000 in additional levies have narrowed the shortfall.

In November, the school board started a fund raising campaign to help finance the project. In December, the school district used a one-day bond sale so it could use $54,000 for the project.

The construction manager now believes enough funds remain to complete the project.

The building project is expected to be completed by June 2001.

Farm prices
In January, milk prices dropped to 20-year lows. Milk prices were very unstable during 1999 and then dropped from $9.79 to $9.63 per hundredweight to start 2000.

Prices hadn't been below the $10 mark since September of 1978. As late as December 1998, milk prices were $17.34.

Grain prices weren't any better in 2000. "I can remember grain-marketing experts saying a few years ago that we would never see corn markets drop below $2," said Dave Schwartz, Meeker County Extension director last week. "Local markets this fall dipped down to $1.23. The average corn price received by Minnesota farmers in the 70s was $2.02 per bushel," he said.

Besides low prices for crops, farmers faced dry weather in the summer and then were hit with high gas prices for harvest. The dry spring got farmers in the fields in great shape, but the lack of rain just about cost some farmers their crops. The area did get a few timely rains, but some crops failed to mature for lack of moisture.

When it came time to dry down their corn, farmers saw propane prices jump from 54 cents to 85 cents per gallon. Prices started to go up in April and continued a steady climb throughout the summer.

Enrollment drops again
Enrollment in the Paynesville Area School District dropped in the fall of 2000 for the sixth consecutive year.

The enrollment of 1,213 represented a drop of 75 students from 1999 and was the lowest in a decade.

The drop is mostly caused in the elementary school, where the K-6 enrollment in 2000 was just 474. This was the first time in at least a decade that the enrollment was below 500. Just ten years ago, in 1990, the elementary enrollment was 676.

This year's first grade class (63 students) is the smallest in the district in at least ten years.

Enrollments in the middle school and high school were down slightly, but will continue to go down as the small elementary classes move up.

Declining enrollment has a financial cost, as state reimbursement is based on the number of students in the district. District #741 has had a deficit budget for three years. In that time, the district has spent nearly $1 million more than it earned.

The school board approved another deficit budget for the 2000-01 school year.

In November, the school board initiated a budget reduction process with the hope of having a balanced budget next year. To do so could take cuts of $500,000, over five percent of the district's annual budget.

Administration is gathering cuts to present to the board in late January. A public hearing on the cuts will be held on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2001.

Airport agreement
In March, the city of Paynesville and Paynesville Township entered into an agreement to form a joint airport commission.

The agreement - a year in the makingÊ- continued a trend of cooperation between the city and the township that surrounds it.

The airport agreement hinged on the two entities establishing an orderly annexation agreement, which lays out the steps for certain township land to be annexed by the city.

The airport agreement met opposition from township supervisor John Atwood, who thought that the city should contribute more of the cost. In the agreement, the city and township are equal partners, with equal representation and equal financial responsibilities.

The orderly annexation agreement will compensate the township for tax base that it loses to the city.

The airport proposal moved forward with a zoning plan and into land appraisals in 2000, but faced opposition from neighbors concerned about restrictions to their land. They agreed that the airstrip could be a valuable asset to the community, but thought it might be better located farther from town.

The proposed strip would be located just west of its current site on the west end of Paynesville.

As the year turned, the joint airport commission was waiting for appraisals for purchasing the land at the proposed site. Appraisals within budget could prompt the strip to stay put, while high appraisals might give more weight to moving the airport away from town.

Employee shortage
Finding employees is getting tougher and tougher for some employers in Paynesville. Advertising constantly hasn't attracted enough workers to fill their needs, so several businesses teamed up with the Paynesville Chamber of Commerce last spring to compile a local job listing booklet.

The booklet - Paynesville Area Job Opportunities - includes the working hours, starting pay, job descriptions, and the name of a contact person for ten local employers.

The books were made available to new and old residents around town as well as to the local school and neighboring school districts.

The health care industry faces the shortage with a couple disadvantages. The first is that they have to be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the bigger one is that - in long-term care - the state sets the rates of pay, so increasing wages to attract workers is not an option.

A factor in the local shortage of workers is the limited availability of affordable housing, which makes it hard for people to relocate to Paynesville.

25th Fun Days
The name says it all. Roscoe Fun Days is intended to be a time for the whole town to have fun.

This year, the residents of Roscoe took extra glee in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the town's annual festival.

The community started its celebration in 1976 after a group of people met to decide what to do for the bi-centennial. More than 1,500 people attended the first celebration.

The profits from the first celebration were used to start the Roscoe Recreation Club, which hosts the celebration each year.

The celebration has been held the second weekend of August since its inception. The festivities include street dances, volleyball tournament, kids games, raffles, and more.

Gas prices
While Paynesville consistently has the lowest gas prices in the area, the gas prices have been higher than normal all year.

The first gas hike was in February, when prices jumped to $1.47. Then, in June, the prices jumped 20¢ in one day, from $1.47 to $1.67 a gallon.

The rising fuel costs mean added expenses for truckers, buses, commuters, and anyone who puts a lot of miles on their vehicle.

As 2001 approached, the market remained tight, and propane and natural gas prices had also risen dramatically.

Wacky election
The closest presidential election in a century made the nation wait a month to learn the identity of their next president.

Usually, in this electronic age, the winner is known on election night, but the closeness of the vote in decisive Florida led to erroneous reporting by the national media and a month-long electoral ordeal in the Sunshine State.

Hard-ball politics, legal action, and lots of spin were the order of the day as Vice President Al Gore tried to catch Texas Governor George Bush in Florida. After all the recounts and legal wrangling, Gore conceded to Bush after the United States Supreme Court ended the recount efforts.

In the end, out of six million ballots in Florida, that state's decisive 25 electoral votes went to Bush when the final popular vote favored him by less than a thousand votes.

The Paynesville area saw the ousting of its U.S. Senator and its Representative. Incumbent Republican Rod Grams lost to DFLer Mark Dayton in the statewide Senate contest. This race was over on election night.

Republican Mark Kennedy needed a recount to oust DFLer David Minge in the Second Congressional District. Unlike the chaos in Florida, though, this recount was done in an orderly fashion under the supervision of the court.

Minge finally conceded when it became apparent that he would not have enough votes to beat Kennedy. Kennedy's final margin of victory was 155 votes, a razor-thin difference of 0.05 percent separated the two men.

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