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Lena Smith skybox

Lena Olive Smith was a prominent civil rights lawyer and activist in the ‘20s and ‘30s. She made major contributions toward securing civil rights for minorities in the Twin Cities after becoming the first African American woman licensed to practice law in Minnesota in 1921.

Council OK's county request to use Fire Hall for COVID-19 vaccination clinics
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When enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are available to non-priority groups in Goodhue County, local residents approved to receive the COVID-19 vaccine may not have to drive too far.

On Feb. 9, the Kenyon City Council approved a request from Goodhue County Emergency Manager Diane Richter-Biwer to use the Fire Hall for COVID vaccination clinics.

City Administrator Mark Vahlsing said the the Emergency Manager’s Office has been looking for place in the county to locate COVID vaccination clinics and sites in Red Wing and Cannon Falls have already been approved. Vahlsing said Kenyon would be the last site.

“I’ve looked at this site and proposal with Police Chief Lee Sjolander, Fire Chief Lee Skillestad and Public Works Director Wayne Ehrich and we didn’t see any issues,” said Vahlsing. “We think it would benefit area residents.”

Vahlsing said the county will also be responsible for cleaning up and disposing of waste after each clinic. Shots will be administered by Goodhue County Health and Human Services personnel.

The Emergency Management Office has also been seeking partnerships with the Cannon Falls area schools, city of Red Wing and Stary-Yerka VFW.

After a motion to approve the county’s request, Council Member Dan Rechtzigel said the Fire Hall would be a great spot as there is lots of parking and it’s easy to find from of the highway. Most recently, the council switched the city’s polling place to the Fire Fall for similar reasons.

During the council’s comment portion of the meeting, after the request was approved, Council Member Mary Bailey questioned whether those scheduled to receive the vaccine would be able to learn more about the clinics beforehand.

Ehrich and Sjolander, who both received the vaccine last month, assured her they received a great deal of information after signing up for the clinic two weeks prior. Ehrich added it was also completely voluntary and no one was forced to receive a vaccine.

The agreement the council approved at its Feb. 9 meeting covers five years for any Goodhue County emergency vaccination or mass dispensing activities.

In January, many EMS workers, healthcare workers, police officers and firefighters were vaccinated in the county. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, as of Feb. 8, 5,143 people in Goodhue County received at least one vaccine dose and 1,547 received the complete vaccine series. The Goodhue County Health and Human Services announced on Feb. 2 the number of Goodhue County residents who have received at least one of COVID-19 vaccine exceeded the number of positive lab confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Goodhue County.

In Goodhue County, there have been more than 3,749 positive lab confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Wanamingo council preps for summer, hires pool managers
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After reviewing the 2019 and 2020 swimming pool financials, the Wanamingo City Council authorized the hiring of the manager and assistant manager for the 2021 season.

In 2020, the swimming pool brought in $14,566 in revenue compared to $12,999 in 2019. Expenses in 2020 $67,457 in expenses in 2020 and $58,529 in 2019, leading to a loss of $52,892 in 2020 and $45,530 in 2019.

The 2020 loss was higher, City Administrator Michael Boulton said, due to significant additional building expenses and wages compared to the prior year. Swimming lessons also did not occur in 2020 due to COVID-19, but the income from daily passes increased. Vending income was also up.

Losses are covered by the city’s general fund.

The council approved hiring Dylan Steberg as part-time pool manager and Julie Steberg as part-time assistance pool manager.

Boulton said both Steberg and Steberg agreed to come back in their roles and the personnel committee recommended 50 cents per hour increases in pay for both manager and assistant manager at $13 and $12.50, respectively.

Three water projects

Along with reporting on refunding bonds, George Eilertson of Northland Securities provided an update of financing options for the water tower, well house and water main looping at last week’s meeting.

The city applied and got on the Public Facility Authority list for funding. One of the projects, the water tower, would not be eligible for funding through the authority. City Engineer Brandon Theobald said he would not recommend proceeding with that option, as it would require the city to pay higher wages to contractors and use specific products, which would increase project costs by 15%.

Boulton said the could have its bond rating enhanced through the state since the projects focus on utility improvements, meaning a lower interest when repaying the debt.

The city told Northland Securities it doesn’t want to pay more than $150,000/year in principal and interest. The city is looking at a $2.43 million project, and with the current bond estimates it would have a yearly payment of about $142,000.

Eilertson said that the city could issue the bonds at any time. The bonds could be issued before final plans are complete and before bidding takes place. The city is working toward having plans together by late fall with formal bidding to follow. A timeline for bidding and issuing bonds could happen as early as December 2021.

Boulton and Eilertson will keep an eye on the bond market with a possibility of moving forward in November 2021.

Additional K-W budget cuts needed to avoid state oversight
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Kenyon-Wanamingo Superintendent Bryan Boysen says he’s scouring every corner for places to pare down the district’s 2021-22 budget, including transportation routes/activity shuttle, contracts with vendors and supply accounts.

“We’re turning over every stone to see where money is being spent to avoid (statutory operating debt) as much as possible,” Boysen told the School Board during its Feb. 9 meeting.

The reductions are needed to avoid statutory operating debt. According to the state Department of Education, statutory operating debt “exists if the school’s operating debt is more than 2½ percent of the most recent fiscal year’s expenditures.” Along with statutory operating debt comes state oversight to help eliminate the budgetary problems and get a district back on track financially.

One of the biggest issues for the district is lower enrollment, which means a reduction in state aid.

Boysen said there are currently 36 incoming kindergarteners and 57 2020 graduates, a net loss of 21 pupils.

Aimee Lake from School Management Services, who is helping the district through its budget process, also noted the estimated enrollment projection for this school year is 38 student fewer than budgeted. Lake said the budget was formulated before the district understood a change in learning models due to COVID-19 would be needed and before a number of families enrolled their child elsewhere or decided to homeschool them.

Besides struggling financially, Boysen says COVID put a damper on things, something that is being recognized by the state legislature. At a previous superintendents meeting, attendees met with area legislators and found there are people lobbying on the district’s behalf. Boysen said they are asking if districts can utilize last year’s enrollment numbers to help districts struggling to retain state aid when they were higher.

Board member Marilyn Syverson asked Boysen what the number one thing that can be controlled in a public school is, as far where reductions could be made.

Boysen said numerous items such as programming and staff can be controlled by the district.

“We can communicate to the public with transparency. The books are open so people can see where, why and how we’re hurting. We can control our brand. We have lots of good things going for us,” he said.

Despite the numbers, Boysen said it’s important to remind residents that the district offers an “awesome” product through exceptional staff, great facilities, Twitter, YouTube, Inside the Lair videos, Community Education programming and extracurricular activities.

“It’s good to continue, even though we’re in these tough times, we still have to broadcast and be positive,” said Boysen. “We have a lot to be positive about. It’s a great district and it’s a great time to be a Knight.”

Syverson also asked Boysen how close the district is to statutory operating debt.

Currently, the district is at -2.31%, which Boysen says is right at the cusp of qualifying for the label. Though the district could coast into the next fiscal year if spending is frozen, that doesn’t leave room for hiccups that could occur down the road like a roof leak or an issue with the boiler.

Lake added that if the district keeps things stable, it can stay at that number but the better option would be to get out of the red.

Following an additional question from Syverson if the district could stay at that number, Boysen though it’s possible, he is still going to see where further cuts can be made.

While Boysen acknowledged that the district made good progress last month in eliminating the school resource officer and reducing the Knights Kids program, he’s not satisfied that nothing more can be done.

“We also have to continue to look at what might have to be moved, shifted or cut,” he said.