Some people dream of becoming successful artists, being elected for higher political office, or making lots and lots of money. Beth Hansen had always dreamed of having her own consignment store.
On Nov. 23, Hansen achieved that dream by opening Unity Gifts, a consignment store on North State Street, in the heart of Waseca’s commercial district. With about 30 different vendors — and growing — Unity Gifts aims to be the go-to shop for thoughtful gifts, retail items and more. Most importantly, its wares are unique — these things can’t be found at a box store or major online retailer.
“It was really one of those back-of-your-mind dreams,” Hansen said about opening the shop. “I think all of us have those: ‘If I could do anything, I would do this.’”
Though Hansen lived in Kentucky for more than 10 years before relocating to Waseca in 2019, she had lived in the area before. For four years in the mid-2000s, she and her husband, Tim, lived in Waseca and Janesville.
Tim was born and raised in Waseca, and his whole family still lived there. And Waseca still held a special place in Hansen’s heart. They wanted their kids to be in the small town they’d known and loved many years before.
A change in careers
Up until fairly recently, Hansen had a stable job working for a property management company based out of Atlanta, where she had worked for almost nine years. That all changed when Hansen traveled with her husband to Worthington, Minnesota, for a Waseca football game in October — their son is a junior on the football team. Arriving early, they stumbled across a store in Worthington called Serenity Gifts. Hansen’s reaction was swift.
“I just fell in love with it,” she said.
Looking around at the store’s wares, things Hansen had never seen before, she started talking to the owner about the store, not even realizing at first that the first she was speaking with was the owner. When the owner used the word “consignment,” Hansen said she and her husband looked at each other.
“I could just tell he thought, ‘Oh boy,’” she said. “He knows this has been my dream.”
The very next Friday, Hansen drove back down to Worthington to spend the day with the consignment store owner, learning all about her business. Upon returning home, she told her husband that if she was going to open this shop, it had to happen before Thanksgiving so they could be part of the holiday season for retail.
“A dream can never become reality if you don’t take steps towards it, and I wanted to see what I could do,” she said. “So let’s just take the next step. Let’s not think about whether or not it’s possible or how it’s going to happen.”
Hansen quickly realized taking that next step meant quitting the full-time job she had imagined herself retiring in.
“I am absolutely, unequivocally terrified,” she said. “This is the scariest thing I think anybody can do … but I have never been so peacefully terrified in all my life.”
With the help of her husband and kids, Hansen turned her dream into reality, opening Unity Gifts in less than a month.
Ann Fitch, executive director of the Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce, is less terrified about how Unity Gifts is going to fare.
“To see her follow her passions and see her open a business here in Waseca is what we want from anybody who has that entrepreneurial spirit,” Fitch said. “It’s gonna be an excellent, excellent complement to the boutiques we already have.”
The Nativity drive-thru is back for another year in Waseca, bringing the famous Christmas story to life. Held at St. Paul Lutheran Church and St. John Lutheran Church last year, the quiet success of the event’s debut inspired organizers to do it all over again — this time, with the participation of a third church: Christ the King Lutheran Church.
“And we have two more churches that want to join us in 2022,” said Anita Nelson, an organizer and member of St. Paul Lutheran. “So it’s a growing masterpiece of a Christmas story.” The event, which features 12 scenes from classic Old Testament stories with actors and animals helping set the scenes, will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 17 and Saturday, Dec. 18. The route to the Nativity drive-thru begins at Christ the King Lutheran, where visitors will see the beginning prophecy story of Isaiah and Micah. From there, drivers can proceed to St. John’s Lutheran, which will display additional scenes featuring King Herod, the wise men and shepherds in the field with their flocks. Past a 4-by-16 foot mural donated by WET Signs of Waseca, drivers can finish their tour in the parking lot of St. Paul Lutheran, where an angel will announce the birth of Christ through Mary. Another scene will display Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the innkeeper, all capped off by the iconic manger scene.
Along the way, the route through the Nativity drive-thru will be illuminated and traffic controllers will be volunteering to help guide drivers. Visitors are encouraged to turn their car radios to station 87.9, where Christmas music will play and the Christmas story will be narrated to enhance the drive-thru experience. Though admission is free, free-will donations will be accepted, as well as donations of nonperishable food items that will be distributed to Waseca County Food Shelf. According to Nelson, more than 150 volunteers from the three participating churches have been working since September to make this year’s drive-thru a reality. Last year, 600 cars went through the Nativity drive-thru, donating $3,000 and 1,600 pounds of canned food, even though Nelson said organizers hadn’t even asked for donations — so the group is expecting even more this year. Local businesses have also donated props for the displays, in addition to helping with printing and marketing. For Pastor John Omans of St. John Lutheran, the drive-thru event is a good opportunity for local churches to connect and work together, which is why the addition of an extra church this year — and the anticipated participation of even more churches in future years — is encouraging. “We should be able to work together as churches in Waseca,” Omans said. The idea for a Nativity drive-thru came to Nelson last year, she said, because she wanted the community to have some kind of communal Christmas activity together during the seclusion of the COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing. And though many of those norms have gone away, she is excited to keep the event going, along with the Christmas spirit it provides to the town. “I think people are looking for joy, they’re looking for happiness,” Nelson said. “You should see how happy the children are when they come through. It’s pretty neat.”
The Waseca School Board is aware that its proposed 2022 tax levy increase of 6.93% is larger than normal.
At the Dec 2. School Board work session, Superintendent Eric Hudspith and Director of Business Services Elizabeth Beery sought to explain what makes up the size of that increase to the board and solicit feedback before the Truth in Taxation meeting and hearing at 6 p.m. on Dec. 16, at which the levy will be officially set.
What makes up the increase
The 6.93% increase, based on a report ran on Oct. 11, is down from the 7.01% approved in September, changing the increase from $344,000 to $340,000. The total levy proposal is set at $5.24 million.
Hudspith explained that the main factors that impact property taxes include changes in the market values of homes, changes in class rates — whether properties change from “commercial” to “residential” and so on — changes in enrollment numbers and resident populations, and changes in the size of the levy and state contribution to the district, which are intertwined.
To begin with, property values have increased in the district, which is responsible for 26% of the levy increase, Beery said. According to John Curran, appraiser at the Waseca County Assessor’s Office, the median home in the city of Waseca increased to $138,600 over the last year from $128,200, an 8.1% increase. And since state contributions decrease for districts with higher property values, the tax levy for those districts increases in turn.
Of the $340,000 that make up the 2022 tax levy, $251,000 come from the general fund. That fund takes into account property value adjustments, benefits for retired former staff, long-term facilities maintenance and more.
As part of the long-term facilities maintenance, about $102,000 comes from the asbestos abatement project at Waseca’s Central Building, which makes up about 26% of the levy. Hudspith said it is one of the few items the district could avoid paying this year — since the asbestos is safely contained in the attic — without feeling the consequences of cutting other services, and it would reduce the 2022 tax levy increase down to 4.9%. However, he said, that project does need to be done eventually, and avoiding it this year would “just be kicking the can down the road.”
Post-employment benefits for retired former staff make up 15% of the levy increase, while debt service makes up about 19%, based on its payment schedule for all outstanding debt.
Putting it in perspective
Hudspith went on to say that with a comparatively small levy of about $5 million, “it doesn’t take that much” to significantly move the percentage increase from year to year. School Board member Charlie Priebe later added that the majority of residents’ tax dollars go to the county, not the schools. Indeed, the Waseca County Board of Commissioners approved Sept. 28 a preliminary 2022 total tax levy of $17.5 million, though the city of Waseca’s $5.2 million preliminary total levy is almost identical to that of the school district.
Beery also went on to say that much of this year’s increase has to do with last year’s tax levy decrease of 3.9%, which occurred because enrollment decreased and because a one-time project that was paid for by the 2020 tax levy did not have to be paid for again in 2021. From the 2020 tax levy to the 2022 tax levy, she said, there is only an increase of 3%, and the tax levy increase average for the last six years is 3.52%.
Still, School Board member Edita Mansfield expressed concern about taxes going up for residents and advocated for pushing the asbestos abatement project to future years.
“It’s hard for people in Waseca,” Mansfield said.
School Board member Julie Anderson said that the district’s finance committee would have a more fine-grained discussion on Dec. 9 before the board reconvenes Dec. 16 to talk more about the levy and hear from residents, after which they will officially set the 2022 tax levy.