Letters to the Editor
Morris can be proud of elementary students
During the week of May 20 - 22, 2009 the Chippewa County Historical Society hosted our 30th annual Heritage Week. During this three day period, almost 900 school children and adults attended this popular annual event with approximately 13 school children from St. Mary's School in attendance.
Your community has much to be proud of. The children who participated in Heritage Week were polite and considerate to the other students and adults in attendance, attentive to the instructors and "Village Residents" and were well prepared for their visit. Morris area school teachers have done a wonderful job in teaching your children about their heritage.
Your school and community can indeed be proud of your students.
Chippewa County Historical Society
Jail would be a disgrace
Our economy has not hit bottom yet. Too many people have been laid off work all across the country. Then people cut back on spending and employers lay off more people. This will not heal unless our high paid people's wages are cut back so unemployed can be hired. This may take years. The governor has encouraged all cities and towns to cut back on spending because the tax load is getting too heavy.
We have been talking to people all across the county and nobody wants to pay up to a 21 percent increase in county taxes for a jail we do not need in any way. There are empty jails in neighboring towns just hoping Stevens County will bring prisoners to them for much less money.
It is strongly encouraged to all people to write letters, call, or visit with
Larry Sayre -589-3528
Don Munsterman - 589-2096
They promised to represent the people of Stevens County when they were elected and 99 percent of the people do not want any part of any jail which was voted down before.
We try to encourage our young people to vote and then the young people say our politicians do what they want to no matter how we vote. They are discouraged to vote because of this, so this jail planning is just another example of that.
So that these three people can finish their term in honor instead of wishing they hadn't insisted on building a jail nobody wants, that may turn into a disgrace.
Corrections, but still no clarity
This letter will serve as a correction of my previous letter to the editor published on Saturday, May 16, 2009 (Charade finally over) that had some inaccuracies as conveyed to me by Commissioner Don Munsterman in an extended phone call that day. Not one word was mentioned about the "charade" and how the advisory committee was ignored. He indicated that my numbers in the last sentence of the letter were incorrect. The two corrections needed are in the 15 to 19 percent increase in taxes and the total cost of the project for 20 years that was estimated to be between $35 and $40 million. The last sentence to be accurate should have read "...with at least a 15 percent to 19 percent increase in the county portion of the taxes..."
According to Don Munsterman, I should have presented the percent increase in "total taxes" that ranged from approximately 3 percent to 11 percent for the 12 examples provided by county auditor, Neil Weise.
Since we are discussing a county facility, the increase in the county taxes is what's important.
My problem was with the total cost of the project over the 20 year period of the bond issue. The numbers I used were from the August 16, 2005 K.MA report that has summary values in bold letters at the bottom of each option. I now know my mistake was that the totals were for 30 years, not 20 years and changes in the plans have taken place as repeatedly emphasized by Commissioner Munsterman during his phone call. This confusion on my part is indicative of the lack of transparency and the building committee providing limited numerical facts to the community early in the project. The cumulative values for 20 years from that KMA report ranged from about $18 million for the "do nothing"option to $24.5 million for option "A2-20 cells/40 beds-without rent."
Between August 16, 2005 and May 7, 2009, there have been only "soft numbers" discussed and only in the handout passed out by Sheriff Randy Willis at the citizens meeting at the high school auditorium on May 7, 2009 did I see the total cost numbers start to "firm up." It is interesting to note this information was made available to the public two working days before the final planning meeting and the building advisory committee report on Monday evening, May 11. On May 12, ignoring the report of the advisory committee, the commissioners voted to pursue the jail project. This prompted my e-mail request to county coordinator, Jim Thoreen, on May 17, 2009, to provide a total operational cost estimate over the 20 years that was passed to Randy Willis. I have not received a reply as of Thursday, May 28.
The architects have provided solid values for construction costs and debt service, their primary responsibility. The major concern is the lack of information on the operational costs of the jail. In an earlier KMA report dated May 24, 2005, the architect's estimated annual operating cost of the jail would be between $800,000 and $900,000 per year. As near as I can tell, these estimates have been completely neglected by the building committee. If I assume an operating cost of $900,000 per year without interest expenses, a simple multiplication for 20 years gives a total of $18 million for operational costs.
Accounting for a 4 percent per year interest charge over the 20 years and a 3 percent per year increase due to inflation raises the costs even higher. When I add the approximate $15 million construction cost plus a $4.5 million interest cost and an unrealistically low $18 million operational cost, I get an estimated total cost over 20 years of $37.5 million, in the range of my original estimates.
The logic and rationale of the building committee must be challenged for further clarification. Does anyone start up a "service business" when the economic projections are so bleak and observed losses are so large? With the vote of the three commissioners, the costs and losses of the jail project are blissfully passed on to the Stevens County taxpayers. The net operational losses of several recently constructed jails in Minnesota should raise a "red flag" of concern: Traverse County jail (13 beds) had a net loss of $128,583 in 2008 without considering heat and light and debt service; Wilkin County jail (22 beds) had a net loss of $360,662 in 2008 with heat and light accounted for, but no debt service; Renville County jail (72 beds) had a net loss of $941,201 in 2008 without considering heat and light and debt service; and Steele County jail (150 beds) lost $2.6 million in 2007 with heat and light and debt service accounted for. In addition, three Minnesota counties (Redwood, McLeod, and Rice) chose not to build jails at this time based on the extreme net losses incurred as described above. What is the message here?
While I do not profess to be an expert accountant, I must use information available to me to make assumptions and calculations. I await the Commissioner's clarification of the calculations of the operational cost to share with all in Stevens County.
While my biases and gut reaction tell me that the operational costs will be much larger than the building committee's estimate based on jail operating costs provided by other recently constructed jails in Minnesota, my expertise and "crystal ball" do not allow me to see out to the end of the 20 year project with any confidence on the total cost of jail operation. The people of Stevens County deserve an honest and accurate estimate of the tax liability forced upon them that includes the 20 year operational costs. My only hope is that the "unrealistic low cost" of operation of the jail in the Sheriff's report will come true. Only time will tell. I am open to corrections of these estimates and assumptions from someone more knowledgeable.
Pay attention to details
Writing in defense of the "coal-to-electricity process," (Sun-Tribune, May 19), Otter Tail Power Company employee Mark Rolfes uses the ploy of deliberately choosing to ignore what he calls the "laborious detail" that I provided about Big Stone I and II (Sun-Tribune, May 13).
Those details came from documents Mr. Rolfes himself submitted to South Dakota state agencies in support of Big Stone II.
The details are alarming: 1) the two plants will consume a 120-car trainload of coal every day; 2) the coal must be transported 500 miles, daily, from Wyoming to Big Stone; 3) a 65 day supply of coal creates the equivalent of a 16 acre, 70 feet deep hole in the ground in Wyoming; 4) several hundred thousand tons of toxic coal ash must be stored on site and eventually be disposed of; 5) large amounts of water and hazardous chemicals are used in this process.
As a defender of the coal-to-electricity industry, Mr. Rolfes prefers to divert attention away from these details. After all, the devil is in the details, and the coal-to-electricity process surely is a devilish business--whether it's strip-mining in the west or mountaintop removal in the east, acid rain or asthma, air or water pollution, black lung disease or coal mining accidents. And today we know that coal-fired production of electricity is a major contributor to world-wide climate change. Now, more than ever, each of us has a responsibility to know something about the details of what goes into the products we use, including electricity.