Award for excellence received by county

A Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting is presented by Susan Virnig (left) to Wright County Auditor-Treasurer Bob Hiivala (right).  (Photos by Ed DuBois)

By Ed DuBois

Only 15 counties in Minnesota were honored with a National Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, and Wright County was one of them.

The honor was announced during the Wright County Board meeting last Tuesday, Feb. 28.  GFOA Representative of Minnesota Susan Virnig presented the award to Wright County Auditor-Treasurer Bob Hiivala.

Virnig explained that Wright County's comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR) for the fiscal year ending on Dec. 31, 2015 qualified for the Certificate of Achievement, which is the highest form of recognition in governmental accounting and financial reporting.  The attainment of the Certificate represents a significant accomplishment by a government and its management.

Virnig commented on the transparency of Wright County's annual financial report.  County Board Chair Charlie Borrell said the County Board wants openness for the general public.

Hiivala and his staff were congratulated for the achievement.  Commissioner Mike Potter told Hiivala, "That's a heck of a team you have assembled."

Hiivala gave credit to staff, as well as to various county departments for helping with the achievement, and he thanked the departments for their cooperation.

Hiivala added that the quality of the annual financial report helped with the county's very good bond rating.

In other business:



The Board approved a committee recommendation for the County Attorney's Office to work on establishing a pilot regional aquatic inspection program for the northwest quadrant of the county and research the creation of a lake improvement district for East and West Lake Sylvia.

The discovery of starry stonewort, a very troublesome aquatic invasive species, in Lake Sylvia has led to efforts to establish a regional boat inspection station for Lake Sylvia, Lake John and Pleasant Lake.

Some proposed conditions for establishing a region inspection program include: decontamination as boats enter and exit the lakes, no additional county dollars contributed to the program, and an ordinance amendment should be in effect for three to five years, and then the County Board can consider whether or not to renew the program.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway at Lake Sylvia to decontaminate the lake.

Assistant County Attorney Greg Kryzer was asked what needs to happen in regard to the inspection program.  He said an ordinance amendment process would need to take place.  He indicated that action on an ordinance amendment could possibly take place around Memorial Day (end of May).



Mugs wait to be presented during an employee recognition ceremony at the county board meeting this week.

Representatives of the Great River Regional Library (GRRL) presented a report.  The system includes six Central Minnesota counties, and Wright County is the second largest in regard to the number of libraries in the county.  There were 358,956 library visits in Wright County last year.

In 2016, 913,707 items with a value of $17.11 million were loaned by Wright County libraries.

Information about several programs, including a summer reading program, was presented.  Total summer reading program participation was 4,609 toddlers, children and teens in Wright County.

Many people have found help at libraries with learning how to use computers.  Digital library usage has greatly increased.

Altogether, the GRRL has 32 locations.



An annual county em-ployee recognition ceremony took place during the board meeting.  Employees were honored for 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 years of service.

The 40-year employees are Peter Forare and Kevin Johnson of the Highway Department.  Terrie Piram of Planning and Zoning has been with the county 35 years.  The 30-year employees include Sheriff Joe Hagerty, Marlene Rhodes of the Sheriff's Office and Thomas Waldron of the Highway Department.

The annual Individual Achievement Awards were presented to Craig Mueller, compost/recycling facility manager, Planning and Zoning, and Stephen Berg, emergency management director, Sheriff's Office.

The Group Achievement Award was presented to the Information Technology Department.



In other actions, the Board:

- approved a Personnel Committee recommendation to lay off a part-time accounting clerk in the Highway Department (The position is no longer needed due to advanced technology and increased efficiencies.);

- scheduled the annual Boy and Girl County event on April 18;

- approved a request to hire a 67-day social services temporary employee;

- accepted a recommendation from the Planning Commission to approve a request from Roger Strommen to rezone about 31 acres in Monticello Township from agricultural use and S-2 residential-recreational shorelands use to A/R agricultural-residential and S-2 use; and

- approved $876,277 in claims involving 333 transactions with 176 vendors.



Clean Energy Choice introduced in Buffalo

By Ed DuBois

The Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA), which provides electrical power to the City of Buffalo and 11 other member cities, has introduced a program called Clean Energy Choice.  Now residential customers in Buffalo can sign up for the program.

Clean Energy Choice allows customers to choose how much of their electricity comes from renewable energy sources, such as wind generators and solar arrays.  The State of Minnesota requires 17 percent of your home's electricity to come from renewable energy.  Now you can choose to have 50 percent or 75 percent or 100 percent of your home's electricity come from renewable energy.

The cost for these choices is quite low, $1 a month for 50 percent, $2 a month for 75 percent or $3 a month for 100 percent.  When David Niles of the MMPA was asked why there is an added cost for these choices, he said renewable energy costs a little more than conventional energy.

To sign up for Clean Energy Choice, visit and fill out a form.  You will also find information and frequently asked questions (and answers).



Wrestlers and divers from BHS going to state meets

Four members of the Buffalo High School wrestling squad qualified for the Class 3A individual state wrestling tournament.

Senior Charlie DesMarais, junior Jacob Scherber, junior Ben Ruhr, and sophomore Riley Habisch will represent the Bison starting this Friday, March 3 at Xcel Energy Center.  Habisch and Scherber were section champs, while Ruhr and DesMarais finished second at last Saturday's Section 5-3A championships at STMA.

Two members of the Bison swim/dive team also qualified for state.  Senior Hunter Brings finished first at last Saturday's Section 8AA tournament at St. Cloud Tech.  This is Brings' fifth state appearance.  He was also named the section diver of the year.  Joining Brings at this Thursday's state diving meet is freshman diver Quincy Kabe, who qualified for his first career state tourney with a fourth-place section finish.

See more in Sports.



Vietnam Veterans Recognition March 8

A Vietnam Veteran Re-cognition and Veterans Town Hall Meeting will be underway on Wednesday, March 8 at 5 p.m. in Buffalo American Legion Post 270, 304 10th Ave. S.

Beginning at 4 p.m., County Veteran Services and VA Staff will be available to discuss enrollment in VA health care and provide information on the full range of Veteran benefit programs.

Recognizing Wright County and surrounding area Vietnam-era Veterans (Veterans who served anytime between Nov. 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location) is the first item on the agenda at the town hall meeting.  The St. Cloud VA Health Care System, a Commemorative Partner in the national Vietnam War Commemoration, is committed to publicly thanking and honoring Vietnam-era Veterans and their families.  Vietnam Veterans and families desiring to participate in the Commemoration event can simply show up and check in at the designated table.

To learn more about the Vietnam War Commemoration, visit



Contractor selected for new softball building at BHS

By Ed DuBois

The low bid on a new softball/press box building at Buffalo High School was accepted by the Buffalo Hanover Montrose (BHM) School Board during the Monday, Feb. 27 board meeting.

The low bid of $127,803 was submitted by Grindstone Construction Service and was about $3,000 lower than a bid from Ernst General Construction.

The new building will be in the center of a pinwheel of ball fields.

In other business:



The school district is required to develop a three-year Achievement & Integration Plan to be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.  This year is the final year of a current plan, and a new A&I Plan will span 2017-2020.

The School Board approved the A&I 2020 Plan and the A&I budget for fiscal year 2018.  The budget must be submitted to the state by March 15.

Part of the budget provides some support for the STEM Magnet Program at Tatanka Elementary School and the Arts Magnet Program at Buffalo High School.  The budget also supports the AVID program, which helps teachers prepare students for success in school and career planning (especially for students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education).



The Board approved a memorandum of agreement with Education Minnesota - Buffalo (teachers union) to continue the Program for Professional Development (PPD).  The goal of the PPD is to help teachers more effectively realize better student achievement.



The School Board is proud of:

1. BHS One Act Cast and Crew who earned its 24th consecutive Mississippi 8 Conference Championship with a starred rating for its play, "Amber Waves". Those earning All-Conference honors were: Katie Swartzer, Jonah Schmitz, Emily Kern and Emily Twardy. Earning Honorable Mention were Jack Soden, Grace Happe and Cierra Fagerlie. The One Act also won their Section final earning them a spot in the state competition where they earned a "starred performance" rating for the 10th time in school history.

2. BHS Varsity and Concert Bands which received "Superior" ratings at the 2AA contest.

3. BHS Singers and Concert Choir, who were selected to perform at the MN Music Educators Mid-Winter Clinic.

4. BHS Varsity and Junior Varsity Mock Trial Teams which won the Region 3 Contest. The Varsity Team will compete at the State Tournament.

5. BHS students who were chosen to perform in the All-State Band: Peter Deneen, Mallory Rabehl, Zane Jovanovich, Joseph Patterson, Matthew Fenton, Naomi Curran and Jonah Schmitz.

6. BHS Students who were chosen to perform in the All-State Choir: Allie Swearingen, Jack Soden, Katie Swartzer and Faith Kulzer.

7. BHS Gymnastics Team which earned the Section 8AA Academic Team Championship with a combined Team GPA of 3.967.

8. BHM Gymnasts who qualified to participate in the State Tournament: Amanda Montplaisir on beam and Madi Peters in all-around.

9. Jan Heyerdahl, BCMS English Teacher, who was named the recipient of the 2016 Minnesota Middle School Association Distinguished Service Award.

10, BHS Vocal Music Department, which was recognized as a "Star" program by the American Choral Directors' Association of Minnesota.



Gary Kawlewski, finance and operations director, was given a go-ahead to work on an agreement with US Solar to become a "sun"-scriber and gain credits on the school district's electric bill, saving thousands of dollars.



In other actions, the Board:

- heard a presentation about Discovery Elementary School, which is in its twentieth year of offering multi-age classes and looping (staying with the same teacher two to three years) while stressing the "Five C's:" cooperation, contribution, celebrating, caring, and collaborating;

- heard a report about RAVE (Respect and Value Everyone) Week, which is underway at the high school while promoting distracted driving prevention and featuring activities, such as trying to drive scooters on a course while texting, and guest speaker Pat Hackman of Safe Communities of Wright County;

- accepted $19,105 in donations and a grant, including a $10,000 baby grand piano from Marianna Delafield-Melichar for the high school music department;

- discussed the preliminary capital outlay budget, which will return for approval in April and includes improvements and repair projects for buildings and grounds throughout the school district;

- discussed the first reading of a policy review regarding school attendance boundaries; and

- discussed a second semester class size report, which shows the average elementary school class size was 24.01 in October and 23.9 in January.  At the middle school, the average changed from 28.78 to 29.11, and at the high school, the average changed from 29.74 to 28.7.



The next board workshop is taking place on Monday, March 13, 4:30 p.m., at the Phoenix Learning Center.

The next regular board meeting is scheduled on Monday, March 27, 7 p.m., in the Board Room at the Discovery Center.



Polar Plunge March 11 in Buffalo

The Buffalo Police Department will be hosting their first-ever Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Minnesota on Saturday, March 11 at Sturges Park.  The plunge, which begins at 1 p.m., is part of the Law Enforcement Torch Run program through Special Olympics, in which the police department has participated since 2005 (along with the "Tip-A-Cop" fundraiser, as well).

"What is unique about the Plunge is that school organizations can earn 35% back toward their own cause," said Detective Barrett Chrissis, Special Olympics coordinator at BPD.  "So far, about 150 people from various groups have registered to plunge, and nearly $12,000 has been raised."

After taking his new position as chief of police, Pat Budke notified Chrissis of his approval to host a Plunge.

"I told Barrett I knew he wanted to bring the Plunge to the Buffalo region for a long time, and given our success with other Special Olympics events, I decided we should give this a try," Budke said.

Buffalo police have won excellence in fundraising awards from Special Olympics every year since 2005, and last year they were the first law enforcement agency ever to receive a new statewide award for sustained success.  Chief Budke mentioned other agencies, such as the Wright County Sheriff's Office, the Annandale and Howard Lake Police Departments, the Wright County Attorney's Office, and probation officers, are also participating in the plunge.

Among other groups taking the Plunge, the Buffalo Area Chamber of Commerce has been highly instrumental in promoting the event and is coordinating possible vendors, such as food trucks.

Megan Powell, director of the Law Enforcement Torch Run - Polar Plunge, said "We're so excited because we've known for a long time the Buffalo region would be a great place for our Plunge, and the Buffalo Police have been a great partner with us since 2005."

Chrissis, who has been fundraising for Special Olympics since Minnesota's inaugural Torch Run in 1986, said, "It's kind of a dream come true for me and so I'm grateful to work for a great police department, city and surrounding community that supports this cause."

To register yourself or a team, simply go to and click on the Buffalo Plunge.  Or, to donate, simply click on the name of the participant you wish to sponsor.

For information on the school related revenue share, contact Joe Zander at Special Olympics MN at 763- 270-7140.


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feature photos

'Sun Art' from Buffalo

Over 30 artworks by Buffalo Art Guild members submitted to CBS Sunday Morning TV program

By Ed DuBois

You can see the artwork of Buffalo Art Guild members in a few of the local businesses in town, but you might have seen some of their "Sun Art" on the CBS Sunday Morning TV program.

During transitions while the show is broadcast, CBS likes to show sun-themed art, which has been submitted by artists from across the country.

Art Guild member Sarah Hoppe enjoyed seeing the sunny artworks, and an idea occurred to her that Art Guild members could create several works of sun art and submit them.

As Art Guild President Linda Pacel tells it, Guild members were already accustomed to creating works for the annual Buffalo Days show at MidCountry Bank.  The idea of going with the sun theme was appealing, and about 25 Guild members participated in the project, producing 30-plus sun-themed pieces.

Images of each piece (taken by Photographer Jim Eckberg) were sent to CBS Sunday Morning, along with the artists' consent.


January glimpse

A January broadcast of CBS Sunday Morning included a glimpse of a piece by Buffalo Art Guild member Corinne Miller.  The Guild reported the artwork was "fittingly shown at the end of a segment about artists Matisse and Diebenkorn, side by side."

Asked if other works by Guild members have been shown by CBS, Pacel said, "CBS told us about that one.  We will have to watch to see if any of the others will be shown."

For the sun-themed project, Guild members were each provided an 11-by-14-inch canvas.  The only parameters were to create a sun piece of art.  The body of work produced by Guild members was featured at MidCountry Bank during Buffalo Days 2016.  The sun artworks are now on display at the Buffalo Companion Animal Clinic.

Pacel mentioned that Thrivent Financial in Buffalo is another local business that displays art by members of the Guild.


About 40 members

Pacel, who joined the Art Guild about ten years ago, said, "I am amazed by the great variety of work that Guild members do."

She added that the "Guild can be whatever you want it to be."  Many creative people make up the membership, and some enjoy displaying their work, while others are a bit more private, which is no problem.

The Guild meets on the third Monday each month in the Buffalo Airport's arrival/departure building (7:15-8:30 p.m.).  The membership includes about 40 people, and meetings are attended by anywhere from 25-35 members, Pacel said.  Sometimes guest speakers are hosted at the meetings.

Posts on Facebook help keep everyone informed about upcoming meetings, shows and events.

For more information, contact Linda Pacel at 763-682-4261 or email

Meanwhile, keep watching CBS Sunday Morning.  You might see an artwork from Buffalo.