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Alexandria's mower bid process draws cutting remarks

A decision about a $14,553 mower for the Alexandria Park Department triggered a lengthy debate, a split vote and concerned comments from business people unhappy with the price quoting process.

It happened during the Alexandria City Council meeting Monday night. Park Director Bill Thoennes asked the council to accept a quote of $14,553 from Midwest Machinery for a 2012 John Deere mower.

It was the most expensive of the four quotes submitted. Others included a $14,107 Kubota from Alex Power Equipment, and a $10,879 Ferris and a $7,224 Snapper, both from Ollie's Service,

Thoennes told the council that the John Deere model was the only one that met the quote specifications for horsepower, the thickness of the deck or diesel fuel capability.

Thoennes said his department maintains 25 city parks and mows more than 200 acres with many areas of long grass and rocks. He said the new mower needed the specifications he requested to do the job.

Council member Virgil Batesole said the specifications were written in such a way that the John Deere model was the only one that was able to meet them. He wanted Thoennes to resubmit the quotes using more generic criteria.

Thoennes said he showed the specifications to the city attorney before sending them to the dealers and the attorney said they were OK because they didn't list a brand name.

A motion to approve the quote for the John Deere model failed. Sara Carlson and Elroy Frank voted in favor of it while Batesole, Dave Benson and Owen Miller all voted no.

No more action was taken on the item. However, during the public comment portion at the end of the meeting, two dealers, Dave Deakins with Alex Power Equipment and Earl Anderson of Ollie's Service expressed frustration with the process.

They both said they'd like to see the city submit more generic specifications for lawn mowing equipment that would allow all dealers to submit quotes.

Anderson noted that one of his models was better than the John Deere and $6,000 less, which would save taxpayer dollars. He noted that he's been in business since 1955 and yet no one from the city has stopped into his store to ask about mowers or request a demonstration.

The council thanked both dealers for their comments.

IN OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

• Issued a conditional use permit to Dennis Arvidson Sr., who plans to buy a former gravel pit at the southeast corner of Victoria Drive and Rosewood Lane in order to reclaim, close and sell it. The pit has a long history of controversy, drawing complaints from residents about how it was being used and expanded. It hasn't been used on a regular basis since it was annexed to the city in 2006. It will take at least 15 years to fill the pit, requiring about 60,000 yards of fill. The permit was approved with several conditions - hours of operation will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays; access will be from Victoria Drive through a residential-style secured gate; landscaping will be added, along with regular mowing and maintenance; neighbors will be notified of compacting operations; the owner will partner with the city on street cleaning; a stormwater management application will be completed; no filling will be higher than the adjoining property until the finished drainage plan is approved; and all equipment and machinery must by stored inside a proposed building.

• Accepted a low bid of $268,741 from Riley Brothers of Morris for the Thomas Drive improvement project. In a related action, the council also accepted Riley Brothers' bid of $725,034 for overlay work on Nokomis Street and other roads, which are being covered through state aid funds.

• Accepted bids for a new well that will replace an existing Alexandria Light and Power submersible well east of the water plant. Steven Traut Wells was the low bidder for the well contruction at $70,897 and Gateway Construction was the low bidder for the pipeline work at $85,700. The combined total of the two accepted bids, $156,597, was within the budgeted amount of $175,000. The work will be done this summer.

• Gave preliminary approval to an ordinance that formally authorizes the police department to conduct background investigations into city job applicants and those applying for city licenses.

• Agreed to advertise for the new city engineer-public works director position. Bryan Bjorgaard, the public works director, is resigning.

• Accepted a bid of $656,895 from Tri-City Paving for a mill and overlay runway pro-ject at the airport. The project is funded 100 percent through state and federal funds.

• Approved plans for the American Heart Association Alexandria Heart Walk on June 23. Registration starts at 8 a.m. at Voyager Elementary School. At 9 a.m. participants will begin walking from the school to Shalom Lutheran Church and back to the school - a six-mile walk. Police will help keep walkers safe from traffic.

• Agreed to close some city streets for the Vikingland Band Festival on June 24. The closures will take place on 4th Avenue East from Broadway through Kenwood Street; Irving Street from 3rd to 5th Avenue; Jefferson Street from 3rd to 5th Avenue; Kenwood Street from 3rd to 5th Avenue; 15th Avenue East from Broadway to Jefferson Street; and Jefferson Street from 15th to 17th Avenue.

• Approved a revolving loan fund request from the Days Inn. It will use $47,750 to replace windows, siding and air conditioning, and make repairs to an exterior wall. The total project cost is $91,500. The loan will be paid back over 10 years at an interest rate of 6 percent. The city still has $508,205 in the revolving loan fund.

• Agreed to use a $7,000 grant from the State Historic Preservation Office to prepare a historic context study, which will examine the development themes that influence how the city and surrounding communities have developed and grown. City Planner Mike Weber was authorized to hire a consultant.

• Approved a one-time property split for the Zavadil Development north of Lake Andrew to realign 365 acres of land. The will allow the developer to convey the land.

• Approved a final plat for the Washington Square Patio Homes, the former Washington Elementary School building. A contribution of $500 to the city's park fund is required for 10 units. Each unit must also pay $7,200 over a 10-year period to connect to city water and sewer. Five units that were previously connected as existing homes along Kenwood Street were not charged a connection fee.

• Authorized city staff to study the possibility of deeding flood-prone property at 1804 South Oak Knoll Drive from Habitat for Humanity to the city. Under the proposed arrangement, the city would get the land by canceling the outstanding assessments on the property, which total $4,462. The city could use the land for flood control and to access Thomas Drive, which is scheduled to undergo construction. Council members expressed reservations about the plan. Benson said it was a low-lying slough area that could burden the city with expenses such as controlling weeds, mosquitoes and water.

• Was informed that Mayor Dan Ness was honored with the Jack Murray Award presented by the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. The award is given to those who make special contributions to the coalition's mission.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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