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Changes proposed for Alexandria liquor licenses

Changes are in the works for the 13 restaurants and three clubs that serve alcoholic beverages in Alexandria -– the Eagles, Elks and VFW.

For years, the clubs have been operating under annual $500 club liquor licenses, which are much cheaper than the $4,500 on-sale liquor licenses for restaurants.

The clubs also routinely serve drinks to non-members, even though state law requires clubs to serve only members and bona fide guests, and city ordinances state that only club members can be served.

Clubs also don’t have to meet a requirement that Alexandria restaurants must meet -– having at least 55 percent of their gross revenues derived from food.

The different set of rules, established back in 1987, raised enough concerns lately that the city decided to look into the issue. City leaders, realizing that it wasn’t realistic to expect the clubs to pay much more for a regular on-sale license and to meet the food rules, have been searching for a compromise that would be fair to restaurants and clubs.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council took the first step toward amending city code that would lower the regular on-sale liquor license to $3,600 for everyone. The city's legislative committee drafted the changes with input from the city attorney and club license holders and after researching how other cities handle club licenses.

The proposed amendment also eases the food ratio requirement by allowing liquor to account for up to 65 percent of the gross revenues from food and beverages. The changes delete a provision that defines restaurants as being open five days per week and serving food during lunch and dinner hours.  

Clubs will have the option of pursuing the new on-sale license or retaining their club license, noted City Administrator Marty Schultz. If they want to serve liquor to the general public, not just members and guests, they will then be treated the same way as on-sale liquor license holders, he added.

If given final approval at the council’s next meeting, the changes would take effect on January 1, 2015, giving the clubs ample time to decide what license they want to pursue, Schultz said.

During a public hearing on the amendments, Mayor Sara Carlson asked for comments but no one from the clubs or restaurants spoke, even though a few of them were at the meeting. Council member Virgil Batesole said he talked to three local restaurant owners and two club representatives and they said the changes were fair.

"The legislative committee should be complimented for working out a difficult, in my opinion, but fair agreement," Batesole said.

If the lower fee is approved and all three clubs pursue it, there is a potential for a slight decrease in revenues for the city. It’s collecting $57,400 from 13 on-sale and club liquor licenses right now and this would drop to $55,200.

In other action, the council:

--Rejected the bids for the waterline extension project in the phase four, part two orderly annexation area. The low bid from Quam Construction was $3.99 million, well over the engineer’s estimate of $3.06 million. The council could have covered the difference by increasing the assessments on the property owners, bonding for the project, or some combination of both but decided to rebid the project this July and reset the completion date for next summer.

--Agreed to pursue placing five brown signs, beginning along Interstate 94 near the Alexandria Exit 103, that direct motorists to the Central Lakes Trail. The city agreed to provide signage on the non-state road that connects trail users to the trail; allow trail users to park at Big Ole Central Park; and plow the parking area adjacent to the trail in the winter. It is doing all those things right now. Costs of the signs have not been determined but would be covered by the Central Lakes Trail gtroup and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, not the city of Alexandria. Similar trail signage agreements are being worked out with Osakis and Fergus Falls.

--Accepted a $228,000 bid for switchgear that will improve Alexandria Light and Power’s distribution system at the southwest substation. It was submitted by Harold K. Scholz Company of Ralston, Nebraska. In related action, the council called for bids on the construction portion of the project, which includes installing the gear and control panels, breaker foundation work and wiring. The work is expected to cost about $271,000.

--Supported the appointment of Alex Nelson to the Alexandria Police Department at a base monthly salary of $4,146.  Born and raised in Sauk Centre, he is a three-year veteran of the Minot Police Department. In related action, the council agreed to Police Chief Rick Wyffels’ request to replace the position of long-time Sergeant Larry Dailey, who retired, by promoting an additional sergeant from within the department and advertising for a new police officer. This will result in a cost increase of about $8,000 per year, which will be covered by the department's budget. The council also agreed to Wyffel’s request for out-of-state travel to attend an International Chief of Police Conference in Florida. There will be no cost to the city because it was paid by a donation.

--Approved a $5,000 revolving loan fund request from Pamela Botker of Creative Touch Gallery from the city’s downtown redevelopment program. The money will be used to update and improve a car port and rear entrance. The loan will be paid back over four years at a 1 percent interest rate. In related action, the council also approved a $5,000 revolving loan fund request through the same program from Sandra Johnson of Yesterday’s. It will be used to paint the exterior of the building and to install new signs at the front and rear of the business. The same loan conditions apply. After these two loans, there is still about $65,000 left in the fund for similar projects, according to City Planner Mike Weber.  

--Approved a special event permit for the Alexandria Senior Center to hold a one-mile Fun Run/Walk on July 2. It will start from the Big Ole statue, go east a half mile and return to Big Ole. The event is far all ages and abilities; everyone is welcome, said Greg O'Dell, a board member for the center. The $20 entry fee will go to the center.

--Approved a special event permit for the Douglas County Hospital Auxiliary Ice Cream Social on July 23. It will be held in the parking lot at Fifth Avenue and Fillmore Street from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

--Accepted a petition for annexation from Lifetime Homes for a 0.13-acre parcel of land along Westwood Drive in Franzen’s Second Westwood in LaGrand Township. The council also approved a first reading to annex the property.

--Revised an ordinance that annexed property along Bay Lane in Carlos Township owned by Michael and Mary Thompson. Carlos Township will retain the full $502 in property taxes in 2014 and then split that amount with the city in 2015 and 2016. After that, all the taxes will go to the city.

--Issued the following licenses – fireworks/pyrotechnic special effects to Arrowwood Resort for the “Star Storm” fireworks display on July 4; and a license to add an additional vehicle to Midwest Taxi’s fleet.

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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