City gets better bond rating, interest rates
The city of Alexandria received a double dose of good financial news Monday night: Interest rates for the sale of two general obligation bonds came in lower than expected and the city’s bond rating was upgraded from AA-minus to AA.
Terri Heaton with Springsted, Inc., the city’s bond consultant, told the city council that the upgrade will allow the city to receive better interest rates on future projects, which saves taxpayers’ money. The AA rating is the third highest designation, behind AA-plus and AAA.
The first bond for $2.9 million came in with a low interest rate of 1.98 percent, below Springsted’s estimate of 2.22 percent. The bond will be used to extend Alexandria city water to the phase four, part two orderly annexation area in Alexandria Township.
Assessments will cover about a third of the bonds. Work is expected to begin this year and be completed next year.
The interest rate for the second bond for $2.855 million came in at 2.24 percent, which was again below the estimate of 2.44 percent. The bond will refinance two bonds that were sold in 2009 for the phase three, part one waterline extension and the new park building on Agnes Boulevard.
The lower interest rate will save the city about $155,000 – more than the $119,000 that would have been saved with the 2.24 estimated rate.
Heaton pointed out another benefit of refinancing the bonds: The previous bonds were “Build America Bonds” included in the federal stimulus legislation that were later cut by 7 percent because of sequestration. The new bonds will not be impacted by any additional federal cuts.
Both of the approved bond bids were submitted by Northland Securities, Inc.
Alexandria is in the process of updating its tobacco ordinances to cover electronic cigarettes, hookah smoking, indoor tobacco sampling and youth access to tobacco products.
The city’s legislative committee has spent a significant amount of time discussing the possible changes with input from Douglas County Public Health, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz.
He updated the city council on some of the key issues at its meeting Monday night. Schultz said the committee will bring a recommendation to the council that will likely address the following issues:
● Licensing of electronic or e-cigarette retailers.
● Requiring store clerks to assist customers who are purchasing e-cigarettes.
● Prohibiting the sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in open displays that are accessible by the public without clerk assistance (except in adult-only tobacco shops).
● Prohibiting the sampling of tobacco in tobacco shops; this would close a loophole used by hookah establishments that let customers smoke inside.
● Not allowing tobacco to be sold within 1,000 feet of youth-oriented facilities where 25 percent or more of those in the building are younger than 18.
● Establishing a minimum pack size for certain tobacco products, such as little cigars.
The council didn’t take action on any tobacco ordinance changes Monday.
Schultz noted that Douglas County is considering similar changes and there’s an opportunity for the city to coordinate its actions to ensure a more standardized tobacco ordinance throughout the county.
HRA LEVY APPROVED
The council approved the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s request to levy $186,900 next year to pay for operational funds.
The amount is $21,000 less than last year’s request and $25,000 less than the maximum amount it’s allowed to levy under state law, noted HRA Director Jeff Hess. HRAs are allowed to levy up to 0.0185 percent of the total taxable market value.
Two council members, Todd Jensen and Virgil Batesole, voted to table the request. During the discussion of the levy, questions rose whether Batesole should be able to vote or participate in the debate since he owns rental property in the city. Council member Owen Miller asked if that would be a conflict of interest.
City Attorney Tom Jacobson said he stood by the memo that he wrote last year, which said it would present, at the very least, a perceived conflict.
Jensen disagreed, saying that the HRA deals with low-income housing while Batesole’s rental rates are set by the market. Jensen added that if it was a conflict, others on the council who own rental property should also be excluded.
Jensen said that residents in Ward 1, Batesole’s ward, deserved to have representation on HRA matters that come before the council.
The motion to table failed when Miller, Dave Benson and Roger Thalman voted against it.
After that vote, Batesole recused himself and the motion to approve the HRA levy was approved on a 3-1 vote with Jenson voting no.
The HRA has two main arms in providing services in Alexandria, Hess said. The Viking Towers and Woodhill Townhomes are public housing units that are mostly supported by federal funds and are targeted for those with very low to low incomes.
The tax levy, Hess said, supports community development and redevelopment programs, such as new home construction, fixing existing homes and rental units, city rental inspections and low income tax credit housing.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AWARENESS WALK
A special event permit for the “Taking Steps Against Domestic Violence Awareness Walk” was approved for Tuesday, October 14 from 5 to 7 p.m.
The walk will begin at the Douglas County Courthouse, proceed about one mile and end at Calvary Lutheran Church.
Between 200 and 300 people are expected to attend.
The council also proclaimed October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. One in four women and one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime, the proclamation notes.
At least 24 women were murdered in Minnesota in 2013 in cases where the perpetrator was a current or former husband, boyfriend or intimate partner and at least seven men and six family members/friends were murdered in similar crimes. At least 12 children were left motherless because of domestic violence murders.
In Douglas County, 569 citizens, including 127 children, have received services pertaining to domestic violence from Someplace Safe in 2013.
REVOLVING LOAN FUND
A project to repair the old Alex Music Store building at 606 Broadway will receive $36,974 from the city’s revolving loan fund.
The building will undergo extensive repair inside and outside, said City Planner Mike Weber.
The applicant, Brandon Johnson, agreed to repay the loan over a 15-year period at an interest rate of 6 percent.
The loan will cover half of the total project’s cost of $73,947.
Johnson did not disclose what the building will be used for. Weber said it is zoned for commercial use and has two rental units upstairs.
CAR LOT EXPANSION
The council approved a conditional use permit for a used automobile sales lot on the west side of Kenwood Street, between Second and Third Avenue.
Gary Collins with XL Auto Sales applied for the permit.
Unruh Motors used to operate on the southern third of the site for many years. The rest of the site was used for overflow storage, auto body repair and as a single-family residence.
Collins plans to tear down the house on Second Avenue, remove the garage and clean up the site.
A new entryway will come in from Kenwood Street into the lot, which will have room for 70 vehicles. Everything will be black-topped with crushed landscape rock and grass areas.
Jensen recused himself from the discussion because Collins is a client of his.
See Friday’s Echo Press for more city council news.
FESTIVAL LIQUOR LICENSES APPROVED
The council gave final approval to a revamped ordinance that allows organizers of community festivals to obtain a temporary, off-premise liquor license for $100.
Applicants will have to provide details on the location, time of sale, insurance, security, sanitation, safety and other conditions.
The new ordinance would clarify the process that’s been requested and provided by applicants in the past. It allows the consumption of alcohol in public places where festivals take place.
BUDGET HEARING SET
The council set a public hearing date to get input on the city’s proposed 2015 budget and tax levy. It will take place on Monday, September 22 at 7:15 p.m. at City Hall.
BOYS AVENUE QUOTES
The council agreed to call for quotes to improve Boys Avenue. Bids for the paving and drainage project came in high this past July and were rejected.
Because the project is expected to cost less than $100,000, the city doesn’t have to go through a more formal bidding process.
A second and final reading to annex three parcels of land along Tabbert Road, about 1.08 acres, was approved.
The property owners requested to be annexed in order to obtain city water. They are Steve and Kathy Dockham, Thomas and Carol Chorley, and Robert and Lorraine Satrom.
LaGrand Township waived its right to object to the annexation.
TEMPORARY LIQUOR LICENSE
The council issued a temporary liquor license to the Alexandria VFW to serve alcohol at a wedding reception at the Runestone Community Center on September 6.
The license was approved with the condition that the city will be listed as an additional insured party under the VFW’s insurance.