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Most Alexandria residents to see tax decrease

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Alexandria’s tax bite won’t be quite as big as expected next year.

In fact, most Alexandria residents should see the city's portion of their tax bill decrease by about 2 percent.

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The council approved a 2014 tax levy increase of 1.26 percent after holding its truth in taxation hearing Monday night.

That’s down slightly from the 1.5 percent levy it approved in September. It’s also the city’s lowest levy increase since 2006, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz.

Ward 1 council member Virgil Batesole was the only member to vote against the budget and levy. He said the levy increase should have been at zero or lower because the city received more state aid, state sales tax exemptions on purchases and all city departments came in under budget. He added that even though a 1.26 percent increase may seem minor, the increases build up over time.

Council member Roger Thalman said he was disappointed with Batesole's comments. He noted that Batesole was a member of the budget committee that came up with the initial, higher levy amount after interviewing the department heads -- a "luxury" the other council members did not have, Thalman said.

Thalman added that because market values are slightly increasing in the city, the city had an opportunity to lower taxes while adding $95,133 to its capital improvement funds that will be used for street repair work that has been put off for too long. He said that rebuilding badly deteriorated roads costs much more money.

Council member Todd Jensen said he was disappointed the council couldn't get the levy increase down to zero but said it was a good budget that he would support.

Council member Owen Miller said that the city has "paid the consequences" of zero-percent budget increases in the past at the expense of streets and infrastructure. He said he wouldn't want to be on a council that would be forced to impose hefty levy increases in the future if those mistakes are made again.

Only one person from the public spoke at the tax hearing. Orrin Johnson of Pioneer Road said he was disappointed that the city was cutting the $10,000 it provides to the Alexandria Senior Center. He said the city should get behind the effort to make the center more active, like the ones in Fergus Falls and Willmar. He said that the city spends money to draw summer visitors into town while forgetting that a high population of the city are senior citizens who live here year round.

As approved Monday, the levy will rise from $5.69 million to $5.76 million, and the budget will go from $10.39 million to $10.75 million.

Even though the overall levy is increasing by 1.5 percent, it doesn’t mean that everyone’s property taxes will go up by that same amount. Actual taxes depend on several other factors such as what other tax authorities (school district, township, county) are levying and a property’s market value.

City Assessor Reed Heidelberger provided a few examples of the levy's tax impact: The city's portion of the tax bill on a residential homestead property valued at $100,000 would drop from $318 to $311 next year, a 2.2 percent decrease. City taxes on a $216,100 home would drop $878 to $860, a 2.1 percent dip. City taxes on commercial/industrial property valued at $462,600 would decrease from $3,763 to $3,705, a 1.5 percent drop. Taxes on residential non-homestead property valued at $156,700 would drop from $693 to $680, a 1.9 percent decrease.

Residents in one part of the city, newly annexed areas of Alexandria Township, will likely see a slight increase in their taxes.

Highlights of the budget:

--City employees will get a wage increase of 2 percent, which is less than the 3 percent increase they received this year. The percentage is only an interim number, however, because the city is in the middle of completing a compensation study. Two new positions are being added – a police officer and a city engineer/public works director.

--Total bonded indebtedness will increase by 2.68 percent next year, to $1.2 million.

--Money set aside for street paving and street reconstruction was reduced to nothing. The city council will explore other ways to pay for street paving.

--No increases will be given to the Airport Improvement Fund, the Planning Commission Development Fund, Street and Park Fund, and equipment funds for the fire department, police department and Runestone Community Center (RCC). The council, however, did approve spending $50,000 for building improvement and equipment repairs at the RCC.

--A new fund for information technology equipment was created. It was allocated $40,000.

--Local government aid from the state Legislature will increase $258,839. This is one of the main reasons why the city is projecting a 6.2 percent increase in overall receipts, from $1.2 million to $1.46 million.

--The city expects to transfer $200,000 from the two city-owned liquor stores’ profits next year.

--The 2014 budget includes a $95,133 levy for the Capital Improvement Fund.

--Alexandria volunteer firefighters will receive $6,633 per year of active service, up from $6,503. The city’s total contribution to the Alexandria Fire Fighter Relief Association for 2104 was set at $117,552.

FIREFIGHTERS TO GET NEW GEAR

The Alexandria Fire Department is bringing its firefighting equipment up to code.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council approved Fire Chief Jeff Karrow’s request to purchase 24 new self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) packs at a total cost of $93,468.

The department received "a barn burner" of a price from Alex Air Apparatus, Karrow said, noting that the equipment’s list price is $143,010.

Karrow said the department’s SCBA gear adheres to 2002 standards. Since then, the National Fire Protection Association and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health set new standards in 2007 and again in 2013.

“We are two standards behind,” Karrow said. “This would set the department up for SCBA equipment a minimum of 12 to 15 years.”

The department will also buy 34 30-minute bottles of air for $16,533, which is also well below the list price of $33,524. The bottles have a life cycle of 15 years.

Two other purchases were also approved – eight spare masks and a voice amplifier for the front-line engines at a cost of $6,537, and 34 quick-connect adaptors with a compressor charging adaptor for $3,171.

The total cost of all of the purchases is $119,708. "We're saving a total of $66,533 for life safety equipment," Karrow said.

The money will come out of the fire equipment fund, which at the end of October had a fund balance of $315,196.

IN OTHER ACTION

In other action, the council:

--Directed staff to look into the possibility of building a public restroom as part of a proposed project to redevelop the vacant Old Broadway building.

--Approved a special event permit for the Holiday Train to stop on the railroad tracks at 8th Avenue and Nokomis Street on Monday, December 16 from noon to 1:30 p.m. The festively decorated train raises funds and awareness for local food shelves.

--Agreed to participate in Douglas County’s All-Hazard Mitigation Plan. The plan, which covers the years 2014-2018, coordinates how local governments and agencies will responds to disasters and emergencies. The goal is to create a safe community. It involves the county and the cities of Alexandria, Brandon, Carlos, Evansville, Forada, Garfield, Kensington, Millerville, Miltona, Nelson and Osakis. The plan includes a risk assessment of potential hazards in the area, a review of the community’s capabilities and mitigation strategies. By participating in the plan, the city will be eligible to receive disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Schultz agreed to serve as the city’s designated contact for the planning team. There is no city cost to participate in the plan. It’s funded through a federal grant.

--Was informed that all seven members the council recommended for appointment to the city's charter commission were approved by a district judge. Council directed staff to inform the members that they have until January 6 to sign a written oath of office so their names can be filed with the court.

--Approved final changes to the city’s beer and liquor license regulations. The changes establish licenses for brewer taprooms and off-sale malt liquor licenses, allowing craft beer to be sold in special containers called “growlers.” The biggest change from the proposed ordinance that was approved in November was increasing seasonal on-sale liquor licenses from $3,000 to $3,200.

--Gave final approval to the 2014 fee amounts. Changes include: a new $25 fence permit fee; a new $25 storage unit permit fee; annual on-sale beer-license fees were increased from $265 to $375, which matches the existing fee for wine licenses; temporary on-sale liquor licenses were increased from $75 to $100; a new late fee will triple the annual fee for rental registrations that are received after January 1; fixed fees were established for reviewing building plans for detached garages ($50) and decks ($25); and the park shelter fee was increased from $15 to $20.

--Approved 76 applications for 2014 city licenses for a variety of purposes – club on-sale liquor, excavating, garbage hauling, heating, liquor store, massage therapy, off-sale beer, on-sale beer, on-street loading zones, pawnbroker, peddler, set-up, sign hanger, taxi, tobacco, wine and charitable gambling.

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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.  
(320) 763-1236
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