A new way to pay for street projects: fees
Is it a new tool that Alexandria could use to help pay for much-needed street projects?
Or is it a way for the city to burden residents with another fee?
The Alexandria City Council grappled with the idea at its meeting Monday night.
On a 3-2 vote, it agreed to support proposed legislation that would allow cities to establish municipal street improvement districts.
This would give cities the option of collecting fees from property owners within a district to fund projects specifically for street maintenance, construction, reconstruction and street upgrades.
It could even get money from tax-exempt properties, which haven't paid for street projects in the past.
The city's resolution says that existing funding mechanisms from the state are inadequate to keep city streets in good shape.
City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven noted that Alexandria has 125 blocks of street that need complete reconstruction at a cost of several millions of dollars.
He said the legislation would be a tool the city could use instead of putting off street projects that keep getting more expensive.
Schoonhoven cited Rosewood Lane as an example. A project to overlay the street was estimated at $300,000 a few years ago but the city held off on doing it. Now, the project will cost $1 million.
Keeping streets in good shape with periodic improvements is much cheaper than doing nothing until the entire street needs to be replaced, Schoonhoven said. Creating a street improvement district would give the city funding to do that.
"You need any tool you can get," Schoonhoven said.
He added that the street district could be set up like the city's stormwater district, which collects fees for a variety of drainage projects.
The legislation, House File 745 and Senate File 607, is supported by the League of Minnesota Cities.
Council members Virgil Batesole and Todd Jensen voted against the measure.
Batesole said it amounted to another fee. "To me, it's another way for the council to stick it to taxpayers," he said.
Council member Roger Thalman said if the legislation passes, it doesn't mean the city would use it. It just gives the city more options.
Council member Owen Miller noted that spreading street costs over a larger number of taxpayers can keep costs down.
IN OTHER ACTION
In other action, the council:
Approved plans for a new community event, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, on April 30. Organized by the Lakes Area Professional Women and Someplace Safe, it's designed to create awareness about stopping sexual assault and gender violence. One in three women are victims of sexual assault, said Jenna Payne with Someplace Safe. All funds raised will go to Someplace Safe. To get the message across, men will put on women's shoes and walk a mile, starting at 5 p.m. from Big Ole, up to 3rd Avenue, on to Elden's Fresh Foods and then back on 2nd Avenue. After that, there will be free-will donations, snacks, refreshments and two speakers.
Heard from a resident, Orrin Johnson, about a perennial problem: bad potholes in the Post Office parking lot. He said someone has to put pressure on those who own the lot. City Administator Jim Taddei said he'd find out who was responsible for maintaining the lot and contact them about fixing the potholes.
Agreed to proceed with a workforce planning process to create a more efficient workplace and better service to residents. It also passed a motion to see how much it would cost to hire a consultant to help put together a workforce plan that includes compensation programs and job classifications.
Called for bids for the phase 4 orderly annexation area waterline extension project. The bids will be opened on May 7 and presented to the council for consideration on May 13.
Agreed to restrict parking on Pioneer Road from 50th Avenue to 34th Avenue, and on 50th Avenue from Highway 29 to Pioneer Road.
Agreed to re-align the intersection at Golf Course Road and South Le Homme Dieu Drive to a T-intersection with a three-way stop.
Added the reconstruction of 13th Avenue between Birch Avenue and Lake Crest Drive to the city's 2013 list of local street improvements projects. The estimated cost is $15,261.
Scheduled a public hearing to discuss a paving project on Boys Avenue from its intersection with Government Point Road and then northwest 700 feet. The hearing will take place April 22 at 7:15 p.m. at City Hall. The cost of the project is estimated at $72,896.
Scheduled a joint meeting with Alexandria Light and Power's Board of Public Works for May 6 at 5 p.m. at a location to be determined.
Scheduled a work session for Monday, April 22 at 5 p.m. prior to the regular council meeting to review the proposed Broadway reconstruction project in 2014.
Asked city staff to look into the possibility of offering low-interest loans for downtown businesses to make exterior improvements to their buildings when Broadway is reconstructed in 2014. Jensen, who made the motion, said that the city's revolving loan fund could be used.
Was informed that City Hall has changed to its summer hours schedule and is now open from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. through September.
Proclaimed May as Building Safety Month. The effort is designed to remind the public about the critical role building code officials play to assure safe, efficient and livable buildings.