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Too many bad roads, not enough money

A plan to issue $765,000 in general obligation bonds to pay for street projects in Alexandria hit a dead-end Monday night.

Three Alexandria City council members voted to pursue the bonds while two council members, Virgil Batesole and Todd Jensen, voted against it. The vote had to be unanimous in order for the city to issue the bonds.

It will now have to come up with another way of paying for the projects if it goes ahead with the work, which includes this year's street overlays and an extensive $560,000 reclamation project on Rosewood Lane.

The vote came after City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven presented a five-year plan that showed the advantages of spending a little money now to overlay streets instead of waiting until they get to be in such poor shape they need to be completely reconstructed.

Schoonhoven's plan rated all the roads in the city on a scale of 0 (new road, excellent condition) to 5 (in too bad of shape to be overlayed). While 54 percent of the city's streets were determined to be in good to excellent condition, 17 miles of roads were deemed to be in poor shape (4 or 5) and would cost $15.26 million to repair.

The condition of the roads rated as 2 or 3 are key, Schoonhoven said. Overlaying them would cost about $1.9 million, but doing nothing would end up costing the city $10.34 million in five to 10 years.

Council member Roger Thalman made a motion to call for the bonds. "We need to start biting the bullet before these roads get really bad," he said. He added that bonding would at least spread the cost of the work over a 10-year period rather than raising taxes significantly in one year.

Jensen said he's frustrated that the city has been spending money on beautification aspects of other projects instead of critical needs such as roads.

Batesole said he wasn't against the road projects but was worried that the city was "sticking its neck out" by taking on so many additional expenses, such as the Runestone Community Center roof repairs, the 50th Avenue project and the Broadway reconstruction. Batesole said the city should have taken care of the deteriorating roads years ago.

Dave Benson and Owen Miller supported Thalman's motion but state law requires city councils to issue street reconstruction bonds unanimously or through a referendum passed by voters.

After the vote, Batesole started to talk again about the bonds and Mayor Sara Carlson banged the gavel several times, saying he was out of order. Batesole objected, saying the mayor didn't have the authority to stop him from speaking. "You are out of order, Mr. Batesole," Carlson said. "We are done with this and we are moving on."

Later in the meeting, Jensen made a motion to table a request to call for bids on the street overlay projects and it passed, 4-1, with Miller voting no. The council will talk about possible funding sources in a work session.

In other action, the council:

--Issued a conditional use permit and rezoning for a new funeral home in Alexandria, Lind Family Funeral and Cremation Services. It will be located on the west side of County Road 46, north of Woodland Elementary School. The vacant property will be rezoned from single-family residential to residential business. Curt and Barb Lind also operate a funeral home in Parkers Prairie. The Linds will pay a park dedication fee of $2,323 (10 percent of the land value) and pay water hook-up charges. Two chapels will be located inside the funeral home, along with a large lounge for family gatherings. The Linds' house will be attached to the back of the funeral home, facing the lake. The parking lot will include 74 spaces. The Linds plan to break ground at the end of June or early July.

--Approved the annual audit of the two city-owned liquor stores. Profits bumped up a bit last year. Downtown Liquor turned a profit of $69,950, up from 2012’s $69,213, and Plaza Liquor was in the black by $182,125, compared to 2012’s $173,064. Combined, the stores made a profit of $252,075 and $200,000 of that was transferred into the city’s general fund, which is used to offset tax increases. The combined sales at the two stores, $4.45 million, increased 1 percent from 2012’s $4.4 million. Sales at both stores peaked in 2009 when combined sales topped $5.44 million. Sales dropped the next three years before leveling off in 2013.

--Approved a subdivision application for the Klimek Familty Properties “Unique Business Plaza.” It’s located on the west side of Northside Drive and consists of six individually conveyable buildings, plus a common lot on a 1.12-acre parcel of land. The units will measure 42 by 46 feet and can be used as offices with storage areas. Developer Paul Klimek said it would be ideal for small, home-based businesses or for those who have outgrown their house or garage and are looking for a larger facility. One business has already committed to being in the plaza, NW Mosquito Squad.

--Found out that the Broadway reconstruction project may cost a little more than expected. The underground steam lines that are being removed are asbestos-coated, which will be more expensive to dispose. The bid opening for the Broadway project will take place Friday. The council will have a work session next Monday to determine which alternate bids it will accept for the design part of the project. Schoonhoven looked into a downtown business owner's suggestion to put a stoplight at 4th Avenue and Broadway and found out that the intersection's cross traffic doesn't come close to meeting MnDOT's warrants for stoplights.

--Authorized City Attorney Tom Jacobson to proceed with taking court action to demolish the fire-damaged Blue Smoke BBQ building on 3rd Avenue. Jacobson said he's been in contact with one of the owners who told him that a contractor would have the work done by April 11 but when Jacobson asked for a written document that contained the date, the owner didn't provide one.       

-Called for requests for qualifications (RFQ) and requests for proposals (RFP) from engineering firms to conduct a needs assessment and pre-design services for a proposed expansion of the Runestone Community Center. There are no significant costs associated with the action other than some advertising fees, said City Administrator Marty Schultz. Jensen voted against it, saying the city had bigger priorities. The project is still in its first stage, assessing the need for an additional rink. The next phase would be to authorize pre-design services and if it proceeds, designing the building. 

--Issued an expanded conditional use permit to Alex Auto and Marine, 1424 North Nokomis NE, that will allow outdoor storage and display of up to 10 more vehicles, boats and trailers on the property. Miller voted against the permit. He was concerned about drainage.

--Called for bids for electrical distribution line improvements in the city. The project, requested by Alexandria Light and Power, will replace failing underground electrical cable at the Alexandria Technical and Community College, Knute Nelson, Tabberts Addition, Lakeview Addition, Geneva Crest Addition, Scenic heights and Government Point. The project, estimated to cost $1.59 million, will also extend a feeder into the southeast side of town to serve new electricity demand from the new Alexandria Area High School, Grand Arbor and others.

--Referred a request for funding from the Alexandria Senior Center to the city’s budget committee. The center recently reorganized, has been getting many new members and is planning new activities.

--Considered a request from Progressive Living Solutions, Inc., to purchase a remnant portion of property in Rosewood Lane, between 6th Avenue and County Road 82 East. At the request of City Planner Mike Weber, the council referred the request to the city's highway committee for further review.

--Formed an ad hoc committee to review lease agreements that public and private entities have with the city for buildings at the airport. This includes Bellanca, Eagle Aircraft and Alexandria Technical and Community College's interior design building. The committee includes Benson, Weber, the airport manager and an airport commission member.

--Approved Viking Speedway’s request to have practice races on Friday, July 4 from 6 to 10 p.m., one hour later than originally scheduled.

--Approved a final plat for Rosewood Hills, as submitted by Steve and Judy Soderholm. 

--Appointed council members Thalman and Benson to an ad hoc annexation committee that will review existing annexation agreements with LaGrand and Alexandria Townships. Batesole voted against both appointments, saying that the committee's responsibilities should be in writing.

-Accepted a $295,061 bid from Concrete Idea of Plymouth for the “Safe Routes to School” project near Lincoln Elementary. The project, which is being 100 percent funded through the state, includes pedestrian safety improvements, such as sidewalks, ramps, striping, signage and lighting near the school. In related action, the council approved a $20,474 engineering agreement with Widseth Smith and Nolting for the project.

--Issued a seasonal on-sale liquor license and Sunday liquor license to Bug-A-Boo Bay. The restaurant plans to open for the year on April 21 and close for the season in the first week of November. 

--Approved the following licenses: tobacco – E-Bacco, LLC; charitable gambling – parent advisory committee for an April 25 event at Woodland Elementary School; and heating contractor – Daikin Applied Americas Inc.

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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