Alexandria bids farewell to mayor, council memberIt was a night of tear-filled goodbyes and rousing applause at Wednesday's Alexandria City Council meeting for two long-standing public servants, Mayor Dan Ness and council member Elroy Frank.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
It was a night of tear-filled goodbyes and rousing applause at Wednesday's Alexandria City Council meeting for two long-standing public servants, Mayor Dan Ness and council member Elroy Frank.
Ness, who has served as mayor for 12 years, longer than any mayor in the city's history, conducted his final meeting. He'll turn the reins over to Ward 2 council member Sara Carlson next month.
Ness thanked his family for all their support, and said it was a pleasure to work with a harmonious group of council members, staff and department heads throughout the years. He also credited the Echo Press and KXRA Radio for informing the public about the city's decisions.
"It's been a fantastic honor to represent the city of Alexandria," Ness said. "I leave it in good hands. We'll see wonderful things as time moves on."
Ness added that it was important for the council to continue to work for the best interests of the city rather than individual agendas.
Everyone in the council chambers, including former council members Harvey Weisel, Carol Radil and Corliss Stark, gave Ness a standing ovation.
Frank, who has represented Ward 5 for 14 years, is being replaced by the election winner, Todd Jensen. He was also honored for his dedication. Carlson presented him with a plaque of appreciation.
Before the goodbyes, the council had to take care of some business, including a way to help traffic flow through a fast growing area in southeast Alexandria.
A new stoplight will be installed next year at the intersection of County Road 46 (34th Avenue) and Pioneer Road north of the new Alexandria Area High School and Grand Arbor.
The council approved a traffic control signal agreement with Douglas County. Because traffic is already backing up on the road, the project was moved up a year. It will take the place of another stoplight project that had been scheduled in 2013 at the intersection of County Roads 82 and 45 near the Alexandria Area YMCA.
The city and county will split the $225,000 cost 50-50, according to the agreement. The project won’t cost the city or county anything, however, since it will be 100 percent covered through state aid funds.
The county, which was expected to approve the document Thursday, agreed to prepare the engineering plan, proposal and specifications, again using state aid funds. It will also determine the timing of the signal.
The city agreed to provide the electrical power to the traffic light. It also agreed to maintain the light, replacing the lights when needed, along with cleaning and painting the structure.
In other action at Wednesday’s meeting, the council:
--Accepted a letter of resignation from Ward 2 council member Carlson, effective January 2, 2013. She is stepping down from the position to become mayor. “It has been my sincere honor to serve the city of Alexandria and its constituents in this capacity for the last nine years,” Carlson said. “I look forward to serving the city as mayor in the upcoming years.” In related action, the council officially declared the Ward 2 vacancy, approving a resolution stating that the council will appoint someone to fill the position soon.
--Approved changes to the ground lease with the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum on city land on 3rd Avenue West, pending final approval from the city's legal staff. The original lease approved in 2005 was set to expire in 2031. The new seven-page agreement extends it to 2043 and includes the Maritime Gardens area. The longer lease will make it easier for the museum to apply for grants and other funding. The legal staff will work on the document so it lists the specific obligations of the city and the museum. Other highlights include a base rent of $1,200 a year, which the museum is currently paying, although it may be adjusted every five years; a requirement that the land may only be used as it is now, as a boat museum and garden area; the museum must carry liability insurance coverage with a minimum limit of $1 million; and if the lease expires, all buildings, fixtures and improvements will remain and become city property.
--Authorized city staff to apply for funding under the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency’s Minnesota City Participation Program (MCPP) to help first-time homebuyers acquire existing houses in the city. This year, the city accessed $116,638 in MCPP funds. Over the last 16 years, the program has provided more than $4.3 million in loans in Alexandria.
--Approved a new fee schedule for 2013. Virgil Batesole was the only council member who voted against it, citing concerns that increasing fees are like increasing taxes. Fees for tattoo businesses were eliminated because they are now licensed through the state. A new right-of-way permit fee option for water service connections in the Phase 4 annexation area was established. Contractors can buy an annual permit for $500 a year to do as many connections as they want instead of paying $50 for each right-of-way permit, along with a $300 refundable deposit. Nuisance fees were increased from $75 to $100. After-the-fact sign permit fees were established at $100 or double the permit fee, whichever is greater. A new formula for determining valuation-based permit surcharges was also approved. The formula won't affect the overall cost.
--Was informed that three conditional use permits were tabled at the December 17 planning commission meeting. One was for Advance Sales of Minnesota to display automobiles and small sports and lawn related equipment outside the business at 1201 34th Avenue West. Another was for Zorbaz on County Road 42 to replace a 300-gallon above-ground fuel tank with an above-ground pay-at-the-pump 1,000-gallon fuel tank and boat fueling station. The third one was for IRD Ceramics, which would allow for light industrial manufacturing/assembling in a “general business” zone.
--Accepted a $10,000 grant from Active Living Douglas County to complete a comprehensive plan update. The money would be earmarked for contracting with an outside consultant to incorporate Active Living components into the plan.
--Approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation that will advance the city more than $1.33 million to pay for state aid street projects next year.
--Was informed that the city will receive a $110,058 dividend from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust. Cities that are members are sharing a total dividend of $16 million, the largest amount in the league’s history. Batesole didn't like the fact that portions of the dividends will be given back to the departments that paid the insurance premiums, including the city's general fund, Runestone Community Center, the two liquor stores and Alexandria Light and Power. He said those budgets had already been set. Instead, he said the money should all go into the general fund to reduce the levy or into the capital improvement fund to cover unexpected expenditures. Mayor Ness said that the dividends are conservatively figured into the department budgets earlier in the year. He said that the city is handling the dividends following proper accounting practices recommended by staff and the state auditor. Frank added that Batesole should serve on more city committees to gain a better understanding of how the city finances work.
--Discussed a one-time Early Retirement Incentive Program for city employees. The council is considering a proposal that offers incentives of $1,028 a month for 60 months or until the participating employee is 65, whichever is sooner, to pay for health insurance coverage for employees and their dependents. Also, participating employees would be eligible for any unused vacation time and 50 percent of unused accumulated sick leave, up to a maximum of 60 days. An application deadline of June 30, 2013 is being considered for employees who retire on or before September 30, 2013. Carlson recommended discussing the program at a work session and the council agreed to do so. The session is set for January 7 at 5 p.m. Other topics will include committee appointments and filling the Ward 2 council vacancy.
--Approved a resolution to transfer funds from nine budget categories to close out the year and for committing fund balances for 2012, a bookkeeping process the city does every year. Batesole, the only council member to oppose the resolution, said he strongly objected to one part of the fund balance procedure that allows the city administrator or finance director to reconcile accounts during the year. He said that amounts to giving them a "blank check" and delegates the council's responsibility to someone else. Carlson disagreed with the blank check description, noting that the city is only giving the duties to the responsible authority. Mayor Ness said the city has been approving checks in advance this way for all 12 years he's been mayor.
--Approved the following licenses – massage therapist for Michelle Lehn, Sam Shrod and Jamie McLaughlin; heating for Magnuson Sheet Metal; excavating for Seph Construction; tobacco and off-sale beer for Pilot Travel Center; and charitable gambling license and premise permit for the Knights of Columbus to sell raffles at the Broadway Ballroom on April 6.