CITY COUNCIL UPDATE: Alexandria shelves local sales tax ideaCouncil seeks legislation to designate city as regional hub to get more aid. An idea to impose a local sales tax in Alexandria is scrapped for now. At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council heeded the recommendation of its legislative committee to not pursue the tax.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
An idea to impose a local sales tax in Alexandria is scrapped for now.
At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council heeded the recommendation of its legislative committee to not pursue the tax.
Last month, the council decided to explore the idea as a way of dealing with cuts in local government aid (LGA).
The council was worried about a House research department report that showed Alexandria stood to lose $110,700 in LGA this year.
City Administrator Jim Taddei estimated that a 2 percent local sales tax would generate an estimated $7 million per year in Alexandria. Another option was to increase the current sales tax from 6.875 percent to 7 percent, which was estimated to yield about $450,000 a year.
After studying the options, the legislative committee came up with an alternative to raising taxes. It noted that legislation is in the process of being introduced that would designate Alexandria as a regional center, which would increase the city’s LGA.
The committee also said that it now appears that the Legislature will maintain LGA at its current level for 2012 and 2013.
In other action, the council:
• Got its first peak at how Alexandria’s five wards will look like after redistricting. The changes reflect population shifts and the additional 1,396 residents that came into the city through the “phase four” orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township. The city’s existing wards vary widely in population, from 1,841 residents in Ward 5 to 2,973 residents in Ward 2. The new boundaries carve up Alexandria’s population of 12,466 much more equally, varying less than 3 percent among the five wards. Three options were included on maps that were displayed at the meeting. Council members were encouraged to review the maps in detail before making a decision at their March 26 meeting. None of the options affect the residency requirements of the current council members. City Planner Mike Weber noted that the population shifts have caused the “epicenter” of the city to move from the south shores of Lake Agnes to the northeast side of Lake Henry.
• Learned the latest information about Alexandria School District 206’s plan to build a new high school. Superintendent Terry Quist and architects from the Cunningham Group and Ringdahl Architects made the presentation. The district plans to break ground in mid-June and open the school in the fall of 2014. Some of the many highlights: It will include an 800-space parking lot (600 for students and 200 for staff); buses will enter and exit off Pioneer Road; it will include several athletic fields for softball, football, track and baseball, along with 12 tennis courts and practice areas; a community auditorium will have seating for 1,000 people; many of the classrooms won’t be traditional rooms with doors – they’ll be open, more flexible areas that will serve as digital learning centers; the entire facility will be built with a focus on energy efficiency.
• Heard from Ladeen Schillinger, a veterans employment representative at the Minnesota WorkForce Center in Alexandria. She veterans in Pope, Douglas and Stevens County find jobs. She said that local soldiers deployed to Kuwait will soon be returning home and looking for work. She’s been communicating via e-mail with 16 veterans, informing them of the WorkForce Center’s services. She said that most of the veterans plan to return to school to obtain the skills that are needed in today’s job market. She encouraged local businesses to hire veterans and said that tax credits are available for those that do. For more information, contact Schillinger at (320) 762-7800.
• Supported a local effort to designate the area as a “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Community.” Council member Owen Miller introduced the resolution. Yellow Ribbon communities work with military families to address the needs of spouses and children throughout deployment.
• Ordered a report to study the costs and feasibility of improving two city parking lots downtown – the one adjacent to 5th Avenue East/Hawthorne Street and the other one adjacent to 7th Avenue East. The report, estimated to cost less than $5,000, will include assessment estimates for the benefiting property owners, mainly the downtown merchants. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven, who attended a meeting with local business owners, said their big concern was timing. Most favored doing the project this year, after Labor Day.
• Accepted a report that examined the costs of a major reconstruction project on 50th Avenue, between South Broadway and County Road 106 (railroad tracks) – a 3,040-foot section of road. It would cost about $3.14 million. Assessments would total $2.56 million. A public hearing to talk about the improvements was set for April 9 at City Hall at 7:15 p.m.
• Approved a resolution declaring the costs of a drainage project on Thomas Drive from South Oak Knoll Drive and East Oak Knoll Drive. The total cost is $310,979. The city’s share amounts to $122,196. Benefiting property owners will be assessed $188,783. A public hearing to discuss the assessments was set for April 9 at City Hall at 7:30 p.m.
• Supported Mayor Dan Ness’ suggestion to have a joint meeting between the city council and the Douglas County commissioners. Ness has been talking to Commissioner Bev Bales about discussing issues of mutual interest, such as economic development. City staff will work with county staff to schedule the meeting.
• Approved a request from City Planner Mike Weber to apply for a grant that would look into the costs and benefits of undertaking a historic preservation plan. The State Historic Preservation Office has funding available with no matching requirement for the city, Weber said. Mayor Ness said the study could give the city some leverage in trying to move the Runestone replica near Highway 27 East to a more visible location.
• Scheduled a public hearing to get citizen input about an application the city may submit for the Small Cities Development Program. The hearing will take place during the next council meeting on Monday, March 26 at City Hall. The city submitted a pre-application for the program, which provides housing repair loans, last November. This is the next step in the process.
• Renewed the on-sale liquor license of the Alexandria Golf Course, which will be opening for the season soon. The cost of the license, effective for the rest of the year, will be pro-rated at 75 percent of the usual cost.