Alexandria police officers commended for saving lives in fireThree Alexandria police officers thought they were just doing their job when they responded to a house fire on August 17.
By: Al Edenloff, Alexandria Echo Press
Three Alexandria police officers thought they were just doing their job when they responded to a house fire on August 17.
But their actions likely saved the lives of two people, according to Police Chief Rick Wyffels and Fire Chief Jeff Karrow who presented awards to Sergeant Chad Schroeder and officers Anthony Golden and Ryan Cook at Monday night’s Alexandria City Council meeting.
Schroeder was on routine patrol the night of the fire shortly before midnight when he spotted a slight haze in the air above 3rd Avenue, said Wyffels while retelling the events to the council.
At first, Schroeder thought it may have been from several bonfires in the area but after rolling down his window and sniffing the air, he thought the smoke smelled more like an electrical type burn.
He got on his radio and contacted Golden and Cook to investigate the area around Zion School. Within minutes, the officers discovered smoke coming out of a window at 520 5th Avenue East and a full-blown fire in the back porch of the house.
After telling dispatch to contact the fire department, they started pounding on doors and windows to see if anyone was inside.
Instead of taking the safe route and waiting for firefighters to arrive, the officers decided to kick the door in and search the house, Wyffels noted.
Not knowing what to expect – an ambush, flames or other dangers – they found two people, Jordan Palm and Rachel Bones sleeping.
With the main floor beginning to fill with smoke, the officers helped the two get outside safely, along with a pet.
After learning that more people may have been sleeping in the upstairs portion of the duplex, the officers kicked in another door. Meanwhile, the porch became fully engulfed and fire began to spread to the roof.
They conducted a quick search but didn’t find anyone upstairs. The family who was living there was gone at the time. Still, the fact that the officers risked their lives to save others was commendable, said Wyffels. “I can’t tell you how proud I am,” Wyffels said. “It shows that our officers are looking out for all of us.”
Firefighters were able to save the building, although there was considerable amount of damage to the home. It appears the fire started in a cigarette pail on the back porch.
Wyffels presented all three officers with Life Saving awards and collar pins for going “above and beyond” the call of duty and putting their lives at risk for others. Karrow also gave them plaques and “challenge coins,” marking the first time the fire department has bestowed the honor on police officers. Family members of the officers were also introduced and recognized at the meeting.
Council members joined in the long applause for the officers and thanked them for their service.
In other police-related action, the council approved Wyffels’ request to accept a low bid of $51,528 to purchase two 2013 Ford utility vehicles from Nelson Ford in Fergus Falls.
Wyffels held off from purchasing vehicles last year in order to get the latest in vehicle technology upgrades. The new units will have 20 percent better fuel economy, all wheel drive, larger cabin for equipment, and universal wheels, oil filters and key locks, he said.
The vehicles are built with a heavy suspension, titanium fenders that aren’t available to the public, and computers to maximize speed and curving issues, making them safer for officers to drive, said Wyffels.
The council also approved one police request – hiring Christopher Swanson to replace an officer who moved to Northfield. Swanson worked with the Melrose Police Department and has nine years of experience. Starting September 9, he’ll receive a base monthly salary of $3,790, which is consistent with the 2012-2013 agreement between the city and the police department’s union.
In other action, the council:
--Approved tax increment financing (TIF) and a final plat for the Stonemanor development in southeast Alexandria across from the new high school near Lake Burgen.
LBR Properties is pursuing the development, which consists of two parcels totaling 54 acres located east of Pioneer Road (Highway 106). LBR plans to eventually build eight apartment buildings – two three-story buildings containing 63 units each and six four-story buildings containing 86 units each for a total of 642 multi-family residential units. Plans call for walking paths, picnic areas, playgrounds, gazebos and sports courts.
When the council approved a preliminary planned unit development (PUD) for the property in July, it believed an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) would need to be done. As it turned out, Knute Nelson had already completed an EAW for its Grand Arbor project in the area so an additional study wasn’t needed, said City Planner Mike Weber. He added that when the previous EAW completed in 2009 examined the impacts of an even larger development and found no serious concerns as long as water runoff would be treated before it enters Lake Burgen.
Right now, none of the water that comes from nearby crop land is treated and goes right into the lake, noted developer Randy Fischer with LBR during Monday’s public hearing on the TIF application. He said LBR will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for stormwater treatment ponds that will filter out contaminants.
Fischer said there is a strong demand for this type of housing in Alexandria and pointed to a Housing and Redevelopment Authority study in 2009 that showed high 99 percent occupancy rates for rental units. He also noted that Grand Arbor has a waiting list of a year for residents wanting to live there.
Besides Fischer, the only other person to speak at the public hearing was Keith Martinson of South Burgen Drive. He said that if the demand for this kind of housing is so great, the developer should be able to pursue it without TIF. He said the council should vote no and let the project succeed on its own merits. He added that he’d like to see TIF used for industrial type projects rather than for high-density residential growth.
Later in the meeting, Fischer said the project could not be done without TIF.
The council voted 3-0 to approve the TIF district and contract with LBR Properties. (Council member Elroy Frank was unable to attend the meeting and Virgil Batesole recused himself because he owns several apartment buildings in the city.)
With TIF, the property taxes are frozen at their current level for a specified amount of time, in this case 13 years, as an incentive for developing property that would have not been improved without the tax break.
According to LBR, the units will be targeted toward young people entering the workforce, those who are seeking more choice and amenities in rental housing, and the middle-aged to senior population who are looking for maintenance-free living. The apartments range in size from 745 square feet (one bedroom, one bath) to 1,312 square feet (three bedrooms, two baths). Rents would range from $650 a month to $1,095.
The TIF agreement, at this point, is limited to the first two buildings. The value of the property would increase from $276,720 to just over $10 million. The estimated increment is $144,086 per year. The city will retain 10 percent of the increment for administrative fees.
According to the TIF agreement, 20 percent of the units, 14 apartments in each building, will be available to individuals with incomes that are 50 percent or less of the county’s median income.
--Amended a 2007 TIF agreement with Silver Maple Investments for a development that included building Thrifty White on 3rd Avenue East. The developer removed several blighted commercial buildings – a former gas station with contaminated soil, an auto body facility, an auto repair shop and an old warehouse on 3rd Avenue between Lake and Kenwood streets. In their place, the developer planned to build a mixed-use, five-story facility of 130,000 square feet to be used for retail and office space with the possibility of residential condominiums. The $8.2 million development would have encompassed the entire block. When the economy soured, however, only Thrifty White was built and the developer dropped the other phases of the plan. The council, acting as the Economic Development Authority, voted 4-1 to approve the amended agreement that will continue the TIF agreement only for the Thrifty White portion of the development. Batesole voted against it, saying he was concerned that taxpayers wouldn’t benefit from something the developer backed out of. “When you make a deal, you make a deal,” he said, adding that he wanted more time to get additional data.
--Agreed to allow the Alexandria HRA to set its tax levy at the state maximum amount of 0.0185 of the city’s total market value. This amounts to $207,250. HRA Director Jeff Hess said the levy reflects the ongoing trend of growth and development within the city. “As Alexandria continues to grow, the HRA must keep pace with the expanding housing needs of the community,” he said in a letter to the city. Batesole was the only council member who voted no to the request. He said that the HRA hasn’t provided a full accounting of their finances, which is required by state law. Hess said an audit was given to City Administrator Jim Taddei and the latest audit is in the process of being approved. Batesole said that the county HRA is only levying half of its allowed amount and he wanted to see the city HRA finances for himself. Council member Dave Benson, who serves on the HRA board, said that he saw the audit and approved it.
--Rejected bids to reconstruct two downtown city parking lots, the ones behind Travelers Inn and Coldwell Banker/Crown Realtors. Only one bid was submitted and it came in 20 percent over the estimate, according to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven. He said the project will be re-bid over the winter and combined with other municipal state aid projects to bring the cost estimate up from $400,000 to $1 million or so, which would make it more attractive for contractors to bid on.
--Approved a second and final reading of amendments to the city’s nuisance ordinance. The changes allow the city to take swifter action against violators. City Attorney Tom Jacobson said the current ordinance gives violators 10 days to fix the problem while the new ordinance allows the city to set the deadline on the notice of violation, which is then posted, served or mailed.
--Rejected an out-of-state travel request from council member Owen Miller to attend the National League of Cities annual Leadership Summit on September 20-22 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The cost to the city would have been $1,300. Batesole said he didn’t want to sound “pick-ish” but questioned whether the city would benefit from spending the money if Miller lost his reelection bid this fall. Council member Sara Carlson said that with the city’s budget as tight as it is, this year may not be the best time to approve out-of-state travel. Benson said he couldn’t recall council members going to similar conferences and wondered if leadership classes would be available in Minnesota. Miller said he didn’t harbor any hard feelings about the council’s decision.
--Approved a request that allows the Jefferson High School Homecoming Parade Committee to use 5th Avenue, Broadway and 15th Avenue from the Fairgrounds to the high school for the homecoming parade on Saturday, September 22. A one-mile run sponsored by Lakes Area Recreation will kick off the event at 11:30 a.m., followed by the parade at noon. In a related decision, the council also approved a request from the JHS Student Council to conduct an outside dance after the homecoming game on JHS grounds from 8 to 11 p.m. After City Administrator Jim Taddei noted that no action was needed for the dance, Mayor Dan Ness drew big laughs from the room by quipping, “Who wants to go to a dance with no action, Jim?” Although it didn’t officially need to do so, the council approved the dance on a 4-0 vote.
--Approved a request from the Hawthorne Estates Condominium Association to authorize a “loading zone” at the steps leading into the building on 9th Avenue East, which will allow elderly residents to be picked up and dropped off there. Batesole made the motion to approve the request if the association agreed to pay the loading zone permit fee of $180 per year and the $10 cost of the sign. Miller was the only one who voted against it.
--Approved an amendment to the Douglas County Joint Powers Flood Water Control Board agreement. Because the parts of Alexandria Township that were part of the jurisdiction are now annexed to the city, the portion of the agreement about cost sharing is being changed. The new percentages are as follows (current figures are in parenthesis): city of Alexandria – 69 percent (44 percent), LaGrand Township – 11 percent (16 percent), Douglas County – 10 percent (unchanged) and Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District – 10 percent (5 percent). The changes won’t take effect until all the entities approve them.
--Proclaimed September as Life Insurance Awareness Month in Alexandria. The proclamation urges residents to learn more about life insurance and its benefits. Miller, a life insurance representative, abstained from the vote.