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Budget concerns dominate Alexandria City Council meeting

The Alexandria City Council is urging the state Legislature to "keep its promise" about Local Government Aid (LGA).

At its meeting Monday night, the council unanimously approved a resolution detailing the impact of LGA cuts on Alexandria.

The resolution was in response to a new proposal from the Legislature to cut spending by $1 billion to help deal with the state's $6.2 billion deficit. The biggest part of the proposal is to reduce aid to counties and cities statewide by $286 million.

Alexandria stands to lose $661,124 this year.

The resolution notes that Alexandria relies on LGA to hold the line on property taxes. Without any LGA, the resolution says, property taxes in Alexandria would have to increase by 31 percent and services would have to be cut more.

Since 2006, Alexandria has had to deal with a cumulative LGA cut of nearly $1.4 million, the resolution says. Besides increasing taxes, the city also delayed street repairs, held off making capital purchases and refrained from hiring additional police officers.

"Higher property taxes and lower services in Alexandria will make it even less competitive for jobs and economic growth with suburban cities in Minnesota and in cities in other states," the resolution says.

Statewide, LGA has already been cut more than $1 billion and city property taxes are up 59 percent since 2003, according to the resolution.

The resolution, which will be sent to the governor, legislative leaders and local lawmakers, asks the Legislature to maintain funding for LGA at its current levels for 2011 and 2012.

To plan for the LGA cuts, City Administrator Jim Taddei suggested the council to refer the matter to the city's budget committee.

That idea didn't sit well with new Ward 1 council member Virgil Batesole. He said the whole city council should be responsible for coming up with a variety of plans on how to deal with an LGA cut, whether it's for this latest proposal, deeper cuts, or no LGA at all.

Batesole said the city should start working on options immediately and not wait until the end of February when it's one-sixth of the way through its budget year. He added that the last thing he wants to do is lay off city workers.

Mayor Dan Ness said the budget committee would review the impact of the cuts and bring back recommendations to the council.

Batesole wanted to know if he would be told when the budget committee would meet and if he could attend.

Ness said the budget committee meetings are open to the public but the discussion is limited to the members of the budget committee. The committee includes Mayor Ness, council member Dave Benson and city staff.

Earlier in the meeting, Batesole brought up budget concerns about two other items.

One was a phase 3, part 2 waterline extension. The city was considering whether to call for bids on the project as part of its orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township. The project would extend city water to residents living near lakes Carlos, Darling and L'Homme Dieu.

In light of the possible LGA cuts, Batesole said he was "very concerned" about where the city would come up with the money for the project.

Taddei explained that the water extension would not be funded through LGA. The money would come through property assessments on the benefitting property owners and bonding. He added that because of the orderly annexation agreement, the city was obligated to provide city water to the area.

Taddei said that the motion was to call for bids on the project, which the city could reject if the bids came in high.

Batesole said he didn't want to see contractors taking the time and expense to submit bids only to have the city reject them.

The council voted 3-1 to call for bids. Batesole voted no. (Council member Elroy Frank was unable to attend the meeting.)

Budget concerns popped up again when the city was considering calling for bids on street overlay projects in 2011.

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said that city is considering projects that would total $320,000. The state would pay roughly $180,000 and the city would pay the rest

Schoonhoven said that depending on how the bids come in, the city can decide which projects to pursue this year. He said that he and Public Works Coordinator Bryan Bjorgaard typically decide which projects should be given priority.

Batesole questioned that process. He said the council should decide which street projects should be done.

The council voted 3-1 to call for bids on the street projects. Batesole voted no and repeated his concerns about the time and money contractors could lose if the city rejected all the bids.

Budget and LGA concerns weren't the only items on the agenda. Other topics included:

--The city building department's annual report.

--Random Acts of Kindness Week, February 13-19.

--An amendment to the city's fee schedule.

--A final plat for L'Homme Dieu Ridge and the developer's request for sanitary sewer.

--An amendment to the Johnson Family Master Plan.

--Two appointments to the city's arts advisory committee.

--An update on a request from businesses on the west side of Highway 29 South to improve their visibility by trimming trees.

--A new way of keeping track of unresolved council items by adding them to an action list.

Watch for more details on these council items in the Echo Press.

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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