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Work on Broadway side streets, parking lots get green light from council

Get ready for a lot of construction in downtown Alexandria later this summer - $763,229 worth.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council accepted bids to reconstruct side streets along Broadway and set a public hearing to talk about the cost of redoing two city parking lots - one adjacent to 7th Avenue East and the other on Hawthorne Street and 5th Avenue.

Mark Lee Excavating of Alexandria was the low bidder on all three projects.

The company's bid for the side street work was $415,884, which will be covered through state aid funds. It's being done in conjunction with the complete reconstruction of Broadway between 3rd and 8th Avenue that's scheduled for 2014.

The streets that will be improved include 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Avenues between Fillmore Street and Broadway.

The Broadway project will be done in three phases, starting in 2014. Phase one would start just south of 3rd Avenue and continue short of 6th Avenue. Phase two would be the intersection of 6th and Broadway. The final phase would go from 6th to 8th Avenue.

The bids for the parking lots came in at $144,462 (7th Avenue) and $202,884 (5th Avenue). The council hasn't taken action to accept the bids. A public hearing to discuss the proposed assessments for those projects is scheduled for July 22 at City Hall at 7:15 p.m.

In other action, the council:

--Congratulated Alexandria Assistant Fire Chief Bill Thoennes, who was recently named Minnesota Firefighter of the Year by the Minnesota State Fire Department Association. Thoennes said the award, the first one the association has given, was "quite an honor" and added that any of the 20,000 volunteer firefighters in Minnesota were just as deserving. "Good point; but you came home with it," said Mayor Sara Carlson.

--Appointed Assistant City Administrator Marty Schultz as interim city administrator effective immediately. Current City Administrator Jim Taddei is retiring on September 20 and will work with Schultz on making the transition.

--Called for bids for the "Safe Routes to School" project near Lincoln Elementary that's designed to improve pedestrian safety. Bids will be opened on August 8. The project, which received preliminary council approval in December 2011, includes installing sidewalks, pedestrian ramps, striping, signage and lighting on the following roads: 12th Avenue between Lark and Elm Street, Lark Street between 10th and 13th Avenues, 13th Avenue between Lark and Fillmore Street, and Elm Street between 14th and 15th Avenues and between 12th and 13th Avenues. The project is estimated to cost $268,432, which would be covered 100 percent through a federal grant. In related action, the council approved a $20,474 agreement with Widseth Smith Nolting and Associates (WSN) to provide the engineering work. The council also approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation that will provide federal reimbursement of all of the engineering costs. Council member Virgil Batesole voted against all the Safe Routes measures. He said he talked with 30 to 40 homeowners in the area and they all opposed it. "If the people don't want something, why should we force it on them?" he said. Council member Roger Thalman said that if the city has the chance to make a route to school more safe without having to pay anything, it should do it. WSN agreed to contact each affected property owner before the project begins and to meet with them to address any concerns they have about sidewalks or trees. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said that extra efforts will be made to save as many trees as possible. He said between six and 10 trees will be removed. The city will replace the lost trees.

--Accepted a $671,919 bid from Srock Construction of Alexandria to build a new large aircraft hangar at the Alexandria Airport. Nearly 90 percent of the funds will be covered through federal grants. The city's share amounts to $83,717 and will come out of airport improvement funds that were set aside for the project.

--Authorized the issuance of $5.49 million in general obligation improvement bonds to help pay for the phase four, part 1 waterline extension project, which is part of the orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township. The bids will be opened August 12 and are expected to be awarded by the council that night. The city has a high credit rating of AA-, which puts it in a good position to obtain a favorable interest rate on the bonds, said Terri Heaton with Springsted Inc. Interest rates have been fluctuating but Springsted is estimating a rate of 2.61 percent.

--Listened to a presentation from Elizabeth Wefel, a lobbyist with the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. She said a highlight of the legislative session was increasing local government aid (LGA) funding by $80 million, which will be split 50-50 between metro and rural areas. Other highlights were a sales tax exemption for business expansions, an internship tax credit to help economic development, and making sure rural areas received their fair share of Legacy Act funds for parks and trails. She described the session as a "solid year" but added more work needs to be done to change the strategy from defending LGA from cuts to rebuilding the program.

--Gave preliminary approval to form a personnel committee. It would consist of four members, including the mayor, one council member, the personnel director and the city administrator or his/her designee.

--Referred a request to reconstruct the alley between Broadway and Hawthorne Street, from 9th to 10th Avenue, to the highway and utilities committees that will make a recommendation whether to proceed with the project. A representative of Hawthorne Estates sent a letter to the city noting that the alley has a lot of traffic and is beyond repair with many potholes.

--Amended an ordinance that recently annexed property along Tolena Road in Carlos Township to the city. After reviewing it, the state required changes in the property tax reimbursement provisions. The city initially planned to reimburse the township for the tax loss over five years, starting at 90 percent of the local share and ending at 10 percent in the fifth year. The state ordered the reimbursements be done in equal installments of 50 percent over that time. The end result is the same, noted City Planner Mike Weber.

--Decided to proceed with an improvement project on Boys Avenue, which has been stuck in neutral since February, noted Weber. The work includes a 725-foot section of road on Government Point. Back in March, the project was estimated to cost $72,896 and after deducting the city's standard 20 percent share in the cost, the assessment to the nine benefiting property owners would average about $6,500. The property owners said that was too much. Bids for similar projects since dropped and the city adjusted the cost to $62,166, along with lowering the number of benefiting property owners to eight, making the city's share $12,433 and reducing the assessments to $49,733 or $6,216 per owner. The property owners said the most they would pay would be $41,733, which would leave $20,433 as the city's share, about one-third of the cost instead of its usual 20 percent. The council noted that this was a unique situation with a road serving as a long entryway into a cul-de-sac, where the small number of property owners all live. It authorized the engineer to begin the design phase of the project and directed staff to prepare a resolution to order the project with the understanding that the council will be receptive to paying an additional $9,000 more than its 20 percent. The money would come out of the city's revolving improvement program.

--Approved the following licenses: massage - Jennifer Melby, located at Naturally Sp'oiled Massage and Wellness; taxi - American Roadrunner Taxi Service; charitable gambling - Alexandria Lions Club to conduct bingo at the Douglas County Fair on August 15-18, and Operation Happy Note for a drawing at the Runestone Community Center on July 20.

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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