Eleven items from the Alexandria City Council Meeting

1. 'COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS' UPDATESince last fall, a group of local residents has been meeting with Alexandira city leaders to talk about a variety of concerns. Some of their complaints – unmaintained lawns and sidewalks, garbage stacked in back yards, dogs and cats running free in neighborhoods, run-down buildings that should be demolished, burning laws not being enforced, noise ordinance violations, and continual police calls to residences where landlords are not being held responsible to correct the issues that prompted the calls. At Monday night’s Alexandria City Council meeting, two representatives of the “Community Conversations” group, Jennie Hevern and Sandy Susag, updated the council about issues they hope the city will address. This includes treating rental properties as a business; enforcing city code regarding rental applications, registration, certifications and non-compliance fees; informing renters of their responsibilities and rights as tenants; requiring tenants to sign rental agreement addendums for crime housing; and requiring landlords to provide tenants copies of rental agreements and retain all copies tenants sign. The group is also concerned that many of the city’s nuisance ordinances are vague and lack teeth for enforcement. “Without intentional action from the Alexandria City Council, we can grow a bigger problem or take action to stop the deterioration now,” Hevern wrote in a report summarizing the group's efforts. “If there is any doubt that this will happen, we just need to look at the deterioration that over time has occurred in three mobile home parks.” Hevern added that the cost of addressing the concerns would be minimal compared to the cost of illegal activity and disregard for city ordinances. The group recommended the city to form a housing committee to work with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority to evaluate the current and long-term housing needs of the community. The group also suggested an education/communication campaign to inform the public of nuisance ordinances and to encourage residents to report violations. Susag invited city leaders to attend the next Community Conversations meeting on Wednesday, November 4 at the Alexandria Senior Center at 6:30 p.m. Council member Todd Jensen thanked the group for their time and effort in organizing the discussions and coming up with good ideas. He noted that the city is addressing some of their concerns, such as investing more dollars into streets and sidewalks, and shortening the time span for landowners to take care of problems such as long grass. 2. TOBACCO BAN A ban on tobacco and e-cigarettes in city parks received final approval from the council. The new section of city code prohibits the “sale and use of tobacco products and electronic delivery devices at all times in or on all public parks the city has the authority to control regardless of location.” The products include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and any electronic delivery device. The council added language that could allow it to establish designated smoking areas in the future. The old policy, enacted in 2005, was not as clear-cut, wasn't mentioned in city ordinances and only designated “tobacco free” zones in certain areas of the parks. Signs also stated that compliance was voluntary. 3. FIX-UP LOANS The council is considering extending the deadline for downtown businesses to apply for low-interest loans to make exterior improvements to their buildings and sites. City Planner Mike Weber noted that 10 loans totaling $49,000 have been approved through the Downtown Redevelopment Loan Fund and another three loans are pending. There is still $78,322 available in the fund. Last December, the council set an application deadline of December 31, 2015 for businesses to have access to the fund. Since there is ongoing interest, Weber said that the council could make the fund permanent. The council authorized him to draft a resolution to consider at the next meeting. 4. SNOW REMOVAL A policy was approved for removing the snow on Broadway, including the new sidewalk area, between Third and Eighth Avenues. The city will continue to provide snow removal, as it did last winter, and charge property owners a flat fee of $6 per lineal foot of property frontage for the season. 5. DEALING WITH HAZARDS The council agreed to adopt Douglas County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan for 2015-2020. It does not commit the city to spending any money on the plan. The plan, which is nearly 300 pages long, is designed to protect public safety and prevent loss of lives from severe weather, floods, blizzards and other disasters. It implements projects to protect critical facilities such as hospitals, emergency operation centers and public utilities. Dennis Stark, the city's emergency management director, said the plan focuses on things that can be done to prevent disasters and reduce the damage they can create. He listed examples such as burying electrical lines underground or installing larger culverts in ditches. Having a plan also makes the county and city eligible for federal grants to work on those projects as well as qualify for disaster grants. 6. WATERLINE ASSESSMENTS The council adopted the assessments for the waterline extension project in the phase four, part three, orderly annexation area of Alexandria Township. The total cost of the project was $607,140 and the city’s share amounted to $509,640. The remaining $97,500 will be paid through assessments by the benefiting property owners, which amounts to $6,500 per parcel. A total of 15 parcels are affected. In related action, the council also approved the assessments for the phase four, part two orderly annexation waterline project. The cost amounted to $2.9 million and the city’s share was $1,742,451. The remaining $1,163,500 will be assessed on the benefiting property owners. A total of 176 parcels are affected. During the public hearing, two residents raised concern about the condition of the roads in their neighborhood, Springdale Drive and the Hiview Mobile Home Park. They said the trucks doing the waterline work ripped up their streets, leaving potholes, sink holes and patch-overs. City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven said the roads, which used to be in Alexandria Township, were in worse shape than expected and didn't hold up during construction. He said the city would have liked to have resurfaced the roads in that area but the cost was too high. He said the city has a plan to bond for street projects in that area in 2018 or 2020. 7. EVERGREEN LANE ASSESSMENTS The final cost breakdown was determined for the street improvement project on Evergreen Lane. The total cost was $278,864. The city’s share is $55,870, which also includes $3,877 from the Stormwater Utility Fund. The one benefiting property owner, R and R Investments, also known as Beverage Wholesalers, will be assessed $222,994. The council approved a resolution adopting the assessment. 8. SPECIAL EVENTS The council issued two special event permits: • Lake Community Church’s RHema 5K Fun Run on Friday, October 30 from 6 to 8 p.m. The event starts and ends at the church. Police will stop traffic, if necessary, at the start of the race. • First Lutheran Church’s annual Living Nativity on Friday, December 4 from 5 to 8 p.m. Additional time was given for set-up and take down. Douglas Street will be closed from Sixth to Eighth Street. 9. AVIATION SALUTE The council proclaimed October 2015 as General Aviation Appreciation Month. The proclamation noted that Minnesota is home to 153 public-use airports that serve 12,478 pilots and 4,365 aircraft. Aviation contributed more than $5.3 billion to the state’s annual economy, and also supports emergency medical and health care services, law enforcement, firefighters, disaster relief and business travelers. 10. PLOW TRUCK LEASE The council authorized the public works department to bring at least two proposals to lease a plow truck. Buying a new truck would cost about $160,000. Leasing a truck is expected to amount to only a fraction of that cost. A new leased plow truck would replace a 1996 Ford that was purchased from the county in 2002. It has about 140,000 miles on it and it’s been difficult to find replacement parts. 11. ELM STREET LOT The council authorized staff to negotiate an offer on a lot that's for sale on Elm Street across from Knute Nelson Field. The land is valued at $20,100 and includes a garage. The property is located two lots south of a lot the city purchased earlier this year.