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Lodging tax takes in more than expected

A 3 percent lodging tax added onto the hotel bills of guests staying in the Alexandria area packs a punch.

Explore Alexandria Tourism, which is funded through the tax, projects that the total amount collected in 2017 will easily exceed the $491,010 the organization included in its budget. It will bring in about $525,000 — a 14 percent increase from 2016.

The money is used to promote the area through advertising campaigns, its website and other marketing strategies. James Feist, director of Explore Alexandria, presented the annual report to the Alexandria City Council Monday night.

The tax is collected at hotels, motels, resorts and bed and breakfast places in Alexandria, Miltona Township and LaGrand Township.

Here's where the money was used for this year's budget: advertising — $179,000; staff expenses — $124,310; funding requests for promoting local events — $80,000; branding and marketing — $53,800; sales and services (such as meeting and convention fees) — $31,000; and operating expenses — $22,795.

The biggest chunk of the advertising and marketing dollars, 37 percent, was used to promote the area's activities and attractions in the summer. A 26 percent slice of the ad budget created year-long awareness, followed by fall at 18 percent, winter at 15 percent and as a meeting/sports venue at 3 percent.

Explore Alexandria has identified five strategic objectives for next year, Feist said. They include increased destination awareness; increased overnight stays, especially in non-peak times; creative marketing communications; a focus on non-leisure business such as sports and meetings; and striving for area-wide tourism collaboration.

The ExploreAlex.com website continues to be an important promotional tool, according to Feist. From January through September, it drew 316,479 page views and is on pace to match last year's total pageviews of 422,507.

Feist said more photos and videos will be added to the website soon. There is also a "Book Your Stay" feature on the site that allows people to check for vacancies on all lodging facilities in the Alexandria area during the specific time frame of their visit.

Explore Alexandria also has 6,588 Facebook followers, a 23 percent jump from 2016, and 1,192 Twitter followers, which is up 15 percent.

The council voted 5-0 to approve the report.

Budget amended

The council made a slight change to its 2018 budget and tax levy.

One $20,000 item for planning commission development was inadvertently omitted in the preliminary budget the council approved on Sept. 25 and sent to Douglas County,

The council voted to amend the budget resolution.

The total levy stays at the same amount — $6,725,676 — that was approved on Sept. 25.

The preliminary levy calls for a 4.01 percent increase for 2018. City officials stress, however, that most taxpayers will not face a 4 percent jump in taxes. That's because growth and new building activity increased the city's overall tax base by 4.45 percent, which softens the impact. If property values remain at the same levels, most taxpayers will see a slight decrease in city taxes — 0.45 percent. If property values rise 3 percent, the city's portion of property taxes will increase 2.54 percent.

Batesole voted against the amendment. He said he didn't support a budget that calls for a 4 percent increase.

The final adoption of the levy and budget will be considered at a public hearing known as "truth in taxation" at 7:15 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 11.

School security agreement

The council approved a security services agreement with Alexandria School District 206.

The police department will provide a three-fourths time officer at both Discovery Middle School and the Alexandria Area High School.

The school district will pay the city $110,004 — a 3.8 percent increase from last year's agreement of $105,939.

The officers will each put in six hours a day while school is in session.

The agreement will be considered next by the Alexandria School Board.

Living Nativity permit

The council issued a special event permit to the First Lutheran Church for its 32nd annual Living Nativity event on Saturday, Dec. 2, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Guests will drive through on Douglas Street to view various scenes from the Bible depicting the birth of Jesus Christ.

More than 700 cars are expected to roll through the event.

2018 city fees

The council set the final amounts for fees, licenses and permits for the coming year. Two new fees were added — $20 for portable storage units and $100 to apply for an exception to platting.

The storage unit fee was added to city code earlier this year. The action formally sets the fee. Another change increases the off-sale beer fee from $45 to $50. It hasn't been changed since 2010.

Fees for plumbing and mechanical permits for projects valued at more than $100,000 will go down. The fee will be $5 per $1,000 of value instead of $10.

A dance fee of $15 was eliminated because the council voted this past July to rescind the dance ordinance, which was described as outdated and unnecessary.

Also, a two-part fee for heating, ventilation and air conditioning installers — $125 for new applicants and $100 for renewals — will be changed to one fee of $100. This matches the fee for an excavation license.

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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