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Tobacco license request draws questions

A request to approve a tobacco license drew debate at Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting.

King Tobacco applied for the license for a second store it plans to open at 307 North Nokomis Street, Suite 106, the site of the old Premier Video store.

King Tobacco's existing facility near Walmart recently completed serving a 20-day suspension for failing multiple compliance checks for underage sales.

Some council members were not happy about the company's track record.

Council member Bob Kuhlman made a motion to deny licensing the second location, saying that the company's lack of compliance shows that it's trying to get kids hooked on cigarettes.

City Attorney Tom Jacobson, however, pointed out that there is no basis in the city's ordinances to deny the license. Doing so, he said would open the city up to "dangerous territory."

The motion failed to get a second.

Batesole also raised concerns about King Tobacco, saying that violating city tobacco ordinances three or four times was "very serious." He asked if the city could take any action against the company.

City Administrator Marty Schultz said that the current ordinance imposes fines for first and second violations and a third violation results in having the tobacco license suspended for seven days. After the fourth violation, the city imposed a 20-day suspension, nearly three times the seven-day suspension, and that another violation could result in a 60-day suspension.

The council voted 4-1 to approve the license. Kuhlman voted against it.

In related action, the council approved two other licenses:

• Electronic delivery device renewal for Infinite Vapor at 504 Broadway. It plans to move to a new location before Jan. 1, 2019 when new electronic cigarette restrictions take effect for the store, which shares space with a tattoo business.

• Motorized vehicle racing renewal for Runestone Go-Kart Association. There will be 22 race nights this season, which begins on May 11.

Following are other items from Monday's meeting that were not included in other city council stories.

Tax increment financing changes

The city of Alexandria is making changes in its tax increment financing policy.

The council approved recommendations from a task force that wants to make the policy more clear and concise. Members include a council member, private business owner, the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission director, city assessor and city planner.

One of the changes more clearly defines TIF housing districts as a development that is intended for occupancy, in part, by low and moderate income individuals as defined by federal, state or municipal law.

The new policy notes that TIF housing districts don't have to meet the "but for" requirement, which states that the project wouldn't be financially feasible without tax assistance, because they're not intended to generate the highest market value. Instead, the public benefit is to provide low-income housing that otherwise would not be available.

Another change addresses how long housing developers would be allowed to receive the financing. The new policy is to limit it to no more than 13 years except at the discretion of the council for distinct circumstances, in which case the maximum would be 26 years.

The policy also defines workforce housing projects to match state law. Developers could receive TIF if the average vacancy rate for rental housing in the city has been 3 percent or less for two years; at least one business with 20 or more full-time employees is located within 15 miles of the project and states in writing that the lack of housing has impeded its ability to hire workers; the county and school district must approve the tax increment plan; and no requests for workforce housing TIF may be made after June 30, 2027.

Also, in related action, the council also approved the task force's recommendations to change the city's revolving loan fund guidelines.

The maximum amount of loans for commercial and industrial projects was raised from $50,000 to $200,000 or 50 percent of the project's cost, whichever is less.

Also, the loan interest rate must now match private financing and if there is no private financing, the rate will be the current Wall Street Journal prime rate. In the past, the rate was 3 percent below the current U.S. treasury note rate or 6 percent, whichever was higher.

Batesole voted against the revolving loan fund changes. He opposed the fund itself, saying it was too risky and it wasn't right for the city to use money from other people who have paid back loans from the fund.

HRA loan request

The council agreed to issue a construction loan of $150,000 to the Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority through the city's revolving loan fund.

The HRA plans to demolish a two-bedroom home it purchased at 1909 Sixth Ave. East and replace it with a three-bedroom unit with a detached two-stall garage. The home would then be sold.

The home that would be demolished is an "extremely blighted property" that affects the entire neighborhood, according to the authority.

The project will replace a structure valued at $74,900 with a new home values at $220,000, according to the HRA.

The loan will be paid back in less than a year at a zero percent interest rate. The increase in property tax will offset the unearned interest within the first year.

Batesole voted against the request, calling it a bum deal for the city if the property doesn't sell. He said that if the banks didn't back the project, it would be risky for the city to provide the money.

Landlord training

The city's first-ever landlord training session on Jan. 30 was such a success that it will hold a second training on Tuesday, April 24.

The city was expecting about 40 registrations but received nearly 70.

The training covered the landlord-tenant relationship, leases, responsibilities and tenant rights, evictions and lease terminations, rental registrations and inspections, law enforcement and the apartment market in Alexandria.

Easement request by Bethany on the Lake

The new owners of Bethany on the Lake — Monarch Healthcare Management — have asked the city to amend the public utility easement running east and west through its property at 1020 Lark Street in order to identify a six-inch diameter water main in the easement area and allow it to remain.

The council tabled the request and referred the matter to its Utility Committee for review and recommendation.

Awareness walks

Special event permits were issued for two awareness walks:

• The ninth annual Congenital Heart Disease Awareness Walk will take place Sept. 8 from 6 a.m. to noon. Sponsored by Lasting Imprint, it will start and end at City Park, using the trail.

• Walk MS-Alexandria will be held on May 6 from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sponsored by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the event will start and end at Voyager Elementary School.

Pay equity report

The council agreed to submit a state-required pay equity report of city employees.

Pay equity is designed to address the problem of wage structures that have one pay pattern for jobs performed mostly by men and another for jobs performed mainly by women.

Cities are required to file a pay equity implementation report every years.

Alexandria, which listed 31 jobs, passed all three tests for compliance.

Animal control changes

The council gave final approval to making three changes to city code for animal control and licenses. The changes, recommended by the city's Legislative Committee, will:

• Allow the the pro-rating of fees for new dog licenses if the application is received after july 1.

• Change the vaccination requirement from every two years to every three years to match state standards.

• Eliminate language that requires owners picking their animals up at the Lakes Area Humane Society to obtain a license, along with paying their impound fee. The committee said that picking up the animals and paying the impound fees are the most important; licensing is secondary. So now the humane society will provide license information to owners who redeem animals without a license and encourage them to go to City hall and license their dog.

Humane society fee

The council agreed to pay the Lakes Area Humane Society a flat annual fee to cover the costs of animal boarding and disposal when animals impounded within the city limits are not claimed.

The city has been billed monthly for the costs, which ranged between $18,797 last year to $25,513 in 2015.

The flat fee for 2018 is $22,000.

Having a flat fee will make it easier for the humane society and the city to set their budgets.

Gambling permits

The council issued charitable gambling permits to Someplace Safe to sell raffles at the Broadway Ballroom on April 21, and to the Knights of Columbus for a May 5 raffle at the Broadway Ballroom. Knights of Columbus also received a permit to conduct off-site gambling.

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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