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Two big projects make strides at council meeting

Two big projects marched ahead at Monday night's Alexandria City Council meeting.

The council approved a capital improvement plan to issue up to $5.1 million in general obligation bonds to pay for a new police station, which would be located near the new Douglas County Jail along 3rd Avenue West.

The council also agreed to hold a public hearing and serve as a conduit - at no cost to the city - to help Knute Nelson obtain up to $27 million in a revenue bond and note for a senior living campus near the intersection of 50th Avenue and Pioneer Road (County Road 106).

Here's more information about the projects:

Police station

The city decided to pursue a police station after determining that the existing space it is leasing inside the Law Enforcement Center on 7th Avenue East was inadequate to serve the police department's current and future needs.

The 24,000-square-foot facility would house administration, records, offices for patrol officers and detectives, a community meeting room that could also be used for training, and other rooms for investigations, evidence processing and other police operations.

Under Minnesota statute, cities are authorized to issue bonds for public safety facilities. The advantage of using bonds is that the city will not have to drain its reserves, which could affect cash flow, according to City Administrator Jim Taddei.

During a public hearing, Alexandria resident Virgil Batesole asked how much the city has in reserves. After Taddei estimated it's between $8 and $9 million, Batesole suggested using at least some of the reserves to pay for the project.

Taddei said that was an option but noted that the state typically recommends cities to maintain enough reserves to operate for six months. In Alexandria's case, this would be about $5 million. He added that the city's bond rating, which can cut interests costs, was recently upgraded because it maintains adequate reserves.

Taddei said that both the bonding and construction markets are highly competitive right now, which should result in favorable bids. "If there's a time to build, now's the time," he said.

Another resident, Orrin Johnson, wanted to know if the city looked into the possibility of obtaining federal grants for the project.

Taddei said that the stimulus program does provide funds for a variety of projects, but police buildings aren't included.

Taddei presented information showing that the city should be able to take on the added debt.

Right now, the city has nearly $1.4 billion of taxable market value, Taddei said. By law, the city's legal debt limit is 3 percent of that, or $41.2 million.

The city's outstanding debt is $2.19 million and the police station debt of $5.1 million would put the city's total debt nearly $34 million under the limit.

The expected operating costs of the new police station - janitorial services, utilities, and insurance - are expected to exceed the $25,000 the city is paying for rent at the LEC.

However, the city is now spending $220,000 annually for dispatching services at the LEC and this cost is expected to drop significantly when it has its own facility. The city plans to use existing staff for daytime dispatching or will hire a dispatcher at an estimated annual cost of $50,000.

The site maintenance costs for landscaping and snow plowing will be handled by the city park and street departments, which are located directly north of the proposed police station site.

Senior living campus

The Knute Nelson Senior Living Campus, LLC, would consist of 139 units - 73 of them independent living units, 30 general assisted living units, 18 enhanced assisted living units and 18 memory care units, according to Mark Anderson, CEO.

In its bond application, Knute Nelson management said the project will expand Knute's current housing and services to broaden the continuum of care for Alexandria area seniors.

"Along with ensuring excellent care and support of Alexandria's aging population, the proposed project will also help meet the city's projected senior housing and services demands," the application stated.

Anderson told the council that in the two and a half months that Knute Nelson has been accepting reservations for the independent living units, 53 percent of them are already reserved.

The $27 million project is expected to start this July and be completed by September 1, 2011.

It is expected to create 30 full-time jobs and 35 part-time positions.

As part of the agreement, Knute Nelson agreed to reimburse the city for "any and all costs and expenses the city may incur" in obtaining the bonds.

The public hearing on the bonds is set to take place during the council's May 24 meeting, which will begin at 7 p.m.

In other action, the council:

--Revised its 2010 budget to reflect the latest cuts in local government aid (LGA).

Alexandria will lose $225,272 in LGA next year under a compromise LGA bill that was drafted by a legislative conference committee and signed by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

It could have been worse, noted Taddei. The governor was proposing cuts that would have cost Alexandria $535,995.

To make up for the cuts, the city approved the following decreases in budgeted expenditures:

General government - $50,795.

Police - $23,580.

Street - $37,592.

Park - $25,158.

Runestone Community Center - $21,159.

Fire department - $8,988.

Stormwater utility - $20,000.

This amounts to $187,272. The rest will be made up through the following increases in budgeted revenue:

Rental registration fees - $1,000.

Club liquor licenses - $500.

On-sale liquor licenses - $4,500.

Excavators' licenses - $500.

Heating licenses - $1,500.

Administration fees - $4,000.

Police state aid - $10,000.

Court fines - $10,000.

Township inspection fees - $5,000.

Dog catcher services - $1,000.

The latest LGA cuts are on top of the cuts the city has already endured, Taddei said. Alexandria's total LGA cuts in 2010 will be $702,187, which is about 37 percent of the original LGA and market value credits the city was certified to receive this year.

Mayor Dan Ness noted that more cuts are possible. "Nothing's guaranteed with the folks in St. Paul," he said.

Council member Cindy Bigger added, "It's getting to the point where it will be people [city employees] next."

--Was informed that Jake's Bikes in Alexandria is organizing a local event in conjunction with the national "Ride of Silence" bike ride to honor those who have been injured on killed while cycling on public roads.

Jake Capistrant, owner of Jake's Bikes, told the council about the event, along with Brad Dumm of Alexandria.

Dumm's son, Dennis Dumm, was killed in a bicycling accident in Minneapolis last May. Last year's Ride of Silence in the Twin Cities was re-routed to go by the place where Dumm's accident happened.

Participants will meet at the U.S. Bank parking lot at 701 Broadway at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19 for a short ceremony. They will then ride down Broadway and out onto the Central Lakes Trail for about an hour-long ride.

The free ride asks cyclists to ride no faster than 12 miles per hour and to remain silent during the ride. Helmets are required. There are no sponsors or registration frees.

The ride, which is held during National Bike Month, aims to raise awareness of motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to the public roadways, according to Capistrant.

--Supported the Alexandria Fire Department's new "Explorer Post" program.

The fire department will mentor between six to eight young men and women - juniors and seniors in high school - who are interested in the field of fire service.

Firefighters will help youth develop leadership traits, master technical firefighting skills, engage in community service and experience the profession of firefighting, according to Fire Chief Jeff Karrow, who addressed the council.

"It is the mission of the AFD Explorer Post to enable young men and women to become responsible individuals by teaching positive character traits, career development, volunteerism, leadership and life skills so they can make ethical choices and achieve their full potential," Karrow wrote in a letter to the council.

The fire department will next contact the Boy Scouts Northern Lights Council, school leaders and students about the program.

--Issued Bug-A-Boo Bay restaurant an on-sale liquor license, pro-rated for the remaining eight months of the year at $3,000.

The council also issued the establishment a Sunday liquor license.

The restaurant, which closed in January, was purchased by Randy Stodola of Mayer, Minnesota and is set to open next month.

--Gave the Vintage Car Club of Alexandria permission to host a cruise night on Thursday, September 23 in conjunction with the Alexandria Downtown Merchants Association's "Fall in Love with Downtown" promotion.

The cruise will take place between 5 and 8 p.m. on Broadway between 2nd and 17th Avenue. Participating vehicles will turn onto the side streets at either end of the route and go around a block in order to get back on Broadway and proceed the other way.

The street doesn't have to be closed to regular traffic, noted car club member Rich Carlson, and every effort will be made to not interfere with the flow of traffic.

--Approved a second and final reading of a new stormwater management ordinance.

The ordinance is designed to reduce flood damage, control run-off and erosion, protect lakes from development, improve water quality and enhance fish and wildlife habitat.

Right now, the city only has a limited section within its ordinances that address drainage. The new stormwater ordinance - which has been in the works for a year and a half - is 15 pages long and creates a whole new chapter in the city code.

Those who violate the new code would face misdemeanor penalties.

--Was informed that the city's application for a Minnesota Small Cities Development Program grant was approved for $396,000.

This will allow the city to help fix up 20 owner-occupied homes.

--Approved the annual report of City Assessor Reed Heidelberger.

The estimated market value of all land and property in the city, which helps determine real estate taxes, was estimated at $1.13 billion in 2009 - a 12 percent increase from the 2008 value, according to the report.

In 2009, 29 single-family homes were built in the city and 231 residential remodeling permits were issued for a total value of $6.15 million.

Commercial and industrial construction totaled $23.7 million and there was one new multi-family construction project valued at just under $8 million.

The city has a nice mix of valuation with residential/agricultural land accounting for 57 percent of the value and commercial property making up about 30 percent, Heidelberger said.

The city's tax capacity continues to expand, increasing from $13.6 million to more than $15 million. So when headlines say that the city's tax levy is increasing by a certain percentage, it doesn't mean residents' property taxes will increase that much, Heidelberger said. Instead, it reflects the fact that the city is drawing from a larger tax base.

The "phase three" orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township brought in 530 new parcels of land and about $120 million worth of value, Heidelberger noted.

The city comprises 22 percent of the total estimated market value of Douglas County, a slight increase from the 19.8 percent it comprised the previous year.

--Approved a recommendation from the city's highway committee to remove some of the four-way stop signs near the building that once housed Washington Elementary School.

Since the building has been sold, the four-way stops are no longer needed, the highway committee determined.

The stop signs will be removed at the northwest and southeast corners of the intersection of Jefferson and 5th Avenue East, allowing through traffic on Jefferson Street, and at the southwest and northeast corners of 5th Avenue East of Kenwood Street, allowing through traffic on 5th Avenue East.

Council member Bigger voted against removing the signs.

--Agreed to participate in a project with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to install railroad crossing signal lights at Birch Avenue in 2014.

The city will cover 10 percent of the project or about $25,000.

--Issued a conditional use permit to Dakota Storage Building to display storage buildings outside.

The property is located at 3109 Highway 29 South, west of the Viking Plaza (the former Tires Plus store).

Several conditions are attached to the permit. A separate sign permit is required. Any exterior lighting must be hooded and directed away from public streets. The display can't exceed five buildings with a range of 10-by-12 feet to 12-by-16 feet. The business needs to have someone staffed there at least 40 hours a week. The sales office must meet the building code. Parking must be adequate to accommodate the public and include handicap spaces.

Bigger voted against issuing the permit. She went to the company's website and looked at its outdoor displays in other communities and they looked "awful," she said.

--Agreed to subordinate a City Housing Assistance Program (CHAP) loan for a homeowner in The Trails Subdivision.

The owner is refinancing her existing mortgage with State Bank and Trust.

The council approved the request 3-1. Bigger voted against it and Owen Miller was unable to attend the meeting.

--Was informed that the council's annual informational meeting with Alexandria Light and Power is set for Monday, May 3 at 5:30 p.m. at the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum.

--Was invited to attend the Douglas County Highway Department's annual public information meeting about upcoming projects. It will take place Wednesday, May 19 at 7 p.m. in the Douglas County Public Works meeting room.

--Authorized the installation of additional slat fencing around the airport.

Several years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation installed slats in the chain-link fence along the southeast corner of the airport to serve as a snow fence, noted Taddei.

He added that since it worked well, MnDOT has now offered to install more slat fencing along the west side of the airport near Highway 27 at no cost.

--Was informed about a new financial management policy that Taddei recently drafted.

Over the years, the city has had unwritten procedures to ensure prudent financial management practices, Taddei said, but he told the council it was important to have those policies in written form.

The 32-page draft covers a variety of fiscal matters - investments, debt, capital improvement programs, revenue, budgetary and financial controls, external audits, risk management and forfeited funds.

The council is expected to take action on the policy at its May 10 meeting.

--Agreed to enter into an engineering agreement with Widseth Smith and Nolting to develop a stormwater pollution prevention plan for the airport.

Taddei said the Environmental Protection Agency is requiring the plan, which is expected to cost $6,500. Sate and federal funds are expected to cover the bulk of the cost.

--Approved the following licenses: tobacco - North Nokomis Market and Bug-A-Boo Bay; taxi - Richard L. Iverson (to add a 1995 Dodge van to his fleet); peddlers - Landmark Diamonds and Precious Metals (for purchasing only at the AmericInn); fireworks sales - Menards, TNT Fireworks inside Target, TNT Fireworks at Walmart parking lot and TNT Fireworks at the vacant lot next to Burger King North.

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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