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Disc golf course returns to Alexandria

Disc golfers rejoice!

You'll soon have a new place in Alexandria to test your skills.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council approved a 10-year agreement with the Alexandria Area YMCA to use a 30-acre piece of its land on the northwest corner of the property for a disc golf course.

Last fall, the city removed the disc golf course at Fillmore-Dean Melton Park after repeated complaints from nearby landowners about players trespassing on their property.

The decision upset the die-hard group of disc golfers who asked the city to find another suitable location.

Unfortunately, none of the property the city owns is big enough to accommodate a course or there are too many residents nearby, according to Bill Thoennes, parks director.

That's what led to the agreement with the YMCA. The YMCA agreed to provide the land and maintenance, and the city will re-install the disc golf equipment there, including baskets, directional signs, tee bases and markers.

The course will still be free to play, as was the case at Fillmore-Dean Melton Park.

"We think this is a win-win situation for all parties involved," Thoennes noted in a letter to the mayor and city council. "The YMCA could utilize some of the property that would not be used. The city of Alexandria would be able to put the equipment to use and form a great partnership with other entities in the community. And finally, residents of Alexandria, both young and old, beginner or experienced, will have the chance to play disc golf again in Alexandria."

The YMCA and the city will plan the layout of the golf course at no out-of-pocket expenses.

If, for some reason, the YMCA decides to eliminate the course, the city would regain possession of the equipment.

"This seems to be a good arrangement for all concerned," said Tom Jacobson, assistant city attorney.

"I couldn't be happier that it's going to be there," noted council member Cindy Bigger.

In other action, the council:

--Gave preliminary approval to establish a new fee of $400 that will be charged to anyone who triggers a fire call because of a natural gas or liquefied petroleum (LP) leak.

The fire department has been called to several such incidents when repair work is being done near gas lines or gas facilities.

Alexandria Fire Chief Jeff Karrow recommended the action.

Council member Owen Miller noted that firefighters put themselves in hazardous situations when responding to gas leaks. He added that the fire department also imposes fees for car fires and those who repeatedly set off false alarms.

--Amended a conditional use permit granted to Interstate Tires in an effort to ensure that the owner, Ron Pankratz, complies with the city's rules.

At a June 21 meeting, the Alexandria Planning Commission took Pankratz to task for repeatedly violating the conditions of his outdoor storage permit, which was initially issued in 2008.

The company, located at 2504 Aga Drive (the old Bellanca building), left many tires out in the open, didn't have them screened properly and trailers that were supposed to be used to transport the tires elsewhere were neither road-ready nor licensed through the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the planning commission said.

The trailers, the commission said, were being used illegally as "dumpsters" for the tires.

The city sent letters to Pankratz detailing the violations in November 2008, December 2009 and May 2010 but the problems continued.

The planning commission considered revoking Pankratz' permit at the June 21 planning during 45 minutes of intense questioning. Chair Ken Ryan said that Pankratz had shown "contempt" for the permitting process.

Pankratz, who has been in the tire business for more than 40 years, acknowledged that mistakes had been made and apologized for his actions, according to the minutes from the meeting. He said he would do whatever was necessary to bring the business into compliance.

The amended permit calls for Pankratz to bring the company into compliance within 10 days. He must remove two of the four trailers at the site, have the two remaining trailers MnDOT-approved and road-ready to haul away tires, and submit a screening plan and inventory list to the city. Any screening must be completed within 30 days of the city's written approval.

The motion to give Pankratz one last chance was approved on a 3-2 vote. Bigger and Dave Benson opposed it. Bigger said that Pankratz had enough chances.

--Agreed to provide a stipend of up to $5,000 for staffing the public access channel, Alexandria Community Television (Channel 7 on Charter Cable), through the rest of the year.

School District 206 employees have been staffing the channel at no cost to the city but in the last year, both the city and school district have increased their use of the channel.

City council meetings are televised and the school provides three to four hours of programming four days per week during the school year. Other community events are televised, including church services.

The city also has public service announcements that can be played on the channel.

More citizens are also submitting DVDs to be broadcast on the channel.

All of these factors have increased staffing time, according to the city's cable TV commission and Assistant City Administrator Marty Schultz.

Kevin Howe, who recently retired as media specialist at Discovery Middle School, has provided nearly all the services for the channel since 1994. He told the city that it now takes about 10 hours a week.

Schultz and Jacobson were authorized to negotiate Howe's rate for the rest of the year. Howe would be considered a contract employee only - not an official part-time city employee.

The agreement calls for a method to ensure accountability for hours billed, the volume of the programming and a review of the equipment used.

The city's cable TV commission had recommended a stipend of up to $10,000 for 2011 as well, but Bigger's motion limited the expenditure to this year. Bigger said next year's stipend should be considered as part of the 2011 budget.

The city will make minor adjustments in existing budget categories to pay this year's stipend, Schultz said.

Schultz said a stipend for 2011 could be taken from the franchise fee agreement with Charter Communications. In 2010, Charter paid the city $85,602.

The city's cable TV commission, which hadn't met in years, is expected to become more active as the public access channel is used more frequently. It will create forms for people to fill out before submitting items to air on the channel.

It will also be scrutinizing the city's franchise agreement with Charter. The city has received several complaints about the company's rates and services.

During the public comment part of the meeting, Virgil Batesole, owner of the Alexson Apartments, said that he and other bulk cable users in town are fed up with Charter's annual rate hikes. He said he is looking into switching to a satellite service, the Dish Network.

Batesole said it's unfair that Charter has a "monopoly" on the cable TV service in Alexandria.

Assistant City Attorney Jacobson noted that the city's franchise agreement with Charter is non-exclusive, meaning that another cable company is free to come into the area to compete against it.

--Approved the 2009 audit of the city's finances conducted by LarsonAllen.

Some highlights: governmental net assets increased to nearly $3.88 million, 6.3 percent more than the previous year.

Business-type net assets increased $98,528, or 14.8 percent, from the prior year.

Overall revenues and transfers in were $18.24 million while overall expenses and transfers out totaled $14.36 million.

The city's net assets (governmental activities) totaled $65.9 million in 2009.

--Heard a report from Elizabeth Wefel about the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and its work during the latest legislative session.

The biggest issue was the budget and cities dodged a bullet, Wefel said. The governor called for $140 million in cuts to city aid and credits in May but the final measure approved by the Legislature amounted to a $52 million permanent cut.

Before the session, Alexandria was certified to receive nearly $1.7 million in local government aid (LGA). The governor unalloted $476,915 of that to balance the budget and the city wound up receiving just over $1.2 million in LGA.

Still, it wasn't as bad as it could have been, Wefel said. Under the governor's budget, Alexandria would have lost an additional $310,746.

LGA continues to play a vital role in city budgets, Wefel said. Without it, Alexandria would have to increase its levy 26 percent to maintain its current spending.

The future of LGA largely rests on who voters put into office this fall, Wefel said. She encouraged the city and local residents to ask candidates where they stand on LGA.

--Called for bids on the South Broadway sanitary sewer project.

The work will extend the sewer on South Broadway from 34th Avenue (the southeast corner of Viking Plaza) about 1,200 feet to the south. It will serve a new housing development, Lakewood Terrace.

The city held a public hearing on the project back on January 26, 2009.

Bids will be opened on July 21 and will be considered at the council's July 26 meeting.

--Called for bids to replace Alexandria Light and Power's 1994 bucket truck.

The expense, estimated at $200,000, is included in ALP's 2010 budget. The ALP board recommended the action at its June 21 meeting.

The truck cab and chassis will be purchased through the state of Minnesota. The bid is to purchase and install aerial equipment on the truck.

--Applauded as council member Owen Miller, representing the American Legion Post 87, presented Bryan Bjorgaard, the city's public works coordinator, with a plaque of appreciation for helping local veteran organizations with their Memorial Day parade. The street department helped set up blockades for the event.

--Approved the following licenses: massage - Renita Kading at Therapeutic Massage at 1103 Broadway; tattoo - Ashley Weisel and Jared Holte at RM Tattoo and Body Piercing at 112 6th Avenue West; peddlers - Fabian Seafood Company; heating - Climate Makers, Inc.; fireworks - Pete's County Market (to sell fireworks inside the store); temporary liquor - VFW Club (for a Sunday, July 25 event).

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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