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Council briefed on how goals for small cities 'blew apart' at Legislature

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities had a lofty list of goals it hoped the Legislature would act on during the last session.

The coalition wanted legislators to restore local government aid (LGA) to its 2002 funding levels; enact economic development programs that supported workforce housing, public infrastructure and broadband; approve more funding for water and wastewater initiatives; and finally pass a comprehensive transportation funding package.

With a state budget surplus of $900 million, the coalition was confident progress would be made this session.

But, in the words of Elizabeth Wefel, a CGMC representative who talked to the Alexandria City Council at its Monday night meeting, everything "sort of blew apart” by session’s end.

There was no transportation agreement. The bonding bill failed in the chaotic last minutes of the session and although a tax bill passed by a wide margin, Gov. Mark Dayton pocket-vetoed it because it contained a $100 million drafting error.

What went wrong? Concerns over an economic downturn made lawmakers cautious, Wefel said, and the parties disagreed about what to do.

The GOP favored using the surplus for tax cuts and transportation funding while the DFL supported one-time spending and finding new dollars for transportation.

The vetoed tax bill would have provided Alexandria with $1,526,000 in LGA in 2017, an increase of 3.6 percent from this year’s allocation but considerably less than the CGMC’s proposal that would have provided $1,592,000.

Right now, LGA funding will remain flat statewide at $519 million unless a new tax bill is signed.

The CGMC also supported a tax bill provision that would help small businesses in Greater Minnesota by excluding the first $100,000 in value from state commercial-industrial (C/I) property tax. For a low-value C/I property in Alexandria of $152,200, this would have dropped taxes from $1,116 to $386, Wefel said.

From the coalition’s perspective, Wefel listed lessons that could be learned from the session:

--Active lobbying by CGMC members made a big difference in LGA and other issues.

--A significant effort will continue to be needed to make progress on LGA.

--Aggressive media efforts continue to be effective.

--Environmental programs show that progress sometimes takes years.

Council member Bobbie Osterberg asked what the coalition's strategy will be for the 2017 session. Wefel said that LGA will again be a top priority, along with clean water and providing infrastructure funding.

BELLANCA BUILDING AGREEMENT TABLED

The council tabled a revised proposal involving the old Bellanca Aircraft building near the airport.

At its last meeting, the council declined to take action on a proposal from the owner of the building, Bay Cliff Enterprises. It wanted to give the city the building at its appraised value on the property it had been leasing from the city. The lease expired on May 15, 2016.

In return, Bay Cliff wanted the city to execute a new 20-year lease before accepting the contribution.

The revised agreement removes the request for a 20-year lease, allows the city to gain possession of the building, which needs repairs, and also removes Bay Cliff’s right of first refusal that was contained in the current 1987 lease.

City Attorney Tom Jacobson asked for more time to review the new proposal, which he received just two and a half hours before the meeting.

There are two current tenants in the building, Alexandria Aircraft and Opportunity Enterprises.

The council expects to make a decision about the agreement at its July 25 meeting.

ROSEWOOD LANE PUD

The council approved a second and final reading of an ordinance to rezone areas along Rosewood Lane to allow for a planned unit development (PUD).

The developer, Unique Construction, LLC of Fergus Falls plans to build 160 new apartment units in what used to be a gravel pit in east Alexandria.

The PUD includes market-rate general occupancy apartments, income-restricted apartments, attached townhomes and accessory uses.

The property consists of 13.6 acres in a 29-acre parcel of land west of Rosewood Lane and a new public road would connect with both Brookdale Drive and Melody Lane in a sideways horseshoe configuration.

The development is planned to take place in phases over the next six years.

The PUD was approved with 11 conditions. Some highlights: The final PUD application must be submitted before each phase starts; building and stormwater permits are required; two hard-surfaced, off-street stalls per unit are required; curb and gutter are required in all parking and driving areas; and proper evidence of title must be submitted.

Unique Construction is also requesting tax increment financing (TIF) to help pay for development costs of the first phase of the project – a $2 million three-story, 36-unit apartment building just to the east of Woodland Elementary School.

A TIF hearing will take place at the council’s meeting on Monday, Aug. 8 at 7: 15 p.m.

ROSEWOOD LANE EXTENSION

The council voted 4-1 to award a bid of $322,647 from Central Specialties to extend the reclamation work on Rosewood Lane from Melody Lane to County Road 23.

The total bid, with engineering, amounts to $359,409, well below the city's estimate of $424,803.

The project will repave the road similar to the proposed repaving of Rosewood Lane from Sixth Ave. to Melody Lane.

The project was initally budgeted for 2020 but the council decided to pursue the project after receiving a favorable bid from Central Specialties on the first part of the reclamation work.

At its June 13 meeting, the council took action to extend the project using a change-order process but it later found out that it couldn't pay for the project that way, so it rescinded the action and called for bids.

The low bid came in about $12,000 more than the change-order option.

Council member Bob Kuhlman voted aganst the bid. He was against "fast-tracking" the project ahead of other projects in the capital improvement fund.

Osterberg agreed that other projects were scheduled to be completed first but added that none of those projects already had the engineering work completed so they could not be completed this year.

The city will bond for the local street reconstruction portion of the work later this summer. Last August, the city determined the street bonding debt for projects on Victoria Heights, Kenwood Drive, Eighth Ave. and Rosewood Lane would be between $1.5 and $2 million, without the additional improvements on Rosewood Lane.

Now, with the extension work, the total costs of all the projects will amount to $1.82 million.

MOMENTS OF SILENCE

At the start of the meeting, council members and those attending observed a moment of silence for former Mayor Dan Ness, who passed away from leukemia on July 1. Ness served as mayor from 2001 to 2012.

Toward the end of the meeting, the council asked for a moment of silence to remember all those killed in recent shootings in the Twin Cities and Dallas, Texas.

BUD GRANT DAY

The council approved a proclamation designating July 22 as Bud Grant Day. The former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings will be signing autographs at the “Party in the Street event on Alexandria’s Broadway on July 22.

Grant was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994 after leading the Vikings to four Super Bowls and 11 division title during his 18 seasons at the helm.

TINY HOMES

The council voted to opt out of a new state law that gives the state the authority to permit and regulate temporary family health care dwellings within the city.

Referred to as “tiny homes” or “granny pods,” the homes are 300 square feet or less.

If the city hadn't decided to opt out, the city would have had to start issuing permits for the homes on Sept. 1.

If there is a demand for such housing in the city, the council could decide at a later date whether it wants to "opt in" to the new law, according to City Planner Mike Weber.

REVOLVING LOAN

The council approved a Downtown Redevelopment Revolving Loan Fund request from Pam Botker, owner of the building that houses Creative Touch Gallery at 516 Broadway.

She will receive a $5,000 loan to repair an awning in front of the building. The loan will be repaid over four years at an interest rate of 1 percent.

CHURCH BLOCK PARTY

The Church of St. Mary received a special event permit for its annual block party to be held at the Runestone Community Center on Sept. 10 from noon to 10 p.m. and Sept. 11 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

In related action, the council also issued the church a temporary on-sale liquor license for the event.

AGREEMENT FOR CITY ADVISOR SERVICES

The Securities and Exchange Commission now requires that municipal advisors and cities document their existing relationship.

It ensures that advisors are transparent with clients regarding their fees, services, conflicts of interest and how the agreement can be terminated.

The council approved an agreement with its bonding consultant, Springsted Inc. The hourly rates for non-debt issuance related services ranges from $75 to $260, depending on the title of the person providing the service. Fees for bond transaction services are based on the size of the bond. The agreement with Springsted has a cancellation provision that requires 30 days notice by either party.

In a related action, the council made amendments to its financial management policy.

The majority of the changes removed pages of IRS code and Build America Bonds within the policy. It’s unnecessary to have such detail in the policy, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz.

Instead of reciting pages of current IRS code, a sentence was added stating that the city will follow all IRS regulations regarding tax exempt bonds.

AIRPORT PROJECT AGREEMENT

The council approved an agreement with TKDA in St. Paul to provide engineering services for the airport overlay project.

TKDA will receive $127,100.

The total cost of the project is $1.6 million. Costs will be divided among the federal government (84 percent), state (9 percent) and city (7 percent).

It’s possible that the federal and state share of the funding could be reduced for the non-runway/taxiway portion of the project.

If that happens, the council could decide to only award the runway/taxiway portion of the project.

ELECTION JUDGES

The council appointed 58 individuals to serve as election judges for the Aug. 9 primary and the Nov. 8 general election. All 58 recently completed the required training to serve as election judges.

Osterberg noted that there is always room for more election judges. She encouraged anyone who is interested to contact City Hall.

LICENSES APPROVED

The following licenses were approved: fireworks/pyrotechnics – Viking Speedway for an Aug. 20 event; charitable gambling – Chain of Lakes Ducks Unlimited to sell raffles on Sept. 9.

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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