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What will happen to Alexandria taxes next year?

Here’s a peek into your property tax bill for next year.

At its meeting Monday night, the Alexandria City Council approved a preliminary tax levy increase of 5.9 percent in 2016.

The actual increase for Alexandria taxpayers, however, will be significantly less because the city’s tax capacity has increased, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz. More commercial and residential property is coming into the city, which lightens the tax load for everyone else.

The city cited an example of what will happen on a home valued at $150,000 next year. If the value stays the same, the city’s property tax portion would drop from $651.60 to $645.25. If the value rises 3 percent, taxes on that home would increase 2 percent or about $13.

The city’s total tax capacity next year is estimated at $15.95 million, a 3.9 increase from this year’s $15.35 million. That’s a bigger surge in capacity than this year’s 2.54 percent increase.

City taxes on commercial properties are also expected to stay about the same. An example: Taxes on property valued at $300,000 would increase by just $3, from $2,281 to $2,284.

The council unanimously approved a total certified levy of $6,377,625 for 2016.

The levy, however, can still be adjusted or lowered – but not increased – after the city holds its budget hearing at 7:15 p.m. on Monday, December 14.

In setting the budget, the council placed a priority on efficiency, streets and sidewalks, restoring capital and equipment funds, and balancing a levy increase with a tax capacity increase.

The budget calls for increasing street paving funds from $50,000 to $75,000; increasing capital improvement funds from $100,000 to $125,000, and putting an addtional $100,000 in equipment funds and other levies.

The city plans to hire one additional police officer, a half-year information specialist and create a new paid fire chief position that will also assume fire marshal duties.

City employees will receive a cost of living salary incrase of 1.5 percent and $80,000 has been placed in a performance pay pool.

Big city projects that are planned for next year include resurfacing the airport runway, taxiway and apron; building a training tower for the fire department; installing restrooms at Big Ole Central Park; renovating Knute Nelson Field and improving the locker rooms; several local street projects; and a possible expansion at the Runestone Community Center (RCC). 

The council is proposing a general fund budget of $8,957,688 in 2016 – an increase of 2 percent.

The city’s biggest budget item, police, would increase 6.7 percent, from $2,690,200 to $2,871,600.

The next biggest part of the budget, general government, would increase less than half a percent, from $2,267,845 to $2,270,106.

The street budget would decrease slightly, from $1,512,325 to $1,502,425.

Other proposed budget items include (this year’s figures are in parenthesis): Parks – $722,550 ($726,150), RCC – $657,000 ($653,700), fire protection – $409,630 ($398,830), building department – $233,410 ($227,810), airport – $117,700 ($122,600), Lakes Area Recreation – $77,747 ($77,581), engineering – $50,000 ($40,000), animal control – $25,100 ($25,500), Senior Center – $12,500 ($12,500), and emergency management – $7,900 ($10,835).

The city expects to take in slightly more money next year. Total receipts are estimated at $5,178,043 compared to $5,161,749 this year. The two biggest items are intergovernmental revenue, such as state aid, at $1,724,498, followed by payments from Alexandria Light and Power in lieu of taxes of $1,070,000.

A total of $220,000 in liquor store profits will be transfered into the general fund, an increase of $20,000 from this year.

Schultz provided information that compared Alexandria's tax rate to 22 other similar-sized regional cities in the state. The city's tax rate is 42.43 percent, well below the regional centers' average of 56.53 percent. Alexandria's taxes ranked 10th lowest of the 22 cities.

RCC EXPANSION NEWS

The council continued to talk about a possible expansion and renovation of the Runestone Community Center (RCC).

Another public hearing was held to gather input. Six people spoke in favor of the project, including representatives from the Alexandria Figure Skating Club, the Alexandria Area Hockey Association (AAHA) and the Vikingland Curling Club. Demand is so high for a third sheet of ice, they said, it would quickly fill all the additional ice times that become available.

Bill Bevill, speaking as an Alexandria voter, presented the council with information about the local economic impact an additional sheet of ice would create. He said that year-round, the expansion would generate more than $30.5 million in the community. He said a family, on average, spends about $305 a day in town while attendind tournaments.

Since the last meeting, city staff uncovered more information regarding the project. If the city council pursues the project, it would need to review the city’s 2001 agreement with the Douglas County Agricultural Association about the use of the RCC property during the fair.

Also, staff found out how many people from RCC user groups live in the city. Of the 319 registrants of the Alexandria Area Hockey Association (AAHA), 121 live in the city. Of the 111 registrants in the Alexandria Figure Skating Club 40 live in the city. The AAHA charges non-city residents an additional $25 registration fee and the skating club charges an additional $20 fee. Last year, those additional revenues totaled $6,350.

The capital debt service remaining on a 2008 project that replaced the RCC floor and compressor system will cost $90,000 to $95,000 per year through 2029.

The RCC receives $407,952 through ice rental fees, and nearly half, $179,478, comes from the AAHA.

The 2015 budget for the RCC shows a projected deficit of $116,767. After expansion, the RCC is projected to make a profit of $10,761.

The current proposal is for a $9,917,304 project for renovations and new construction. Officials are estimating that $2 million could be obtained in private contributions.

The council decided to keep the public hearing open for its next meeting. Mayor Sara Carlson encouraged not only user groups to attend but citizens as well.

"The council has a really tough decision to make," Carlson told the crowd of about 40 supporters who attended the meeting. "It has to make a decision that is best for the entire city."

PLANS FOR NEW CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

A plan to build NorthStar Christian Academy north of the Alexandria Area High School west of Pioneer Road received a conditional use permit and permission to split property.

The project has been talked about in the community for months.

Academy leaders plan to build a private educational facility with classrooms, lecture hall/chapel and supporting spaces and facilities.

A permit was needed to create a 40-acre conveyable parcel from an existing 102 acres of vacant land.

Seven conditions were attached to the permit: A separate sign permit is required; off-street parking requirements must be met; the school must connect to utilities, any exterior lighting must be hooded and directed away from public streets; a final drainage plan must be approved; a trail easement must be provided; and access to the site must be located about 310 feet north of the south property line.

The conditions noted that the access road would be abandoned if Pioneer Road becomes connected to a new interchange with Interstate 94.

OUTDOOR STORAGE

The council issued a conditional use permit to Chris Carlson to display docks, boat lifts and water toys in a general business zone at 1207 Highway 29 North, a couple of door down from Angelina's Restaurant.

The site is accessed through a frontage road and will include two display areas, each 15-feet by 40-feet.

Carlson told the planning commission that he plans to open a lake front equipment store that is different from typical dock and lift stores. His store will display new products and will sub out all of the service work.

Inside the store, he will display parts and accessories, lifejackets, winches and weed rollers.

Any exterior lighting must be hooded and directed away from public streets.

BATESOLE ADDITION

A final plat was approved for Batesole Addition located along Agnes Boulevard.

The council approved a preliminary plat for the property this past August.

Council member Virgil Batesole, who owns the property, recused himself from the discussion and the 4-0 vote.

TOBACCO BAN IN PARKS

A new ban on tobacco and e-cigarettes in city parks received preliminary approval from the council.

The new section of city code prohibits the "sale and use of tobacco products and electronic delivery devices at all times in or on all public parks the city has the authority to control regardless of location." The products include cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco and any electronic delivery device. The council added language that could allow it to establish designated smoking areas in the future.

The old policy, enacted in 2005, was not as clear-cut, wasn't mentioned in city ordinances and only designated “tobacco free” zones in certain areas of the parks. Signs also stated that compliance was voluntary.

TISCHER BUILDING PLAN

A plan to demolish the Tischer office building at 113 Third Avenue West and transfer the property to the city moved forward.

The council approved a resolution stating that acquiring the land would have no relationship to the city’s comprehensive plan.

The Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum (MLMM) is proposing to buy the building, remove it and then donate the property to the city at no cost. It would then lease the property from the city. It’s part of the museum’s plan to revitalize and improve North Broadway.

The resolution notes that having the city own the property would allow for better visibility for the museum, which is an economic asset to the community through museum visits and as a location for events.

The total taxes on property in 2015 were $5,414. The city’s share was $1,318. If the city owns the property, it would be tax-exempt.

The council also agreed to accept the donation of land and amended its ground lease with MLMM to include the newly acquired property. The current lease of $1,200 annually will remain the same.

SPECIAL EVENT PERMITS

The council approved the following special event permits:

--Alexandria Fire Department’s “Fill the Boot” fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It will take place at the intersection of Third Avenue and Nokomis Street on October 10 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Volunteer firefighters will be on the sidewalk and side of the road asking for donations when drivers are stopped at red stoplights. The event raised $7,500 last year.

--Alexandria Fire Department’s annual Fire Prevention Week Open House. It will take place on Monday, October 5 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the fire station. A portion of Fillmore Street from Third to Fourth Avenue will be blocked from 4:45 to 7 p.m. to allow a LifeLink III helicopter to land in the area and be on display.

--A Spooky Sprint 5K and one-mile fun run sponsored by the REACH group at the Alexandria Area High School. It’s set for Saturday, October 31 from 9 to 11 a.m., starting at Big Ole Central Park. REACH helps students who are academically struggling for a variety of reasons. Proceeds from the event will go to the school's food shelf, and into a fund to help students with dental and vision needs. A portion will also go toward scholarships.

The council also agreed to a change in the special event permit it gave for the Downtown Merchants Association's Foli Ole Fall Festival at its last meeting. Additional time was allowed for setting up and taking down the tents on October 3.

Council member Todd Jensen noted that in the future, the city should discourage organizers of events from blocking off streets and business access on Broadway when other venues are available, such as Big Ole Central Park.

PLAZA LIQUOR LAND

The city has been contacted by a realtor representing a buyer who is interested in purchasing the tract of city-owned land between Plaza Liquor and the Conlin Furniture lot on 34th Avenue, just south of the Viking Plaza.

The buyer reportedly has a well-established business with 10 or more employees and wants to relocate in that area, which includes about 25,000 square feet of land.

The council directed staff to review the steps necessary to sell the property. Council members want to make sure there are no restrictions in place for selling the land. They also want to protect the interests of the liquor store.  

If the city OKs the transaction, the relocated business could open its doors by April 1.

AIRPORT GRANT AGREEMENT

The council approved a grant agreement with the state for the engineering work on a project to improve the airport runway, taxiway and apron. Federal and state money will cover more than 92 percent of the $84,400 cost. The city's share amounts to $6,614.

SEMIS ON BROADWAY

Jensen said he's heard concerns about semis blocking traffic lanes on Broadway. He said that state laws should prevent that from happening. He made a motion, approved by the council, to refer the matter to the city's planning commission for further study and recommendation.

PROCLAMATIONS

Two proclamations were approved.

October 1 through October 10 was proclaimed Minnesota Manufacturers’ Week in Alexandria. The resolution notes that manufacturing supports more than 805,000 high-skill, high-wage jobs in the state.

Also, October 4-10 was proclaimed as Fire Prevention Week in Alexandria. Residents were urged to install smoke alarms in every bedroom, outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home. Home fires killed more than 2,755 people in the U.S. in 2013.

This year’s fire prevention theme is “Hear the beep where you sleep. Every bedroom needs a working smoke alarm.”

CHARTER CHANGES

The council gave final approval to delete two sections in the city’s Charter. They eliminate some of the language in the Charter that spells out how those departments are structured.

The change will not eliminate those departments. Another section of the charter states that the fire and airport departments will remain.

TAXI CAB LICENSES

The following taxi cab driver licenses were approved – Mackenzy Packa for Roadrunner Taxi, Daryl Sharp for Jerry’s Taxi, and Rodney Jobe for Midwest Taxi.

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.  

(320) 763-1236
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