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City pursues joint law enforcement center; cost: $5.6 million

The process of building a city-county law enforcement center (LEC) next to a new Douglas County jail inched ahead Monday night. After studying preliminary cost estimates, the Alexandria City Council voted 5-0 to proceed with "phase two" of the pr...

The process of building a city-county law enforcement center (LEC) next to a new Douglas County jail inched ahead Monday night.

After studying preliminary cost estimates, the Alexandria City Council voted 5-0 to proceed with "phase two" of the project - preparing the plans, drawings and specifications. The action is contingent on approval from the Douglas County Board.

The total cost of the project, based primarily on square footage at this point, is estimated at $11.95 million. The city's share would amount to $5,616,000; Douglas County would have to approve the rest.

City and county officials on a joint LEC task force have been meeting for several months reviewing architectural proposals and whittling down the square footage.

The costs were based on a 57,500 square-foot facility. It would include 6,272 square feet of shared space for a training room with storage, a lobby area, interview rooms, restrooms, break room, a fitness/training room and more.

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The city's portion of the LEC would include rooms for briefings, interviews, records, case management, evidence processing and storage, lockers, restrooms, conferences, training, parking garage and other needs. It would also include office space for 37 employees, 10 more than it has now.

Police Chief Rick Wyffels said the facility would meet the city's needs for at least 20 years and has room for expansion.

If the county does not agree to proceed with its part of the project, the city may have to build a stand-alone police department on its own, said Wyffels, who is a member of the LEC task force. "We've grossly outgrown our current facility," Wyffels said. "We have to do something."

The police department moved from city hall to the current LEC within the old Central Junior High School building 20 years ago, leasing the space from the county. The move was supposed to a temporary 10-year fix but the police department "made do" with it for much longer, Wyffels said.

Council members expressed reluctance over the cost. "Chief, is this a good deal for us?" asked council member Cindy Bigger.

"That's a good question," Wyffels said. He added that although he didn't know how the cost would compare to the city building a police department facility on its own, he said he did know that the task force worked "very hard" on the joint LEC plan for a long time to come up with a reasonable, practical plan that reduced square footage as much as possible.

The total cost of the project includes fees, moving expenses, contingencies, furniture allowance and other costs.

How much would it cost taxpayers? City Administrator Jim Taddei broke down the costs, assuming the project moves ahead. Based on the city taking out a 20-year loan for the project at a 4 percent interest rate, the city would need to increase its levy 9.1 percent. Under the agreement with the county, however, the city would no longer have to pay about $200,000 a year for law enforcement dispatching. This would reduce the levy increase to roughly 4.7 percent, Taddei said.

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Those numbers could change significantly depending on how bids would come in for the construction and financing - when and if the city and county agree to call for bids.

A joint LEC wasn't the only building project on Monday's agenda.

The council accepted a low bid of $1,278,425 for a new park department building that will be located adjacent to the city's street department garage near Agnes Boulevard. The low bid, awarded to KUE Contractors Inc., of Watkins, came in about 15 percent less than the city's estimate of $1.5 million.

Plans call for a building 200-feet long and 100-feet wide.

The city's existing park department building along 3rd Avenue West is being demolished so the site can house the new law enforcement center next to the county jail. The demolition cost was not included in the bid or estimate of the project.

Based on a 20-year loan with a 4 percent interest rate, the project, with contingencies and other expenses, will cost the city about $103,410 per year, which would result in a tax levy increase of roughly 2.3 percent, according to Taddei.

The project is expected to start immediately and be completed by mid-January.

Council members were disappointed that no local companies were listed as subcontractors in KUE's bid. The city was told that several local companies were given the opportunity to bid for the work but they either declined or their bids were too high.

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Mayor Dan Ness wanted to prevent out-of-town companies from putting up signs taking credit for the work on the park building. He thought the signs would fuel people's misconception that the city likes to hire out-of-town companies for local projects.

City Attorney John Lervick noted that Minnesota law clearly states that municipalities must award contracts to the lowest responsible bidder, no matter where they are from. Ness remarked that unfortunately, not enough people are aware of that fact.

Lervick said that it's probably too late to do anything about the signs for this project because that wasn't included in the bid specifications. He said he would look into it, however. He added that in the future, the city could, as part of the bid, request companies to limit the number of signs they place on construction sites.

Bigger said she had no problems with the companies placing signs. "They got the bid - good for them," she said.

In other action, the council:

--Referred a proposal to study the condition of four city buildings back to the city's budget committee.

ORB Management of Alexandria has been meeting with city officials about reviewing City Hall, the Runestone Community Center (RCC), the Alexandria Airport arrival/departure building and the street department building.

For $5,850, ORB offered to perform a general walk-through of the buildings and assess them for a variety of conditions - mechanical, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing, sprinkler system, roofing and building structure. ORB said this "phase one" study could be followed later by a more detailed study of the needed repairs and how much they would cost.

City council members expressed reluctance about paying for a walk-through that they suspected would reveal problems their department heads were already aware of. They wanted to combine more of the phases, or as council member Sara Carlson put it, "get more bang for the buck."

Mayor Ness noted that having trained experts examine the buildings would catch problems in their infancy, saving the city money down the road.

Assistant City Administrator Marty Schultz said he would meet with department heads, ORB and the budget committee to explore the options.

--Referred a proposal to adopt a $25 fee for "special use vehicles" back to its legislative committee.

The city adopted an ordinance in December 2005 that allowed limited uses of special vehicles, such as golf carts, Schultz noted. The city's ordinance spells out where such vehicles are allowed and requires owners to have a permit but there is no permit form or fee associated with it.

Council members asked several questions about the ordinance including:

How would people drive the golf carts on city streets that are designated for them? Chief Wyffels said they'd drive them just like bicycles - in the road, with traffic.

Does the city have to allow the golf carts or can it adopt more strict measures, such as requiring seat belts, and turn signals? Lervick noted that their use is allowed under state law and the city can't create more stringent limitations. It can, however, require the vehicles to display a "slow vehicle" sign and a rear-view mirror. Owners must also have a valid driver's license, insurance and proof that they can physically operate such a vehicle.

Who would make sure that golf cart drivers have the proper permit? Police officers would enforce the law as they do other traffic violations, said Wyffels. He suggested that the permits that are required to be displayed on such vehicles should be color-coded so officers would know they were up to date.

Would this create problems of dozens of golf carts on city streets? Lervick said he didn't expect a lot of applications for this type of driving. He said he's only aware of one request in the past.

The council voted to send the matter back to the legislative committee to see if the ordinance could be clarified.

--Decided to use the city's commercial revolving loan fund to finance an expansion and improvements at the Plaza Liquor Store. The $425,000 loan will be paid back over 15 years at an interest rate of 3 percent.

--Awarded the contract for municipal state aid and local street improvement projects to Central Specialties of Alexandria.

The company submitted the lowest bid of $217,868. To save costs, the city decided to hold off on one planned street improvement - Hawthorne Street between 5th and 9th Avenue.

--Awarded the Dakota Street improvement project to Central Specialties of Alexandria. Its bid of $1,475,996 was the lowest of the seven submitted and well below the city's estimate of $1.9 million. The bid was awarded contingent on approval of federal funding.

--Ordered a feasibility study to find out how much it would cost to extend city sewer to Alexandria Recreational Vehicles at 609 North Nokomis Street. The property is one of those rare pockets in the city that has never been part of the sewer system.

The study was ordered on the condition that city staff would first talk to the property owner, Nathan Pring, and explain that he would be solely responsible for covering the costs of the project, including the study.

--Agreed to include an area in Ridgewood Drive and Autumn Drive in the city's phase three, part 1A and 1B, waterline extension project. The waterline is being extended as part of the city's orderly annexation agreement with Alexandria Township.

--Approved a preliminary reading to set the contractor licensing fee at $125 for a new license and $75 for a renewal.

--Approved the second and final reading of a request to vacate a portion of a platted but never used 10-foot long utility easement in Franzen's Westwood Addition, just west of the intersection of Westwood Drive and Winona Drive/Lark Street. This will allow the land to be conveyed so a garage addition can be built by Tony Primus.

--Approved a request from the Lakes Area Humane Society to use Big Ole Park for its fall fundraiser, the Alexandria 5K/10K Run on Saturday, September 19.

The 10K run will start at 7 a.m., followed by the 5K at 7:30 a.m., a one-mile dog walk at 8:30 a.m. and a 1K kids' run at 8:45 a.m. Registration for events starts at 6:45 a.m.

--Received an update from the West Central Initiative (WCI) concerning its request for city funding. The city wanted to know how much WCI supports businesses in Alexandria.

According to a letter from Tom McSparron, WCI donor services officer, WCI has given $514,945 in grants and $555,939 in loans in Alexandria since 2005.

--Agreed to enter into an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for the Safe and Sober program this fall.

The Alexandria Police Department requested the action.

--Scheduled a public hearing to discuss the city's proposed comprehensive storm water management plan on Monday, August 3 at 6 p.m. A work session will follow the hearing. Informational meetings/open houses are set with city staff and a consultant on July 14 at 5:30 and 6:30 p.m.

--Hired LarsonAllen to conduct the 2009 audits for Alexandria Light and Power, Plaza Liquor, Downtown Liquor and city government funds. The total cost is $45,100, up slightly from the 2008 cost of $44,100. The city also authorized the firm to conduct an additional audit if one is required by the federal government. This would amount to between $3,500 and $5,500.

--Was informed that Xcel Energy and Great River Energy will hold an open house and informational meeting to discuss a proposed new transmission line between Fargo and St. Cloud. It will take place on July 29 at the Broadway Ballroom from 5 to 8 p.m.

--Approved the following licenses: heating - Minnetonka Plumbing, Inc., Corporate Mechanical Inc., L & O Plumbing and Heating, Inc., Thelen Heating and Roofing, Inc.; excavating - Nelson O'Neill, Donald Eblen, LLC, Anderson Excavating; massage - Heidi Swanson at 614 Hawthorne; peddlers - THR & Associates (buying precious metals at Holiday Inn from July 14-19); temporary on-sale liquor license - Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum (for an August 28 event).

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIA CITY COUNCIL
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