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New firefighting equipment could save lives

Alexandria firefighters will soon have new equipment that could save lives.

The council authorized Fire Chief Jeff Karrow to get quotes for a battery-powered "Jaws of Life" tool to pry open doors of vehicles damaged in crashes or to rescue people trapped inside a residence.

Firefighters use the extrication equipment about 30 times a year.

The "eDraulic" rescue system, which would include a cutter, spreader and ram, is expected to cost about $32,000. It would replace existing equipment.

Karrow is also seeking thermal imaging cameras that would replace a camera that's 16 years old and lacks the technology of the new models, he said. The cameras help firefighters find not only the hot spots in a burning building but also those who are still inside.

The old camera has only about 10 minutes of battery power while the new units last four to six hours. The newer cameras also have color pixation starting at 300 degrees, faster refresh rates and image enhancement. They're also lighter and more user friendly, said Karrow.

The new cameras also have programmable modes for outdoor search and rescue for ground services. Karrow said Alexandria firefighters have trained with the new cameras and were impressed.

"This opened up our eyes to the potential of this type of tool," Karrow said in a memo to the council. "It would become standard operating gear to take the cameras in and make searches faster and entry/suppression safer."

The package, estimated to cost $14,229 after trade-in of the current cameras, includes two interior cameras, two smaller cameras for operations and safety, truck chargers and lanyards to attach the cameras to firefighters' protective clothing.

Tax break extended for Jefferson site

A tax incentive to develop a prime piece of property in Alexandria — the site of the old Jefferson High School — will be extended until 2023.

A tax increment financing district was established in 2015 to help the developer, Brent Smith, with his plans to build a wellness center at the site that could include chiropractic care, mental health services and acupuncture.

Smith is working with Alomere Health and the Alexandria Technical and Community College on the project. There was also discussion about building new Lakes Area Recreation facilities on the property but so far, the property is vacant.

The original TIF agreement called for the project to be completed by 2020. The council approved a special law that will extend the existing TIF through 2023. The law, known as the "five-year rule" was sponsored by state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, in the 2019 legislative session.

The property has "great potential" to strengthen the community and add jobs in health care and educational services, according to City Administrator Marty Schultz.

The tax increment financing extension does not lengthen the overall duration of the TIF district, which is scheduled to expire in 2044, but extends the time frame for when construction must be completed.

Session impact

The legislative session that wrapped up last month will impact the city and region, according to Schultz. He outlined a few key results:

• A $26 million increase in local government aid will result in the city receiving about $33,929 more in aid than the previous law.

• A total of $750,000 will be divided among six initiative foundations for child care provider training and business assistance.

• A total of $750,000 was allocated for child care grants, of which 60 percent must go to Greater Minnesota.

• A total of $40 million was allocated for rural broadband; $18 million for clean water infrastructure grants; $3.5 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Program; and $1.35 million for the Greater Minnesota Job Training Incentive Program.

• The transportation bill included no new funding for the Municipal State Aid Streets or the Corridors of Commerce programs.

• A total of $25 million in additional funding over the next biennium will go toward housing programs administered by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

• In the presidential primary next year, the presidential party choice of registered voters will only be available to the political parties. In the past, any registered voter could have requested the party identification of a voter.

Veterans Memorial Park restroom

The council authorized the city attorney and staff to work with the Veterans Memorial Committee on an agreement to make a proposed new restroom at the memorial park a city project.

The cost of the restroom is estimated at $167,024.

Russ Oorlog, vice president of the committee gave an update about the park, which is being built on near Broadway and Eighth Avenue. He said a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 2 at 11 a.m. and construction will begin.

"This is the happiest day of my life," Oorlog told the council. "Thank you for what you did for us."

"We are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," said Gabe Pipo, committee president.

Loan for commercial project

Big improvements are planned for the Alex Vision Source and Bremer Bank property at 2210 Highway 29 South.

The council approved a request to use $68,250 from its Revolving Loan Fund to help pay for the $682,000 project. It will replace and landscape the parking lot, replace original furnaces and air conditioning units, and renovate and remodel the entire building, which was built in 1994.

Alex Vision Source, owned by Dr. LaMar Gunnarson and Kay Gunnarson, are purchasing the property from Bremer Bank. They agreed to pay back the revolving loan over 15 years at an interest rate of 4.6 percent.

Two new jobs will be added to the existing staff at Alex Vision Source.

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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