The fight to recover from the lingering economic impact of COVID-19 received reinforcement at Monday night’s Alexandria City Council meeting.

The council agreed to partner with Explore Alexandria Tourism to use up to $10,000 for a holiday shopping recovery marketing campaign. The money will come from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, that were given to the city and county.

The campaign will affirm to consumers that Alexandria area stores are open for business and COVID-19 protocols are in place, said James Feist, Explore Alexandria Tourism director. The primary focus will be on regional consumers within a 50-mile radius of Alexandria, such as Benson, Morris and Fergus Falls and will target “experience-seeking” shoppers.

A secondary consumer group will also be included in the campaign – those living beyond the 50-mile radius, including communities along Interstate 94 and into the western suburbs of the Twin Cities.

The campaign will be conducted from the first week of November through Dec. 29.

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Also, help is also on the way for those struggling to pay their utility bills during COVID-19.

The council approved a grant agreement between the city and West Central Minnesota Communities Action that will use CARES Act grants to help customers of ALP Utilities who have past-due balances.

The resolution authorized up to $58,000 in CARES Act funds. Here’s how it will work:

ALP will send WCMCA a specific list of customers that qualify for the funds. Only ALP customers who are citizens of the city will qualify.

ALP will contact the customers on the list to inform them of the program.

Customers will contact WCMCA and answer a questionnaire to verify the financial impact COVID-19 has had on them.

WCMCA will request an updated customer billing from ALP Utilities to verify the amount owed, and WCMCA will make payment directly to ALP.

The city received just over $1 million through the CARES Act in July that used a formula put in place by Gov. Tim Walz.

The council approved several other CARES Act funding at Monday’s meeting, including expenditures of $85,720 in September and $34,511 in August. Most of the money, nearly $93,000 was used for public health expenses – providing and updating telework capabilities for city staff to work from home; personal protection equipment costs; and providing paid sick and paid family and medical leave.

City buys equipment to stop COVID-19

It will soon be harder for COVID-19 to spread in city-owned buildings in Alexandria.

The council accepted a quote of $43,956 to purchase touchless faucets and toilets in city facilities.

The equipment will be installed by the city in all city facilities, including City Hall, the Runestone Community Center, the police department and other buildings.

The federal government will pick up the cost because the expenditures qualify as eligible expenses of the CARES Act.

The touchless faucets and toilets from Dakota Supply Group will reduce the potential for surface transmission of COVID-19 to city workers and the public, according to city officials. The city will continue to regularly disinfect those areas.

The council didn’t proceed with a $67,800 quote for ionization filters from Apex Facility Solutions. Council member Roger Thalman’s motion to accept the quote failed when it wasn’t seconded.The system would not have killed the COVID-19 virus but it would have rendered it unable to attach to anyone, according to the company.

In another COVID-19 related action, the council agreed to replace the front customer counter at Downtown Liquors.

The new counter, estimated to cost $10,821, will allow the store to maintain 6-foot distances between staff and consumers making purchases, said Andy Mellgren, director of liquor operations. It will also add an area for a third cash register to be used for curbside orders or when needed, he said.

Council, mayor salaries set

The Alexandria mayor and city council members are on track to receive a 1.5% salary bump on Jan. 1, 2021, and another 1.5% percent increase on Jan. 1, 2022.

The council gave preliminary approval to set the salary of mayor, currently at $9,744, to $9,890 in 2021 and to $10,038 in 2022.

Council member salaries will rise from $7,510 to $7,623 in 2021 and to $7,737 in 2022.

Council member Todd Jensen voted against the increases.

The mayor and council members will also receive $50 for each special meeting or emergency meeting they attend.

The salary amounts are included in the city’s 2021 preliminary budget.

Fighting carp

The council is moving forward with a plan to install a carp barrier on Lake Agnes to improve water quality.

It approved a memorandum of understanding with Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District to install the barrier adjacent to the city’s public access on Agnes Boulevard. This would prevent carp from getting into Lake Winona where ALASD discharges its treated wastewater.

The cost of the barrier is estimated to be $162,675.

Water quality experts have said that an important factor in the phosphorus levels in lakes Winona, Henry, and Agnes is the presence of carp. Carp are bottom-feeders and stir up sediment on the bottom of the lake, which releases phosphorus into the water.

ALASD recently completed alum treatments on Lake Agnes as part of a state grant it received for lake management. The installation of the carp barrier is the next step in the lake management process.

The carp barrier will require ongoing maintenance. Under the memorandum, ALASD agreed to undertake the maintenance in 2021 and 2022, and the city agreed to do the maintenance beginning in 2023.

The only financial impact to the city would be time by staff for maintenance. For now, the city estimates that it will involve between 12 and 20 hours of staff time annually .

Street project updates

City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven provided an update of city street and utility projects:

17th Avenue and Cedar. The final lift of pavement has been placed. Only minor items remain.

Irving Street. Sidewalk installation is complete. The paving was completed last week.

Eighth Avenue. All underground utilities are complete. The contractor is placing a granular base. Concrete work will start next week.

Woodland Park Drive. The milling of the existing pavement is complete. The underground work is scheduled to start this week.

Darling Avenue/Maple Street. The final lift of pavement has been placed. Only minor items remain.

Third Avenue and Kenwood demonstration project. The final phase of this project started on Sept. 24 and will run until this week. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is scheduling removals between Oct. 22-27 (weather permitting).