The Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority set its tax levy for 2022 at $286,674 – $19,040 less than the state’s maximum amount allows.

The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved the levy at its Sept. 13 meeting. Under state law, HRAs are allowed to levy up to .0185 of the taxable market value in their city.

The levy won't impact the city's budget. It will appear as a separate line item on property tax statements.

Jeff Hess, executive director of the Alexandria HRA, offered some highlights from 2021:

Single family home construction. The HRA built and sold two single-family homes and currently has two additional homes under construction that will be marketed in early spring.

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The Launchpad Program. In partnership with the West Central Communities Action, the HRA developed a two-unit townhome and leased it back to WCCA to provide short-term housing for those facing barriers, which could lead to homelessness.

Viking Towers. The high-rise is undergoing a complete plumbing and heating renovation that began in June 2020. The project grew from $2.2 million to nearly $2.8 million. The 13-month project was complex and posed a bit of a hardship for those living there but the end result will be lower operating expenses, greater energy efficiency and a healthier living environment for tenants. Hess said it’s now 99.9% complete and vacant units are being rented to new tenants.

Central Lakes Apartments. The Alexandria HRA and DW Jones, Inc., finished construction this past April. The project was funded in part by the Minnesota Housing Agency’s Workforce Housing Program that provided $1 million to offset building expenses. It consists of 37 units, 30 of them market rate units and seven that are income based and assisted with tax increment financing. The project was fully leased within 30 days of opening, which is “highly unusual and shows a continued demand for such housing in Alexandria,” noted Hess.

Twenty08 Apartments. This will be a 35 to 37 unit apartment adjacent to the Central Lakes Apartments and if a housing application is approved, it will be subsidized through state tax credits with rent and income restrictions.

Alexandria Housing Trust Fund. Requests for funding continue to grow. Since the start of the year, the HRA has administered $75,083 in funding to help renovate rental properties and provide homebuyers assistance.

The Alexandria HRA 2022 budget is proposed at $286,674, an increase of 5.6% from this year’s budget of $271,346.

Following are other items from the Sept. 13 meeting that were not included in other council stories.

Committee considers closing street for Halloween

Is there a way to make Douglas Street safer for the hundreds of children who trick-or-treat there every Halloween?

Last year, during the pandemic, more than 800 kids came to one Douglas Street resident's house, according to an email sent to the city. Another resident with a clicker reportedly counted more than 2,200.

The city’s Highway Committee received a request from a resident on Douglas Street to close the street between Eighth Avenue and 13th Avenue between 4 and 7 p.m. on Halloween night. The resident said the street gets very busy and that there are several close-calls with pedestrians every Halloween.

The committee recommended not to close the road. It listed several reasons – neither the street department or the police department has adequate staff to set up and monitor this closure; closing the street may have the opposite desired effect and attract more children to the neighborhood; parents dropping off children will add to traffic on the adjacent streets; other neighborhoods throughout the city may also request Halloween street closures; and 10th Avenue is a busy street and the most direct access to Bethany Home.

The council typically follows the recommendations from the highway committee, but not this time. Council member Andrew Wiener, a resident of Douglas Street himself, said he's been contacted by several constituents who are concerned about all the traffic and asked if there was another way to address it, perhaps by having residents obtain a special event permit so the street could be barricaded.

Mayor Bobbie Osterberg said the city should take a "deep dive" into the issue and explore other options, noting there is still time to come up with a plan before Halloween. "I'd like to have a solution for the whole community," she said.

Other Highway Committee items:

  • County Road speed concern. The city received a request from a resident on County Road 46 near Nevada Street to lower the speed limit on this section of the highway. The committee recommended no change at this time. Staff will set up the speed trailer to monitor the speed and will request extra enforcement of the speed limit through this area.

  • Detour route for County Road 45 and County Road 82 (YMCA) roundabout construction. Douglas County will be constructing a roundabout at the intersection of those roads next year. The committee concurred with the route. Three-way stop signs and "Road Closed" signs will be installed along the detour route at the intersections.

  • Private use of public right-of-way. Staff presented a plan for a house on Bay Lane that included a private storm sewer crossing the public right-of-way in order to provide stormwater retention on a separate lot across the street from the residential lot. This application has since been withdrawn. The highway committee reviewed this plan and stated their opposition to the installation of privately owned items in the public right-of-way.

  • Cost sharing with Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District for Jefferson Street wear course associated with the 2022 18th Avenue reconstruction project. The proposed cost sharing arrangement is a good deal for both the city and ALASD because ALASD gets the benefit of some cost sharing and the city gets a fully reconstructed street for the cost of an overlay. The estimated cost of the wear course is $28,425. Council member Bill Franzen said the city should complete more of the project while the street is being reconstructed. "Why disrupt the road twice?" he asked. The council approved Franzen's motion to table taking action until a bigger project is considered.

  • Request from a resident for a parking lot at Summer Meadows Park. There is currently a curb cut but no parking lot from Scenic Heights Road to Summer Meadows Park. There are several options for providing parking at this location including using city street and park department staff to install a wood chip parking area. The council directed staff to refer this issue to the Park Board for its consideration.

City reimbursed for ‘overpriced’ vehicles

The city will soon be reimbursed $948.36 for purchasing vehicles that were overpriced, according to a court settlement.

In 2019, a lawsuit was filed against Nelson Auto in Fergus Falls for allegedly overcharging numerous state entities that bought vehicles through the dealership under its state bidding contract, City Attorney Tom Jacobson told the council.

The case was settled and the settlement calls for each purchasing entity to be reimbursed $158.06 for each overcharged vehicle.

The city has the right to object to its portion of the settlement, but if it decided to do that, it would have to attempt to recover the overcharges on its own, Jacobson said.

The money will be placed in the city’s police equipment fund.

Two appointed to Cultural Inclusiveness Committee

Two new members were appointed to fill vacancies in the city’s Cultural Inclusiveness Committee.

They are Nicole Mace and Carly Erickson.

According to city ordinance, the committee serves as an advisory body to the council in “matters intended to develop and implement inclusive policies, programs and practices to foster a community which is welcoming, vibrant and inclusive of diversity.”

The committee also advises the council on services and programs that may be of special concern to the city's growing and diverse populations.

Charter change moves ahead

The council gave unanimous preliminary approval to change its home rule charter regarding the city’s Police Civil Service Commission’s authority over the Alexandria Police Department.

Right now, a part of section 6.03 in the charter states that the commission “shall continue to function as provided by state statute.”

The council wants to change that to say the commission will function “as determined by the city council.”

At the council’s Aug. 23 meeting, City Attorney Tom Jacobson said having a state law doesn’t serve the best interests of the city. Having the City Council determine the commission’s function, he said, would give the council more flexibility in defining the commission’s role and that role can also account for the mayor’s “command and control” duties.

The city’s Charter Commission recommended the council to change the ordinance.

Because this would amend the charter, a lengthy process is required.

Monday’s action is another step in the process. A public hearing was held but no one from the public spoke. Other remaining steps include:

  • The council must vote on a second reading of the ordinance and it must also be unanimously approved by the council and the mayor. This is scheduled to take place at the council’s Sept. 27 meeting.

  • If it’s approved, the council must publish another notice and give the public 60 days to respond or present a petition that opposes the amendment.

  • If no petition is submitted during those 60 days, the amendment will take effect 90 days after the amendment is passed and published.

Coffee cart gets approval

The council voted to issue a transient merchant license to Zanner’s Coffee Cart, owned by Suzanne Wenzel of Alexandria.

It will be at 1701 Latoka Dr. SW, Alexandria and will sell espresso-based hot and cold beverages and baked goods.

The application was approved by the police chief and the required certificate of liability was submitted.