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It's a silent night over Alexandria's budget

Alexandria's 8.46 percent levy increase was approved without a peep of disapproval Monday night. The city council reviewed key parts of its 2011 budget and then opened a public hearing for comments but no one spoke. The council then voted 5-0 to ...

Alexandria's 8.46 percent levy increase was approved without a peep of disapproval Monday night.

The city council reviewed key parts of its 2011 budget and then opened a public hearing for comments but no one spoke.

The council then voted 5-0 to approve the $10.16 million budget and $5.29 million levy.

Council member Sara Carlson, a member of the budget committee, said that the city worked hard on the budget. She added that the city sometimes gets a bad rap for its spending decisions but council members do their best to keep taxes low while trying to provide adequate city services.

"We own businesses and homes and pay taxes as well," she said.

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The tax levy is well under the 19 percent levy limit allowed under state law, said City Administrator Jim Taddei while explaining the budget highlights.

The budget reflects a 7 percent increase in expenditures and a 5.5 percent increase in revenues.

Some of the significant changes on the expense side under "general government" include $15,000 for making repairs at City Hall; $80,000 in payments to townships for tax reimbursements in annexation areas; and $7,500 for an intern in the planning department.

The police department budget, the single biggest budget category, amounts to just under $2.3 million, up 3 percent from this year. Changes include a dispatcher/receptionist for the new police station, utility/backup generator costs at the facility and a community services officer.

Other significant changes that Taddei listed included $5,000 for utilities at the new park department building; reinstatement of employee benefits and planning commission development funds that were eliminated earlier this year when the governor decided to unallot local government aid (LGA); a $65,000 increase in the city's street paving program to address projects that had been put off; an $80,500 or 11 percent increase to Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District; and a 20 percent increase in several equipment funds to reflect higher replacement costs.

On the revenue side, Taddei said the city projects to receive $125,000 less in franchise fees and delinquent taxes mainly because of decreased natural gas sales. The city, however, expects to receive an increase of $446,000 more in intergovernmental revenue because of reinstated LGA.

The budget also includes a 2 percent across-the-board increase in employee wages and salary increases for department heads that were delayed this year.

Taddei explained that the city is significantly increasing the money it puts aside for capital improvement projects (CIP). The amount is being increased from $38,844 to $250,000.

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Major projects for next year, which also hinge on money in other city funds and whether state and federal money is available, include a new plow at the airport ($150,000); a new firetruck ($450,000); resurfacing Rosewood Lane ($350,000); replacing restrooms at Dean Melton/Fillmore Park ($85,000); a new state-required digital radio communication system (ARMER) at the police station ($75,000); and a phase three water extension project in a newly annexed area ($2.56 million).

Although the city's overall levy will increase 8.46 percent, that doesn't mean everyone's property taxes will increase by that amount, Taddei said. The taxes paid depend on market value, tax capacity and what other taxing authorities - including the school district and county - are levying. This year, the city's share of property taxes for a typical residential property represented 27 percent of the total property tax.

Taddei presented a chart showing that Alexandria's taxes are low compared to other similar sized cities. Out of 16 cities, Alexandria's tax rate of 33.35 percent ranked third lowest, trailing only Cloquet (30.01 percent) and Detroit Lakes (32.57 percent).

Tax rates in two other similar-sized cities, New Ulm and Waseca, exceeded 60 percent.

The council acted on a variety of other issues at Monday's meeting, including:

--A complaint from businesses on the west side of Highway 29 South corridor about how trees in the state right-of-way are making it impossible for motorists to see their properties.

--Security and access control bids for the new police station.

--A motion to rescind the police advisory commission.

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--A plan to restripe Highway 29/Nokomis Street to add a fourth lane past McKay Avenue.

--Possible parking restrictions on Van Dyke Road.

--Assessments for a sidewalk project on Elm Street.

--Hiring a maintenance worker at the Runestone Community Center.

--Updates to the city's personnel policies and salary compensations.

--Appointments to city boards and committees.

--City fees for 2011.

Read more about these city council items in Friday's Echo Press.

Related Topics: ALEXANDRIA CITY COUNCIL
Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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