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Four new Habitat homes built in Douglas County

The need for such homes is pressing – one in four Douglas County households spends more than they can afford on housing, according to information presented to the Alexandria City Council Monday night.

CardinalBuild 0919.jpg
Jenna Hill's home was one of three that Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County and Alexandria Area High School's Cardinal Build have worked together to complete. Habitat also built a fourth home this year.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — From 2020 to 2021, Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County built four new homes and completed 15 Aging in Place projects.

Lori Anderson, executive director of the organization, said the need for such homes is pressing – one in four Douglas County households spends more than they can afford on housing, she told the Alexandria City Council Monday night.

This forces families to make impossible choices between safe homes, nutritious food on the table, health care or reliable transportation, Anderson noted in the information she gave to the council, adding, “Which would you choose?”

Lori Anderson
Lori Anderson

The local chapter of Habitat for Humanity is celebrating 25 years of service to the community.

Other highlights from Anderson:

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  • Since its start in 1997, Habitat for Humanity has helped 131 families and 362 individuals with housing needs. It built 80 new or improved homes, 67 of them in Alexandria.
  • Every $1 invested in Habitat generates an economic return of $1.54.
  • There are no move-in ready homes in the Alexandria market right now that are priced between $135,000 to $235,000.
  • Habitat plans to build five new homes in 2022-2023 — its first home in Brandon and four others in Alexandria.
  • Habitat’s ReStore collected 2,725 donations, made 503 pick-ups, 10,378 sales transactions and 215 tons of items that were saved from the landfill. ReStore raised $134,000 to support Habitat's mission.
  • Volunteers are a key part of Habitat’s success. A total of 854 volunteers shared 9,929 volunteer hours.
  • Habitat’s fiscal year 2020-2021 shows $2.254 million in total revenue and $1.754 in expenses.
  • Habitat invested $1.33 million in operations, construction, rehabilitation and renovation of homes. The economic impact of Habitat’s investment topped $2 million.
  • Habitat supported 20 jobs and $905,612 in wages were paid into the local economy.
  • The number of homeless people in the west central region of Minnesota totaled 341 on any given night in 2018. That’s up 27% since 2000.

For more on the local Habitat for Humanity, go to the website, https://hfhdouglascounty.org/

Council to reconsider warehouse TIF request

GoodNeighbor’s application to receive tax help for a $25 million warehouse project in southwest Alexandria will be reconsidered at the council’s next meeting, May 23.

At the council’s April 25 meeting, the proposal failed to get a majority of support from the city’s Economic Development Authority to receive tax increment financing. The EDA includes all five council members and Mayor Bobbie Osterberg. The vote was 3-3.

At the May 9 meeting, Osterberg made a motion to consider whether to repeal that action at the next meeting. It would not be a public hearing.

Under the original plan, SunOpta, an Alexandria company focused on plant-based foods and beverages, fruit-based foods and beverages, was going to lease the 252,000-square-foot warehouse from GoodNeighbor. The proposed base rent was $5.60 per square foot and the lease would have lasted 15 years.

At the April 25 meeting, Osterberg, Scott Allen and Andrew Wiener voted to establish the TIF district for the warehouse project while Bill Franzen, Roger Thalman and Dave Benson voted against it.

The warehouse project called for a new public road, and extensions of sewer, water, natural gas and fiber-optic infrastructure, all at the developer's expense. The total cost of the improvements was around $5 million.

With TIF, property taxes are frozen at the existing amount for a certain period of time, in this case it would have been nine years. The difference between the existing tax and the tax after the development is used to help pay for some of the project.

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The annual property taxes on the property are now $8,983 and once the project was completed, taxes were projected to increase to $407,558. It would have added $13.26 million to the city’s tax base, according to the TIF application.

A closer look at city parks

The city of Alexandria is going to take a closer look into its parks – and whether the city needs more of them.

The council authorized city staff to send out a request for proposals for a consultant to create a Park and Trails Master Plan. The selected consultant would perform planning services for all 22 parks in the city that are maintained by the city’s Public Works Parks and Facilities Division.

The parks range in size from 0.75 acres (Goose Park) to 74.14 acres (Oakwood Trails near 50th Avenue East). Combined, the parks take up 196.92 acres.

The project would include inventory and conditions report; public involvement; a gap analysis/needs assessment; priority recommendations for park improvements, development and potential future acquisitions; identifying staffing and funding needs; and preparing a final document.Staff has already divided the parks into categories – premier parks, neighborhood parks and other parks and open space.

Proposals are due on June 6 and the city hopes to award the contract on June 27.

The project could be funded through the American Rescue Plan Act, according to city leaders.

Federal aid to help pay for 18th Ave. work

The Alexandria City Council approved an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to accept federal aid for the 18th Avenue project.

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The $6.9 million project will reconstruct 18th Avenue between Nokomis Street and Fillmore Street.

The total amount of federal aid available to the project is $1,752,700. Of this amount, $945,100 is programmed for 2022 and $807,600 is set aside for 2023.

The purpose of the agreement is to allow the full amount to be available in 2022, according to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven.

The project includes the construction, reconstruction and realignment of 18th Avenue. It would also reconstruct Hawthorne Street between 17th Avenue and 18th Avenue; Jefferson Street between 12th Avenue and 18th Avenue; and install a right turn lane on Broadway.

The project will also replace old water lines, outdated sewer systems, and eliminate a lift station that needs to be replaced soon.

The work is scheduled to take place this summer. A 3,000-foot section of the street will be built as a 10-ton urban design road with curb, gutter and sidewalks. It will also include storm sewer with catch basins and manhole covers.

The cost of the project will be split between ALP Utilities, Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District, the city’s stormwater utility, and federal and state aid. The city's share of the cost is estimated at about $260,000 and includes stormwater utility funds and landscaping.

All of these amounts are estimates; the actual costs will be determined through the bidding process, according to City Engineer Tim Schoonhoven.

Bids are expected to be opened on May 20 and brought before the council on May 23.

In related action, the council voted to extend its master partnership contract with MnDOT for another five years. The agreement is intended to provide more speed and flexibility to respond to a project’s needs.

It will allow, for example, the city to use MnDOT's materials testing lab in Detroit Lakes.

It also allows the city administrator to negotiate work order contracts with MnDOT on behalf of the city. The contracts would still have to receive further approval by the council.

City supports local government aid

The council approved a resolution that supports a new local government aid (LGA) formula and a $90 million statewide increase in aid.

The LGA proposal is being considered in the Legislature.

The resolution notes that the formula hasn’t had any major revisions since 2013.

Meanwhile, the cost of providing city services continues to rise, largely because of inflation. From 2009 to 2022, inflation grew 41% while LGA has only grown by 18%, the resolution says.

A $90 million increase is essential to fund the formula and is modest compared to the $9.3 billion state budget surplus, the resolution states.

“The new LGA formula proposal more effectively recognizes the role the city of Alexandria plays as a regional center that provides city services to many people who visit the community to work and shop,” the resolution says.

The resolution will be sent to local state representatives and senators, along with the leaders in both the House and Senate, and Gov. Tim Walz.

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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