Update: Bill provides $120,000 to help Alexandria recover from fire
Tax bill includes $120,000 for recovery from Feb. 25, 2020 fire in downtown Alexandria that destroyed four buildings.
Financial assistance is on the way to help the city of Alexandria recover from a devastating fire back on Feb. 25, 2020.
Under an omnibus bill approved by the Minnesota House and Senate on Thursday, July 1, Alexandria will receive a $120,000 grant to remediate the damage caused from the fire that destroyed four historic buildings and six businesses in the downtown area.
The legislation that contained the recovery money took some twists and turns before it was approved by the House at around 2 a.m. and by the Senate a couple hours later, according to State Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.
"Mary (Franson, R-Alexandria) and I really worked hard to get that," Anderson said. "It was taken out of the omnibus bill at the last minute when it kind of got tied up with the fire damage in Minneapolis because of the riots, but we got it put back in," Anderson said.
Anderson also credited state senators Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, and Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, for getting the bill through the Senate.
Anderson said it's up to city leaders to decide how the recovery money will be spent. He said that hauling away all the debris left from the fire wasn't covered by insurance so that's one option the city could consider.
The bill also includes a sales tax exemption on any new materials that are used to reconstruct the fire-damaged area.
When contacted by the Echo Press on July 1, Alexandria Mayor Bobbie Osterberg said city staff and stakeholders are reviewing the legislation to determine how the money may be distributed and, specifically, what costs are eligible for reimbursement.
"Once these details are worked out, the city will begin the process of communicating the information to those who may be eligible to apply," Osterberg said.
The blaze ended up tearing through four buildings on the 500 block of Broadway, in the heart of downtown Alexandria. About 20 residents were displaced and the community lost six businesses – Raapers Eatery and Ale, RM Tattoo, Charlie’s Bazaar, Little Darlings Children’s Boutique, Hidden Treasures Collectibles and Comics, and Achieve Wellness Chiropractic Center.
The House adjourned from a special session after having approved a series of omnibus finance bills to shape the state’s next two-year budget.
Anderson said the finished product is something of a mixed bag, with some key victories, such as the fire relief, and some other provisions that are cause for concern.
“I am pleased the House minority was able to stop health care costs from skyrocketing, supported law enforcement and prevented billions of dollars in tax increases at a time the state is flush with cash," Anderson said in a news release. "I also am pleased that we provided tax relief for suffering businesses and people who have been out of work during the pandemic."
The bill also includes $600,000 to help the city of Melrose recover from a fire that caused significant damage in the city in 2016, Anderson noted.
Anderson expressed concern for a lack of progress on a couple of other issues. He was disappointed that legislative action was not taken preventing the governor from mandating California’s auto standards in Minnesota, and that a long-term extension for Minnesota’s reinsurance program that has reduced health care costs wasn't approved.
“We got another year of reinsurance, which is good, but this issue will need to be taken up again soon to spare people from the double-digit premium increases they were suffering before this program was put in place,” Anderson said. “And, at the very least, we need to bump out the governor’s push to force more electric cars on our market to allow time for this transition.”
In addition, the Legislature on Wednesday approved language ending Minnesota’s peacetime emergency for COVID-19 the governor declared in March of 2020. The move came on a motion made by House Republicans to amend a state government finance omnibus bill which subsequently passed both bodies.
House Democrats then on Thursday amended language related to emergency powers onto an omnibus tax bill which was approved. Anderson said he objected to the change and expressed concern that it grants power to the governor’s commissioners to declare a public health emergency for nearly any reason without proper guardrails to prevent overreach.