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Council considering waiving portions of city fees for businesses closed by state orders

The Albert Lea City Council is considering whether to waive portions of city license fees for businesses that have had to remain closed due to state executive orders. 

The council considered the issue earlier this year, but the issue was raised again during the council’s workshop Monday in light of ongoing executive orders that have required bars and restaurants to remain closed for in-person dining. 

City Manager Ian Rigg said he wanted to reach out to the council particularly about the taverns and places that serve liquor, because of the continued impact the governor’s orders will have on these businesses. 

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland said he thinks it is a matter of fairness — the city is requiring these businesses to have a license and then they haven’t been able to be open. 

“For us to require these businesses to pay for a license when they can’t — and it’s no fault of ours, it’s the state government that’s saying that they have to be shut down, but they can’t serve customers, but yet they have to pay for a license … I just don’t think that’s fair,” he said. 

First Ward Councilor Rich Murray said the council should keep in mind that these businesses will also be the primary beneficiaries of the local and state grants that will be disbursed in the coming weeks. 

He said the state grants will be going out automatically and will be between $10,000 and $40,000, and the local grants will be between $3,000 and $15,000. 

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks said while he understands these businesses will be eligible for state and local grant funds to help with their losses, the losses will still be more than they will receive in grant funds, he said. 

“I’d like us to see where the fees can be waived at least for the amount of time they’re closed,” Brooks said. 

Albert Lea Mayor Vern Rasmussen said earlier this year he felt like the grants businesses received would help with these costs, but he now supports pro-rated fees.

“We’ve gone way too far with these closures, and it’s really hurt these businesses significantly …” Rasmussen said. 

“I think at this point, these businesses are in trouble, and if we’re going to do something, I think this is an equitable thing.”

Fourth Ward Councilor Reid Olson said though he, too, wasn’t a proponent of pro-rating the fees earlier this year, he recognizes that it has been a long time for these businesses to be closed. He said he knows many of the owners of these establishments, and many are not doing well. 

He also noted that many of these businesses give a lot back to the community that many people don’t see. 

“I think anything we can do to help get them back on their feet — I think we should do it,” he said. 

Rigg said he would bring back a proposal to the council for consideration. He also noted that funds from the second round of the local grant program between the city, Freeborn County and the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency should go out next month. 

In other action, the council:

  • Awarded bids for yearly chemical supplies to Hawkins Inc. of Roseville for 2021. The city had previously contracted with DPC Industries Inc. for the chemical supplies, but the company was recently bought out by Hawkins Inc. Hawkins was the next lowest bidder.

City Engineer Steven Jahnke said he expects these prices to be significantly higher now and into the future because Hawkins has no competition. 

  • Approved a resolution supporting an application through the James Metzen Mighty Ducks Grant program for $25,000 to replace HVAC units and improve air quality for the Nystrom locker rooms and main lobby at City Arena. 

The total project is estimated to cost about $54,000. 

Background information provided by the city stated the goal of a successful grant is to establish and improve ice arenas capable of hosting all ice sports competitions and training and to maximize the community’s ability to generate economic benefits by promoting ice sports programming.

  • Extended the interim use permit for the Shell Rock River Watershed District for another year during the dredging of Fountain Lake. The permit outlines terms for using city properties during the project. 
  • Approved plans and ordered advertisement of bids for the city’s neighborhood improvement project for 2021. 

The project includes a mill and overlay and various sidewalk replacement on portions of Wilson Street, Stevens Street, Oakwood Terrace, Waldorf Road, David Drive, Kevin Drive, Kenneth Drive, Eunice Drive as well as bituminous reconstruction on Michaelle Lane. Curb and gutter will be replaced that has settled or is causing drainage issues.

  • Approved a series of claims as done in typical meetings. Rigg in the work session prior to the council meeting noted one payment for about $121,000 to Kwik Trip for seven years of overbilling of water and sewer at the Bridge Avenue location. 

Due to an error when the meters were installed, information important to establishing the account was not clearly provided, leading to an assumption the business had one two-inch meter instead of two one-inch meters. 

This caused the company’s bill to have been multiplied by about 10 times the amount it should have been, Rigg said. 

The city manager said city staff have reviewed other locations in which this could have happened to make sure no other errors have taken place. They have also come up with a plan to avoid this error in the future. 

He said while the payment will surely alter some of the city’s balances, he wanted to clear it up by the end of the year. 

Witnessed the swearing-in of Murray, Howland and 5th Ward Councilor Robert Rasmussen for another term.