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Council approves waiving permit, license fees for businesses affected by COVID closures

The Albert Lea City Council on Monday approved waiving 2021-22 city permit and license fees for businesses throughout the city that had to close under state executive order during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The action applies to businesses that paid for licenses or permits during the height of the pandemic but which were not allowed to be open. This includes bars, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, massage providers, sexually oriented businesses and permits for arcades and pool tables, according to the city. It also includes the fees businesses pay to be open until 1 or 2 a.m.

The action has been discussed for several months as a few of the councilors have lobbied for the help for businesses.

Third Ward Councilor Jason Howland thanked city staff for their work looking into and preparing for the resolution.

He said while the fees may not be significant, he feels it is doing the right thing for these business owners who had to pay the license fees and then weren’t able to operate.

The fees go toward paying for inspections the city has to conduct for their business, which did not have to be done when the businesses were closed.

City Manager Ian Rigg said the total estimated revenue the city will lose is between $45,000 and $50,000; however, that will be reimbursed through the rescue money from the federal government.

In other action, the council:

• Unanimously approved the second reading of an ordinance related to on-sale and off-sale alcohol to make it consistent with state statute.

The changes include extending sales to 10 p.m. on weekdays and allowing for the sale of 3.2% beer and wines at convenience stores, drug stores and grocery stores without having to have those products on sale within a separate building entrance. 

Several liquor store owners spoke out against the changes at the last council meeting while a few others spoke in favor.

Sixth Ward Councilor Al “Minnow” Brooks said he did not take the decision lightly as he knows what it is like to be a small business owner.

• Approved a conditional use permit for Northwest Development Group for the 50-unit apartment complex going into the former Marketplace Foods site.

Second Ward Councilor Larry Baker thanked the developers for their work on the project and for the time they have spent preparing the project.

He said the project is the “talk of the town,” along with a few other projects happening this summer.

Mayor Vern Rasmussen Jr. said he thought the project would be a fun one to watch as it progresses. He also thanked the developers for their investment in the community and commented on the importance of housing in the community.

He commended the developers for including a large amount of green space into their project where there is currently a large parking lot.

• Approved a memorandum of understanding with Bird Rides Inc. for its electric vehicle sharing services in the city. The company at the last council meeting said it hoped to bring 50 to 75 of its rental scooters to Albert Lea.

Rigg said there were some questions about indemnification between the city and Bird.

He said the city will have a trial period through the end of this year.

• Amended the zoning of the Freeborn Mower Electric Cooperative site at 2501 E. Main St. that is for sale from community business (B-2) to interstate development district (IDD).

Rigg said this will allow the site to be open for more uses under the new zoning.

• Amended an ordinance dealing with administration at the city. Instead of having an assistant city manager, the city will now have a director of community engagement and enrichment.

City Manager Ian Rigg said the position would focus on community outreach and reducing redundancy to make sure the city is using its resources effectively. The job would also include grant writing, and the library director, parks manager and the communications coordinator would report to this person. 

Rigg previously stated the position will focus on reaching out to the public through things like surveys and other means. The position has been budgeted to start Oct. 1.

• Approved entering into a grant agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation for replacement of culverts underneath the old Plaza Street, where it crosses Wedge Creek. Rigg said the street acts as an access road for the city-owned disposal pit and police department shooting range.

The state will pay about $256,000 for the project though the Local Bridge Replacement Program, and the city will pay about $51,000 for parts of the project not eligible to be covered by the grant, such as street pavement, turf establishment and removal of the existing culverts.

The council accepted the low bid of about $308,000 from Jensen Excavating & Trucking LLC of Albert Lea for the project.

• Approved plans and specifications and ordered the advertisement of bids for thew new one-million gallon central water tower downtown. Advertisement of bids is slated for May 1.

• Accepted a $1,600 donation to the Senior Center in memory of Harley Miller.