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Preston City Council Report: No assessments for street maintenance

Fri, Aug 11th, 2006
Posted in Government

Concerned citizens of Preston made clear their opinions at the public hearing portion of the Preston City Council meeting on August 7. Engineer Joe Palen of Bonestroo and Associates explained the planned milling and overlay street projects. Overlays are scheduled for Parkside Drive between Cottage Grove Avenue and the Hellickson Addition, Main Street between St. Paul Street and St. Anthony Street, and St. Anthony Street between River Street and Fillmore Street. Many of the citizens that owned properties in these areas were present for the public hearing.

This is the first time the city was considering assessing for costs for an overlay maintenance project. Total costs for the overlay projects were estimated to be about $79,000. The projects have been sent out for bids and are to be started the first week of September and finished by the end of that month. The question up for debate was how the project was to be financed. Will property owners along the streets be assessed for a portion of the cost or will the total cost be borne by the city of Preston which, in essence, spreads the cost to all of Preston's citizens.

Kay Laging raised concerns about parking and the blocking of traffic in a business district. Palen explained that parking will not be allowed for at least one half of a day when the milling machine is working. He expected only three to four days would be required to do the actual work on each of the streets. The streets could be opened relatively quickly to light traffic after the overlay is completed.

Historic Brick

David Joerg noted that there is the old brick under the existing pavement on St. Anthony Street. He suggested that the brick was historical and in comparatively good shape. Joerg urged the council to take the opportunity to reconstruct the street by uncovering and using the brick. Mayor Kurt Reicks said that the current project is for maintenance and that the possibility of restoring the brick street could be addressed when the street is in need of total reconstruction. Joerg asked when that would be. Palen answered that with the overlay the need for total reconstruction may be delayed for as long as forty years. He warned that brick streets would not be appropriate for heavy traffic and that they would be a "maintenance nightmare." Council member Heath Mensink insisted that the cost of restoring the brick could be four times as much as an overlay and Palen agreed.

Assessment Argument

Joe Palen explained a possible breakdown of costs if the council decided to assess property owners. About $49,000 would be assessed at the rate of $15 to $20 per lineal foot. The city would be responsible for about $30,000. He said that Parkside Drive would need additional base work which would be totally at the city's expense.

Palen suggested that the portion assessed would cost citizens "a little bit." Merle Kiehne retorted that when he went to school, "80% (suggested property owner share) was not just a little bit of 100%." Kiehne declared that as property owners, they already pay taxes for maintenance. City Administrator Joe Hoffman responded that in the past overlays have been considered maintenance and the responsibility of the city.

Mr. Palen noted that street maintenance issues are contentious and cities classify them differently. He said that temporary fixes like seal coating and crack filling are not the same as overlays which are an investment that can extend the life of a street for years and delay expensive reconstruction which can cost property owners $55 to $60 per lineal foot.

Fillmore County Journal Editor John Torgrimson is one of the business owners on St. Anthony Street. He asked about the compensation the city received from MnDOT for the detour on St. Anthony Street during the Hwy 52 Project. Hoffman explained that the city gets $600 to $1500 from MnDOT for the extra wear on the streets. He suggested that they can file for more. Council member Robert Sauer stated that no city has a choice, but has to accept what is offered from MnDot.

Torgrimson reported that he understood that part of Main Street on the other side of his corner lot is to be reconstructed in 2007. He suggested that his building and others along St. Anthony have been renovated in the past ten years greatly improving a run down part of town at significant cost. Kay Laging asserted that the city has paid for past overlays. She complained about heavy truck traffic that uses the street. She noted that she had protested the use of the street for the Hwy 52 detour and was assured that MnDOT would repair the damage.

County Commissioner Randy Dahl representing the county's interest warned that costs for street work are escalating. He noted that the county doesn't pay property taxes. The Fillmore County Courthouse is on county property along Main Street and St. Anthony Street. Dahl stated that the council has the right to assess property owners or to spread the cost so that the whole city equally shares the cost. Council member Steve Knoepke explained that the county could be assessed if the property owners were assessed, but that the county will not share in the cost if the city pays for the projects. Dahl remarked that it is a "hard decision" and that it could be a decision which sets a policy for future projects. Robert Sauer agreed that if we assess now for overlays, we will have to continue.

Palen argued that overlays could be incorporated into an assessment policy. He asserted that the finished overlay projects will look much like the finished look of a total street reconstruction which is normally assessed. Some cities like Harmony assess overlays and other cities consider it maintenance.

The last Improvement Policy for Preston was set in 1996. David Joerg insisted that assessing overlays would be a radical departure from the past. He stated that the special assessment procedure is complicated, messy and that it is difficult to come up with an equitable arrangement.

Palen warned that if street overlays don't "hurt a little bit" for the property owners on that street, then everyone will want their street improved. Mensink agreed. He favored assessments because more dollars would be available to make needed repairs and reconstruction of numerous streets in town. He complained that without assessments, it'll take a lot longer to catch up.

Steve Knoepke argued that overlay projects are maintenance and should not be assessed as has been the policy in the past. Dr. Sauer agreed with Knoepke and suggested that overlaying a street doesn't raise the property owner's property value. They agreed that all citizens should pay for street maintenance. Sauer said that it is a matter of fairness.

City Attorney Steve Corson advised council members that they were not bound legally to follow the 1996 policy. He explained that they could decide to do the next project differently.

Hoffman said that either way the city will pay for the project up front out of funds designated for street maintenance, of which about $110,000 is available now. However, he warned that by not assessing, the city would not be collecting about $5,000 in income each year for the next ten years. He made it clear that the public will still pay for the work.

Heath Mensink expressed the need for the city to establish a time frame and to put a plan in place to improve the condition of the city streets.

Fran Sauer asked whether or not a referendum would be needed to set up a fund for these kinds of projects where taxes could be raised equally from Preston citizens. Palen replied that there was some legislation at the state level to establish a street utility fund, but that it failed to pass.

The Decision

Council members voted to use city funds raised from the general levy which are currently available for maintenance to pay for the overlays. Heath Mensink was the only vote "against."

Other Business

Dan Grabau requested that St. Anthony Street north of Valley Street be vacated. The council approved a public hearing to hear arguments.

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