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Preston City Council: Issue of special assessment unresolved


Fri, May 9th, 2003
Posted in Features

The Preston City Council met Monday, May 5 lacking one member, Mike Gartner. Mayor Pechulis asked for a moment of silence to wish Mr. Gartner well, as he was admitted to the hospital late last week.

Joe Palen, an engineer from Bonestroo and Associates of Rochester, explained the options for special assessments to pay for improvements on Ridge Road and Spring Street. The total cost of the projects will be over $2,000,000. However, the City is only responsible for approximately $933,000. These figures are only estimates until bids are made and a bid is accepted.

The problem on this evening lies in how to be fair to all property owners involved. The two projects were contracted with the county at different times, even though they are scheduled to be completed at the same time. The Ridge Road project was signed off on prior to a change in Fillmore County policy last fall. Since then, the county has been forced to cut expenses and has a new policy which imposes more costs on the city. The City, in turn, will then lay most of these expenses on the individual property owners involved.

The problem for the council is equability and fairness. Should the projects be pooled together, in which case property owners involved would all pay approximately $18.09 on a per adjusted front footage basis? Or, should the Ridge Road residents pay about $9.10 per foot of frontage and the Spring Street residents about $29.88? Palen stressed that both projects would provide many of the same improvements and the same potential for increase in property values. The engineer pointed out that these proposed assessments are low in both cases because of the cost sharing by county and state for the projects. Normally, the assessment would be between $50 and $60 per foot for an urban street.

Palen suggested a public hearing be held on May 27. Questions commonly asked would be: What is the improvement? What will it cost? What is it going to cost me? But Mr. Palen also suggested that if the council decides to assess at two different rates that there should be two separate hearings to avoid confusion.

The council has the option to reduce, defer, or eliminate specific assessments because of agricultural land, unbuildable land, or a planned future pond. However, these changes will not be made until after an assessment hearing. If the City offers a reduction, then the City must make up the difference. The appraised value of a parcel must be increased by at least the amount of the assessment for it to be legal. If the land owner appeals their assessment after an assessment hearing, they have thiry days to do so in district court. The land owner is responsible for any legal fees they incur.

Deadlocked Vote

Council member Heath Mensink suggested that the two projects be assessed separately. “We should set a precedent that each project is assessed separately,” Mensink said.

Council member Jerry Scheevel, noting the difficulty in deciding what is the best and fairest solution, responded, “I have an argument with myself on this.”

Council member Mike McGarvey agreed, "I can sell it to myself either way."

McGarvey suggested one solution might be a $3,000 cap that would require the City to pick up more of the cost. He explained that there would be just a few owners over $3,000 if the projects were bundled together.

Mensink made a motion that the projects be assessed separately. A tie vote resulted with Mensink and Scheevel voting for and Mayor David Pechulis and McGarvey against.

Fred Nagle, the city administator, mentioned that there were twelve small projects that should be done while the street is tore up to replace existing sanitary sewer service. The cost would be about $1,000 each, to be paid by the property owner. The systems would be pro-rated, costing the owner less if his current service has some time left before it would normally be replaced. He suggested a hearing on these projects could be incorporated into the street project hearing.

Because of the deadlock, the council has called a special meeting for Monday, May 12, at 6:00 p.m. where it is expected that Council member Mike Gartner's will be able to attend. Gartner’s vote is necessary to break the tie unless one of the other council members decides to change his vote.

Other business

• Fred Nagle requested that in the future that council minutes be summarized instead of written verbatim. David Joerg, city attorney, related that parliamentary procedure requires only a summary. A council member can request part of a meeting to be verbatim and the tape of the meeting is available for that purpose.

• CPA Lloyd Johnson presented the 2002 audit that is conducted under government auditing standards. He stated that there were no compliance issues. Johnson concluded that the council 'did not overspend budgets' and it was 'a good year for maintaining fund balances.' He acknowledged that 'overall the city was doing well.

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