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Peterson weighs effects of assessment policy

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Mar 14th, 2014
Posted in Peterson Government

The County 25 road reconstruction project isn’t slated until 2015, the City of Peterson is wasting no time lining up all the details of the massive undertaking. A shared project with the county, the city is getting some relief on the large price tag, but it’s a financial burden for the small community and the council is keenly aware of the effect it will have on residents and business owners.

An assessment policy is needed due to general obligation bonds funding the project. Per statute, it requires at least a 20 percent assessment of property owners by statute. For complete reconstruction, Peterson is considering setting the assessment policy at 50 percent property owner/city. In this project, the county has already pledged to contribute 50 percent of the cost of curb, gutter, and sidewalks, so it appeared that residents would pay half of the remaining city percentage. However, there was some concern that the policy may not clarify it in that way.

Colin Schroeder, a Peterson business owner who volunteered last November to serve on a committee to assist the city in ironing out the scope of the project, found a potential stumbling block in the policy. He noted that as it’s currently written, assessments would be applied prior to special assistance. “My concern is that it’s calculated on the total project cost.” It was assumed by many that assistance from the county would kick in immediately. However, per the policy, assessments would be applied first, with the special assistance to be applied to the city portion only. “It doesn’t clarify where aid comes in. The half that comes from the county doesn’t benefit us.”

“That’s a good catch,” noted Mayor Jennifer Wood. “All along, we’ve talked about it the way you described.”

“It needs definition. The assessment needs to be after project assistance is applied,” added Schroeder.

The council agreed that clarification in the policy wording was needed and it was suggested that perhaps the city should adopt both a general policy and a special assessment policy for the project. “It’s unusual situation in this case,” noted Councilor Gail Boyum.

The city will discuss the matter with project consultants before bringing it back for approval. A special meeting is to be scheduled to adopt the policy. A public hearing will be held prior to the project start, when assessments are placed on the properties.

Special considerations are also being taken for assessment deferment in certain cases, including those 65 and older and those with permanent or total disability. There was some question regarding deferment in the case of two-person households were one meets the criteria and the other doesn’t. In those situations, the city has opted to allow a 50 percent deferment based on one of the property owners meeting the criteria.

The city is also still pressing its case for faulty design work at the Waste Water Treatment Facility. Mayor Wood noted the catalyst of the situation was a news article in which the company responsible for the facility design noted to another municipality, considering the same design, that Peterson’s HVAC system is incorrectly sized. The facility has seen large amounts of water condensation. “There’s water dripping everywhere. Water and steel don’t mix. The problem is condensation on the HVAC system and computer systems. It’s bad design,” noted Wood.

The city has spoken to legal counsel over the issue and it appears that the design firm has indicated publicly that Peterson chose the plan due to lack of funding. However, Wood feels this is inaccurate based on records indicating that the city had funds remaining after the project. “It seems, if we went with their design, as laypeople, we rely on engineers to steer us in the right way. I don’t buy that it was a cost issue, because there was extra money.” The city will consult with their attorney further to see if there is some solution for the situation.

In other news, the city has, for now, stood by its decision to deny a detachment petition from residents Alan Lipowitz and Jan Smaby, who sought annexation to the City of Rushford Village. The city has been working cooperatively with the City of Rushford Village to look at options for a local resolution to the request, rather than send the matter to the state. The Village has set a term until April 1 for the discussions.

Mayor Wood and Councilor Dick Lee acted as representatives of the city in conversation with Village representatives Mayor Dale Schwanke and Councilor Hamilton Peterson. “We had a good talk, and hour and a half, and went over a number of things,” stated Lee.

A proposal to detach 33.8 acres of the property and leave 6 acres has been proposed to Peterson by the petitioners.

“The council there is split,” added Wood. “That’s why we were trying to meet and come up with something together. We had some other ideas we discussed, too. I don’t know if we want to first say do we want to let approximately 33 acres go if they leave six acres back in the city of Peterson. If not, we need to probably make a resolution to deny that. Then, if you want to hear an alternative idea we came up with, with the City of Rushford Village, we can do that as well.”

“We passed by, just briefly, an option that we thought would be probably more acceptable to the residents, who we are mostly concerned with,” said Lee. The Peterson proposal would instead opt to let six acres go, retaining 33.8 within the city.

“That’s exactly the acreage we wish to protect and preserve from development,” responded Smaby, in regards to the proposal. “I don’t know what more we can do. It’s just that simple. I don’t see that we can agree to that. We just simply will not do that,” she added.

In lieu of making a decision on the proposal or any other decision, the council has tabled the discussion, in light of absence of Councilor Barry Erickson, until a special meeting, which is yet to be scheduled.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, April 9, at 7 p.m., at city hall.

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