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Preston citizens share questions and concerns about assessments

Fri, Mar 16th, 2007
Posted in Government

Joe Palen of Bonestroo & Associates, an engineering consultant for the city of Preston, explains planned street improvements and assessments at a public hearing on Monday, March 12.

PRESTON - A strong showing of Preston property owners first listened to, then questioned Joe Palen and Brett Grabau of Bonestroo and Associates about the proposed improvements and the estimated assessments at a public hearing held at Christ Lutheran Church on March 12.

Joe Palen and Brett Grabau explained in detail what work, both street and utility, was needed in each of the four areas of proposed improvements. These areas include streets in Corn Cob Acres, around the Valley Street area, and parts of Center Street and Main Street. Palen advised the crowd that the utility department is "telescoping" the sewer lines in some of these areas now. The lines are flushed out and a camera is run down them to look for deficiencies. He emphasized that water lines with "lead" joints will be dug up and replaced for health reasons.

Palen detailed the goal of the city to establish all of the 10 miles of streets throughout the city as "perpetual pavements." The city's staff has helped in evaluating all of the streets and placing them in one of three categories. The categories or priorities include 'high,' 1.8 miles, 'medium,' 2.77 miles, and 'low,' 5.93 miles. Pavements, depending on their overall condition will need work ranging from total reconstruction, which would be expected to last 50 years with proper maintenance, to mill and overlay.

More than once Palen asked the property owners present to notify him if they are having any difficulties with sewer and water services so that those problems can be addressed along with the planned street work.


Palen estimated the total cost of the projects to be around $950,000. He said that they have recently been working with the city staff and the city council to implement a new assessment policy. The council is expected to discuss and consider adopting the new policy at their March 19 meeting. Palen insisted that the new policy will be a more equitable means of applying assessments, with a 40% assessment to property owners in most cases. The projects being considered are projected to have assessments ranging from $20 to $55 per lineal foot depending on the degree of construction and the width of the street. Sanitary sewer services would be assessed from $950 to $1250 which according to the new policy would be 80% paid by property owners. Residential property owners can only be assessed for up to a maximum of 150 lineal feet, with a 60 foot minimum. Businesses will be assessed at the actual lineal feet.

The remaining costs would be borne by the city with much of the utility replacement costs being financed through regular utility user fees. Palen made clear that a city can't asses more than the increase in appraised value of the property the improvements will bring. After construction another public hearing will be held to hear objections to proposed assessments. Property owners can go through an appeal process if not satisfied with the council's certification.

If the council goes forward with the plan, Palen expects construction to begin about June 1 with a tentative completion date of August 31.


Mary Hatfield was concerned about more big trucks going through the alley near her home as they did during the Kansas Street work a couple of years ago. She asked if the city had been compensated for the damage. Palen suggested that problems like this come with construction and that because of the steep areas in Preston, it is a more of a problem.

Jim Shupe asked if there can be an accommodation for the emergency crew as two members have only one way out in the Corn Cob Acre area. Palen said that the contractor should be made aware of the concern and that the work in that area would go fairly fast. They would try to keep one side of the street open. Shupe asked why a dead end part of Oak Drive is not being reconstructed. Palen suggested that it can be fixed with mill and overlay at less cost. Those kind of less intrusive projects will be done in one or two years.

Another citizen asked about the funding of last year's projects. Streets around the court house were renewed with the mill and overlay process. Palen stated that the city council had chosen to consider these maintenance and imposed no assessments with the city sustaining all the cost. The improvements this year will be more invasive.

A woman complained that if the appraised value of the property goes up due to the improvements, so does one's property taxes.

Ivan VandeWeerd asked about his two and one half acre lot on Washington Street. Palen noted that even though the lot is large it is not subdividable because of the extremely steep terrain on part of the property. Therefore, the maximum assessment of 150 lineal feet would apply.

Assessment Payments

Palen explained that assessments can be prepaid in one lump sum without interest or paid with the property taxes over ten years with interest set at one point above the rate of the city's bond. There are provisions for hardship cases where the owner is over 65 and meets economic criteria. If approved, the assessments can be deferred.

Mr. Palen noted the importance of bringing the streets up to grade and maintaining them. He advised that to do this the city needs to use all the tools available to them, including assessments.

City Council Meeting

After the hearing, the council held a short meeting. City Administrator Joe Hoffman suggested that in his original figures pulling all the financial options together to finance the improvements, the total amount estimated to come from assessments was significantly higher. It looked to him now that there would be a short fall. He said that he needed some time to see if more funds from the city can be found in other parts of the budget. Hoffman said that more of an increase in the tax levy would be a last resort. The possibility of not doing all of the proposed work was raised.

No action was taken as to whether or not to go ahead with the improvements. The question will be put on the agenda for the next council meeting on March 19.

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