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New assessment policy expected to be proposed

By Staff | Jan 31, 2009

Trees may be disappearing along city roadways if new assessment proposal passes.

If the Blue Earth City Council agrees with a recommendation from it’s Street Committee, the way projects are assessed to local property owners is going to change – dramatically.

The Street Committee met last Monday and voted to present a new Assessment Policy to the council for their approval.

It will result in thousands of dollars in savings to individual property owners, while spreading a large portion of each project’s cost over the whole city.

Also being recommended at Monday’s meeting is the final version of the Moore and Eighth Streets Improvement Project. It would be the first project where the new assessment process would be used.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey explained the changes to the Street Committee members, which includes three council members, three citizens, the street superintendent, and the city engineer.

“Under the old policy, all project costs were 100 percent assessed to the property owners,” Bailey said. “Under the new plan, all of the water and sewer work will be paid by an increase in user fees, while streets, curbs and gutters will have 30 percent of the cost assessed to the property owner, the other 70 percent paid by all the city.”

Bailey gave three examples of individual homeowners that would be affected by the Improvement Project. Under the current assessment policy, those three owners would be assessed $14,870, $21,266, and $19,993, respectively, for their share of the project.

If the new policy is adopted by the city, the three would see assessments of $6,671, $6,870, and $9,654.

“The savings to the homeowners are substantial,” Bailey said. “The higher amounts, even spread over 20 years, is just too much for most people to accept.”

Bailey explained that the city must assess at least 25 percent of any bonds that are issued for the project. Also, she said, any assessments made to a property must increase the property’s value by that amount.

“This new assessment policy keeps us in line with these requirements,” she said.

Bailey explained that local water and sewer rates would need to be increased to pay for those utility’s portions of the project.

“Water and sewer charges would go up three percent,” she said. “The flat rate would go up 42 cents and the per thousand gallon rate would go up 12 cents per month.”

There would be a storm sewer charge of $3.50 per month for each house and business in town.

The Street Committee voted to accept an amended version of the Moore and Eighth Street Project.

The changes included additional water main, storm sewer and street construction. Those changes will increase the estimated overall cost of the project from $876,800 to $1,033,100, said City Engineer Bill Sayre.

The project covers five blocks – Eighth Street from Moore to Gorman, and Moore Street from Eighth to Tenth.

It is planned to be completed this summer.

The Street Committee members also debated recommending to the council to make all streets in the city 36 feet wide. Currently many of the streets are only 30 feet wide.

Sayre told the committee that 36 feet has been the standard in towns for over 20 years.

“It gives you two 8-foot parking lanes, and two 10-foot driving lanes,” he said.

Committee member Loren Lein argued against a mandate to make the streets 36 feet wide, saying that too many trees would have to be removed to accomplish the wider street.

He also questioned the added cost to make the streets wider. Sayre said it will cost an extra $8,000 per block to go the extra six feet.

“I think the citizens need to be informed we are talking about doing this,” Lein said.

Councilman Dan Brod, who chairs the committee, suggested making a case-by-case decision on the width.