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Thumbs down for sidewalks

By Staff | Feb 12, 2012

Rob Hammond

The preliminary public hearing for this coming summer’s large street, sewer and water project in Blue Earth had plenty of public comment.

The hearing, held as part of the regular Blue Earth City Council, saw more than 40 residents crowd into the council meeting chambers.

Construction of sidewalks elicited the most concern from those present.

The $2 million project will cover Gorman Street from Seventh to 14th streets, and 12th Street from Galbraith to Rice streets.

Estimated assessments to property owners on the affected streets run an average of $6,000 to $9,000.

The assessments will be able to be put on the property owner’s taxes and paid over 15 years.

But while the assessments raised some concerns, it was the sidewalks that caused the biggest reaction.

The preliminary engineer’s drawings show sidewalks on both sides of all streets – even where there are none at this time.

Several property owners expressed concern over putting in sidewalks, especially if trees have to be removed to do so.

“The council has discussed not putting in sidewalks where there are none now,” Mayor Rob Hammond Jr. says. “That part of the plan will probably be changed.”

However, some homeowners wanted to not replace current sidewalks when they are removed for the project.

“Our current policy is that sidewalksnow in existence need to be replaced,” Hammond says.

But, when asked by Councilman John Gartzke if those present wanted sidewalks, there was a resounding “no.”

One person favored sidewalks because he has a handicapped son who needs them.

Hammond answered one question by saying the city would pay for the replacement of any sidewalk installed recently, and would share in the cost of others.

“But we have not totally decided about the sidewalks for this project yet, not at this time,” Hammond says. He placed the item on the agenda for the next work session.

Citizens’ other concerns had to do with widening the street to 36 feet, shifting the street two feet to one side to accommodate power poles and the removal of many trees.

One person, Dan Wiltse, questioned assessments being made to bare lots.

“You cannot legally do this, because it does not increase my property value by the amount of the assessment,” he says.

Hammond says the council is already considering not assessing sewer and water lateral hookups to unbuildable lots.

But, Wiltse says he didn’t think any of the other assessments were legal either.

“I already have $10,000 invested in this lot and you want to assess me $16,000,” he says. “You cannot legally assess me out of ownership.”

Under the current assessment policy, all of the sewer and water main lines are paid for by the entire city with monthly user fees. Lateral hookups from the main to the property line are assessed to the property owner.

The sanitary sewer hookups are estimated to cost each homeowner $1,525, while each water hookup is estimated to be $2,140.

The street paving, curb and gutter and sidewalk is done on a 70/30 basis, with the city paying 70 percent of the cost and the homeowner 30 percent.

All of these items are assessed per running foot of frontage of the lot. For corner lots, a full charge is made for the shorter side, and half the charge for the longer side.

The total amount estimated to be assessed to property owners for sidewalks is $51,315, if sidewalks are put in on all of the blocks involved.

City engineer Wes Brown says the project will probably start in June and will be completed by October.

City Administrator Kathy Bailey says property owners will be kept informed of the progress once the project begins, by receiving weekly e-mail reports.