Herald JournalHoward Lake-Waverly Herald, Dec. 23, 2002

HL residents object to assessments for future south side utility work

By Lynda Jensen

A roomful of residents gathered to tell the Howard Lake City Council their thoughts Dec. 12 about utility improvements planned for the south side of town ­ and assessments that are part of it.

The council heard unhappiness about assessments, among other comments about the project, which are meant to cure the worst of an aging sewer infrastructure.

Problems with the system were augmented by flooding last summer, Mayor Gerry Smith said.

Currently, the system handles a regular influx of surface water, which is pumped into the treatment plant, causing it to work nearly twice as hard, Smith said.

City engineer Brad DeWolf presented information about the improvements.

The cost breakdown is estimated like this:

The city will pay for 70 percent of the following costs, with the home owner paying 30 percent, according to frontage on the street being worked on. The balance can be paid over a 20-year period at approximately six percent interest.

There is a deferral arrangement for seniors on fixed incomes, which means that anyone older than 65 with income of less than the median household income in the city may ask for the assessment to be deferred, with interest, until the property is sold. Corner lots will be assessed the short side plus half of the other side.

Service Assessment to homeowner

Water $8.60 per lineal foot

Water connection $227 (one-time fee)

Sanitary sewer $9.50 per lineal foot

Sanitary sewer connection $205 (one-time fee)

Storm sewer 6¢ per square foot, to reflect how much surface water the property contributes to the system.

Street replacement $22 per lineal foot

Curb and gutter (replacement) $5.60 per lineal foot

Curb and gutter (new) $10.15 per lineal foot

Sump pump hook-up (optional) $230 (one-time fee)

These figures are conservative estimates issued by Bolton & Menk, which contain a 10 percent contingency. Bids are not let on the project yet and actual figures are not known.

An average estimated expense for properties is the following, according to the city engineer, Brad DeWolf of Bolton & Menk.

Typical home Assessment

50-foot lot $3,400

60-foot lot $3,800

80-foot lot $5,500

100-foot lot $6,300

(These figures are based on linear foot along the lot).

There is a maximum assessment of $8,500 per lot. The assessments were set by a committee of the city council.

The first phase will be done in 2003, hitting areas shown on the map. The project is expected to begin mid-May and end Nov. 1, DeWolf said.

The second phase will be done in 2004, along Wright County Road 6, from Seventh Avenue to Fifth Avenue.

DeWolf pointed out that the city began work on the capital improvement plan the year before the flooding occurred, and have been working a long time on the utility improvement plans, before it became a priority from the flooding.

For some residents, the improvements couldn't come fast enough, but others looking at assessments were less thrilled.

Several residents asked why the south side was chosen, and why it couldn't be bumped until the economy is better, when people are better able to pay the assessments.

City officials answered that inflation will bump the cost up every year, which is true of any kind of project like this, Mayor Gerry Smith said.

The existing sewer system includes clay piping in the form of four-inch water mains, which are old, he said.

The joints on the clay piping are broken and leak ­ and at times run cross country or under garages, he said.

The city is aware of the deterioration first hand because of televising the lines, DeWolf noted.

The wayward utility pipes will be a problem as the city grows, since the open terrain with piping underneath will probably become private residential developments, Reddemann noted.

"Is Fourth Avenue that bad? asked resident Jan Gilmer.

"Yes," DeWolf said. "The whole area is bad, according to televising,"

Currently, the wastewater is routed right past the treatment plant to the old maintenance garage by Mallard Pass Lake, and then pumped back up the hill, which is inefficient, DeWolf said.

DeWolf proposed to build a lift station south of Fourth Street, which would serve the neighborhood and future developments south of town.

Many asked questions about how the lift station would work if there was no power, which happened last summer.

The city plans to purchase a generator for it, DeWolf said.

Deb Stenberg asked about a rumor she heard that the improvements were being done in the phase one area because Council Member Shelly Reddemann lived there.

DeWolf answered that the areas chosen had faulty clay piping and leaking joints. "It's based on the age of the system and deterioration," he said.

Smith implored residents to understand that no one was being favoritized, and the city went out of its way to ensure fairness.

"We can't do the whole town ­ we can't afford it," Smith said.

"So others have to wait for help." Stenberg said.

Reddemann pointed to people he knew who had major sewer problems more than once, naming many who ended up with several feet of sewage in their basements last summer. Although some endured sewage in their basements for the first time, many others experienced two or three times before.

Stenberg asked why people on 11th Street weren't being targeted, since their sewer problems were recorded longer than those reported at the phase one and two areas.

Eleventh Avenue contained problems with individual lines and tree roots, Smith said. This sentiment was echoed by DeWolf and Public Works Supervisor Tom Goepfert.

Another resident asked about the playground at St. James school, which owns both sides of the street and may end up being charged double.

Smith indicated that St. James may be a special case and the council would address this.

Fire Chief Tom Diers asked questions about fire protection in relation to water volume and fire hydrants, asking for specific figures. He appeared satisfied with the answers.

"The bigger water main, the better," Diers said. The new water mains will be eight inches instead of four.

Council Member John Swanson, who is a member of the fire department, pointed out that the improvements would be good for fire safety, adding pressure to the water.

Many residents expressed unhappiness about being charged assessments, especially compared to businesses on the core strip along Highway 12 that were not assessed for utility improvements there.

DeWolf indicated that the council decided at the time that it would be punishment enough for businesses to endure the two-year-long process of Highway 12, plus being hit by assessments.

At least three other cities did this same thing, making exceptions in their assessment polices to help businesses through the Highway 12 construction, DeWolf said. These same cities charge assessments as usual otherwise, he said.

Warren Dell, owner of an auto repair shop along Fifth Avenue, protested this, saying "So our business will have to pay?"

"It just bothers me that if we're making improvements for this town, why only certain people at certain times are committed to paying for it," Dell said.

"There's not a chance in Hades that I'm ever going to recover $14,800 on the sale of my home," one resident said, having calculated this amount from the interest and term given.

"Absolutely zero, none. I just finished paying assessments for street and now that's not good enough," he said."Other communities are not assessing people."

"There's no way the city can absorb the cost itself," Council Member Tom Kutz said.

DeWolf indicated that 30 percent was the typical cost being assessed back to owners from improvements.

Litchfield charges 40 to 50 percent for assessments, Buffalo and Montrose 30 percent and Big Lake about 60 percent, DeWolf said.

Smith noted that developers are paying 100 percent for their share, and even future developers will shoulder this cost, since half of the lift station is being deferred for this reason.

City Clerk Gene Gilbert entered the discussion, nearly arguing with council members about the validity of assessments.

"I do not feel our property is improved," Gilbert said, having paid assessments in the past for lakeshore property. Gilbert's property is not inside the area being assessed, although she has been vocal in the past about assessments.

Diers pointed out he wouldn't be happy about his taxes going up quite a bit to pay for lake assessments.

The discussion caused Reddemann to exclaim out of frustration that he thought the city should return to gravel roads and no curb or gutter.

Smith pointed out that some people lost up to $30,000 from flooding damage to their basements and that fixing the sewer was the answer, in order to protect citizens in the future.

"It's costing you (now)," Reddemann told the audience, in relation to high maintenance costs to the treatment plant, which is needlessly processing surface water every time it rains.

"It's not on my land, it's yours," one resident said.

"It is yours ­ you own it," Smith told him.

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