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Dassel City Council continues to mull over assessments
May 10, 2010

By Lynda Jensen

DASSEL, MN – A discussion about special assessments continued during a work session and regular meeting for the Dassel City Council last Monday.

The council worked for an hour through the first five sections of a policy supplied by the League of Minnesota Cities to fashion something that would work for Dassel, which doesn’t have a written policy in place for assessments.

The city is taking a closer look at its special assessment policy, which currently stands at 40 percent of project amounts being assessed to the property owner, for such things as street or utility improvements.

Currently, the city is looking at bumping the property owner’s share up to as much as 60 percent.

Council Member Jason Benzing, who initially brought up the subject over concern for dilapidated sidewalks, changed his opinion on assessments.

What if a cul-de-sac was theoretically installed at the end of Guy Street, Benzing said, so that parents could turn around to pick up their kids at the school.

In this example, Council Member Pat Haapala would be heavily assessed for this since she owns a fair amount of frontage there, but the cul-de-sac would really benefit the parents who pick their kids up, he said.

“Do you want to spread it out or really nail that person (with frontage) – whether they want (improvements) or not?” Benzing asked.

It was noted that there always is a hearing included the assessment process.

Scanlon noted that there are portions of the sample policy that pertain to hard luck cases and such that would help.

McGrath pointed out that the assessment can’t exceed the benefit. “There’s a lot of protection in the statute (statute 429 that relates to assessments not exceeding benefit).

Scanlon said that if the city didn’t assess, it drives up the cost of living in Dassel. “Are you going to stop people from moving into town?” he asked.

Scanlon emphasized on a number of occasions that if the city picks up the tab, it isn’t the city, but each taxpayer in town who pays the bill.

Benzing said if something benefited more than a few people, then it should be shared. It was noted that even churches, which are not subject to property taxes, are, indeed, subject to assessments.

The sidewalk problem is “glaring” in town, Scanlon said. “We need some sort of system.”

Benzing said that city government should be limited.

It was also mentioned that it has been a practice for Dassel to charge 6 percent interest for assessment balances, even though the city is charged 4 percent on its bonds.

Benzing objected to the idea of making money in this fashion. Scanlon asked if the money could be put back into the utility funds, to help pay for the projects.

As reported previously, when it comes to street maintenance or sidewalks, many area cities don’t charge special assessments.

Cokato doesn’t charge special assessments, noted Cokato Administrator Don Levens. He confirmed that the previous article about this subject was accurate, including the graph that listed assessments for “street maintenance, similar work,” as it was listed.

As was noted in the previous article, Levens said that there was a special assessment done for new utilities that were extended for the Trailstone development in Cokato from Seventh Street, but that this was a separate arrangement that didn’t pertain to maintenance of a road or street. “That’s very different,” he explained.

No decisions were made at the meeting, and the council decided to continue its discussion at the next meeting, 7 p.m. Monday, May 17.

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