By Ryan Gueningsman
DELANO, MN About 15 Delano residents attended a public hearing regarding the city’s proposed assessment policy Tuesday night.
Some spoke in opposition of the policy, and others asked questions of city staff about the proposal.
Before opening the public comment portion of the meeting, City Administrator Phil Kern gave a brief recap of the timeline building up to the hearing, and also briefly outlined the policy and its process.
Kern said the Delano City Council had a prior public hearing on the issue April 6, and at that time, the council wished to continue the hearing in order to obtain more feedback and input from Delano residents.
He said assessments allocate public costs in cases where special benefits are received by private properties, and said assessments are not new to Delano.
Kern cited instances like a street/utility project on Johnson Avenue in the late 1990s, nuisance issues, unpaid utility bills, and also said new developments are assessed 100 percent for any new infrastructure.
“The assessment process is nothing new,” Kern said.
The proposed policy that was presented by Kern would formalize the process and communicate assessment procedures for all stakeholders, it was noted.
Kern said, with aging infrastructure issues on the horizon, having a mechanism in place to be uniformly applied is important.
Delano residents voice their concerns
Kern said the city received one written correspondence prior to the meeting regarding the policy from local attorney Dick Grinley, who expressed concerns about consistency with the utility portions of projects. Kern said several residents also called and asked questions about the proposed policy.
He said there hasn’t been much disagreement heard on the assessment policy itself, but rather concerns with the street reconstruction schedule.
Delano resident Wayne Estby was the first resident to speak, and expressed disappointment that Mayor Joe McDonald and Council Member Holly Schrupp were absent from the hearing. McDonald was out of town, and Schrupp arrived at the meeting shortly after Estby spoke due to being at another meeting that was scheduled at the same time.
Estby, who lives on Franklin Avenue, said his street is more a “cartway” rather than a street, and presented the council some background information on the road by his property.
He asked the city if the cartway would be considered in the same manner as a street would in the assessment policy, and was told it would.
“We don’t really care if it gets improved or not, being it’s only used by four people,” Estby said.
A question was presented to city staff about the value of corner lots and lots in the middle of blocks. Each unit will be treated the same, no matter if it is located on a corner lot or not, it was noted.
Estby said he has a feeling his “cartway will be the guinea pig” for the policy, and said he felt the city shouldn’t adopt the policy with McDonald and Schrupp absent.
Delano resident Scott Shoutz likened the proposed assessment policy to what airlines have been doing lately, in charging travelers for more things that didn’t previously have charges.
He said there are services one comes to expect when paying taxes to a city, including police and fire protection, snowplowing, and also street maintenance, he said.
Shoutz said he was disappointed to learn a pavement management plan has been in existence for the city since 2003, showing that some city streets are beyond their life expectancy and were in states of disrepair and yet money wasn’t budgeted for the roads.
“Everybody uses the roads,” Shoutz said, adding that it’s not fair to only charge the people who have property along a given road for something that many use.
Shoutz also brought up a concern he had after reviewing the proposed policy about infrastructure replacement for sewer and water.
In conclusion, Shoutz said he is “totally against” the proposed policy, and said his biggest disappointment is that the streets haven’t been repaired and maintained.
Council Member Larry Bartels thanked Shoutz for his comments and asked Shoutz what he would do to fix the streets.
Shoutz said it comes back to budgeting for it, and spending money in the areas it is allocated to be spent.
Another Delano resident asked if churches or public buildings would be exempt from the assessment policy, and it was noted churches, schools, and city buildings are not exempt and would be treated as a commercial property.
He also asked how this policy compares to neighboring communities or those of similar size.
“We are one of few cities that does not have an assessment policy,” Kern said, adding that Delano’s proposed policy is generally down the middle compared to others.
Duane Swenson brought up that in real estate listings, the actual street has very little to do with whether a person will purchase a residence. He also stated he was against the way the proposed policy was set up.
Another resident brought up that in the example used at the last meeting, it stated percentages, and he said possibly more people would be concerned if actual dollar amounts were used in the examples.
Bartels reminded residents there are no “additional dollars” being created, and that the projects would be paid for one way or the other through taxes, or through assessments.
The city has approximately $40 million worth of streets, with each street having a life expectancy of 30 years.
Following the discussion, the council decided to take no action and left the hearing open, deciding to revisit the issue again at its Tuesday, May 4 meeting at 7 p.m.
Odds and ends
In other business, the council:
• approved, on a split vote, a request from Crow River State Bank for a variance for exterior materials. The bank wants to upgrade the look of its existing building by replacing the cedar channel board siding with a recycled metal covering.
Council Member Betsy Stolfa voted against the motion, stating she felt the applicant could have looked more at other alternatives.
• approved two ordinances relating to pawn shops in Delano.
The ordinance allows pawn shops, sets design standards, and also determines in what parts of the city a business of that nature may be located.
• approved amendments to the city’s personnel policy. The amendments relate to vacation leave accrual, vacation leave use, sick leave use, funeral leave, and maternity/paternity leave.
• approved a request from St. Peter’s Catholic Church/School for a street dance Saturday, June 5.
The request includes the closing of River Street from Bridge Avenue to Railroad Avenue, selling strong beer, and music from Butch Automatic. Dave Carroll from Dave’s Town Club is the event chairman and a representative of the church school board.
• approved a request from Moshe Weiss for an extension in recording the final plat for Midwest Genesis (Weiss Addition), a six-lot twin home subdivision off of Honeytree Drive and Wright County Road 16.
• authorized city staff to sell decommissioned street signs. This sale will take place on ebay.com as the signs do not meet safety requirements.
• approved the hiring of two seasonal workers for public works Peder Moe and Arnie Smith, both having started the week of April 19.
The council also approved the hiring of Paul Swearingen for the full-time position available with the public works department at a starting wage of $16.50 per hour. This fills the position left when Steve Richardson retired in November 2009.
• approved the hiring of Cody Krieg as the city’s Fun In The Sun (FITS) coordinator for the 2010 summer season.
• approved the sale of a 1998 Ford Champion van to Delano Public Schools for $2,200.
The city purchased the van from Senior Community Services in 2007, as a result to changes in public transportation at the time, and last summer the city leased the van to the school for $1.
• authorized a downtown movie and related street closure for an event Friday, June 4 at the request of the Delano Dream Team II. This will be an event similar to the city’s “movie in the park” last fall. Bridge Avenue will be closed from Third Street North to River Street North, and the council requested the city staff to work with the Dream Team II to limit impacts on local traffic.