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City agrees on assessments for west side project

MORRIS – With the arrival of cold weather, some of the finishing touches on the city’s improvement project on the west side of Morris will have to wait until next spring.

At a sparsely-attended public hearing on the final assessments for the project, City Inspecting Engineer Jay Fier told the City Council and some property owners that there are still a few pieces of the project like sidewalk repairs and grass seeding that will have to wait until 2014.

Contractors were out this week finishing some driveways, putting more gravel in the some alleys, and spraying mulch on unseeded boulevards to hold dirt in place until the spring, Fier said.

“There’s going to be a few things that need to be taken care of yet, and hopefully by the end of this week as it warms up we’ll finish that kind of thing,” Fier said.

Fier and City Manager Blaine Hill also answered questions about the assessments on the project, which included a 25 percent increase to the assessment for storm sewers and a new assessment for streets.

In total there were six different assessments included in the project: sanitary sewers, storm sewers, water, sidewalks, curb and gutter, and streets. All of the assessments, except for storm sewers, were lower than the preliminary assessment homeowners were given last fall, Fier said.

Assessments for the project included:

  • $1,860 per user for sanitary sewers
  • $.087 per square foot for storm sewers
  • $3,752 per user for water
  • Between $3.40 and $4.57 per square foot for sidewalks
  • $11.02 per lineal foot for curb and gutter
  • $2,028 per unit (140’ by 50’ lot) for streets

In the past, the city has not assessed homeowners anything for the cost of streets. This year, Hill has repeatedly argued that without starting to assess homeowners for part of the costs of streets, the city will not be able to keep up with road maintenance. Last October, Hill proposed increasing the street assessment on all future projects to 75 percent.

Fier said the street assessment included the costs for items like topsoil and gravel and work like digging out the streets. In this case, the total cost for street improvements came to about $1.03 million dollars.

Although there was initially some debate about how to split the cost between the city and homeowners, the council and city staff agreed that city would cover 75 percent of the cost, about $774,000, while homeowners in the project area will pay for the remaining 25 percent, about $258,000.

Fier said he calculated the individual property assessment for streets based on a standard lot size of 140’ by 50’. This meant some property owners that own multiple parcels or parcels bigger than a standard size would be assessed more for streets.

During the public hearing, some property owners objected to specific decisions made during the project, namely to replace sidewalk they deemed in good repair. Others argued that the overall assessments were too high, and not in line with how much the improvements would raise the value of their property.

According to Minnesota statutes, cities cannot assess property owners more than a project improves the market value of the property.

At the end of the hearing, six people had submitted written notice reserving their right to appeal the assessment for their property. Any property owners who want to appeal have 30 days to file paperwork with the district court.

If the appeals goes forward, both the city and the property owners will hire an assessor to make a determination on the value of the property. That information will be presented to a judge who will determine a fair assessment.

Other business

  • The council passed a resolution approving a Stevens County project on County State Aid Highway 22 for next summer. Because the road is within city limits, the county asked for city approval. According to the project plan, Stevens County will be adding a two inch mill and overlay to the road.
  • The council authorized City Manager Blaine Hill to put in orders for two new police cars. The cars are included in the 2014 budget, but Hill and Police Chief Ross Tiegs wanted to get the order in because it takes several months for the cars to arrive.
  • The council approved a payment of $144,394 to Brietbach Construction for the west side project. The city has now paid about $1.2 million on the project.
  • The council approved a payment of $22,562 to Dore and Associates for demolition of the old elementary school. Due to weather, the final seeding and finishing for that project will also be finished next spring.