The Dickinson City Commission approved plans Monday to establish a special assessment district to fund improvements along 40th Street.
City officials and landowners along the underdeveloped stretch of road have gone back and forth about how to finance road, sewer and electric work, estimated by engineers to cost $7 million but allotted only $5 million in Capital Improvement Project funds.
City officials were initially asking landowners to cover what City Attorney Matt Kolling called “a $2 million funding gap,” but after a series of meetings, Kolling said he “received some resistance to that, so city staff went back to the drawing board.”
Kolling presented a resolution at Monday’s City Commission meeting that proposed putting a special assessment together, so “that the city would bear the up-front cost for the entire construction of the road,” he said, and landowners would pay back the $2 million over time.
City Commissioner Carson Steiner asked whether a payment plan was in place to distribute the costs among landowners, but Kolling said a special assessment commission would determine how special assessment would be handled.
With the resolution passed, landowners have 30 days to either sign a petition endorsing the special assessment district or to file a protest with the city. If a majority of landowners protest the resolution, it would not move forward.
“If this district were created by petition, some of the time frames and the time tables by state statute are less,” said City Engineer Craig Kubas.
Kubas’ estimate at a previous meeting that the improvement plan, from approval to design, would take six weeks was “a best-case scenario if it was created by petition,” he said Monday.
Time is still a concern as commission members wait to see if landowners endorse the special assessment district or not, with construction season already underway.
“A delay is a possibility here,” Kolling said. “It’s certainly not our desire to delay it. We feel it’s necessary to move forward as expeditiously as possible.”
After the 30-day period passes, the commission will meet again to hold a public hearing to determine if the special assessment district is endorsed by a majority of landholders.
No commission action taken on billboard appeal
The City Commission declined to take action on an appeal by Dakota Outdoor Advertising regarding several sign applications rejected by Community Development Director Ed Courton.
City Attorney Matthew Kolling advised the commission to continue the appeal until the next meeting.
Dakota Outdoor Advertising had applied to construct several digital billboards within city limits. Kolling said he had reached an agreement with the company under which they would withdraw their current billboard applications and instead receive permits for other billboards built in compliance with the city’s current draft code.
“We believe we’ll have this matter resolved within a few days,” Kolling said. “What I would recommend tonight is that you would take no action on the appeal; continue it on until the next city commission meeting. I expect to have this matter wrapped up prior to that.”
NDDOT working to ease truck traffic in west
North Dakota Department of Transportation Director Grant Levi addressed the City Commission on Monday to discuss growing traffic concerns in the western part of state, particularly truck traffic.
Levi, who met with The Dickinson Press editorial board Monday morning to present NDDOT data, said traffic increased 22 percent statewide between 2010 and 2012, and 53 percent in western North Dakota throughout the 17 oil-producing counties.
“We anticipate traffic continuing to grow,” he said.
In the last state legislative session, legislators approved $2.3 billion in funding for the NDDOT, much of which has gone toward bypasses and infrastructure “in order to enhance the quality of life and communities,” Levi said.
The NDDOT has several projects underway or set to begin in the coming years to ease truck traffic around Dickinson, including the interim Dickinson truck bypass near Exit 59, the new 116th Avenue Interstate 94 interchange, the Dickinson State Avenue overpass project and a curve realignment project on Highway 21 west of New England.
With all of the construction projects needed around the state, Levi said there is a possibility that the federally funded Highway Trust Fund may run out this summer before its Sept. 30 expiration date unless Congress brings additional money into the trust fund.
“We could be in a position where we would have to work very closely with communities that have federally funded projects,” and possibly “delay some work that is occurring” he said.
“That is very concerning.”
Commission Vice President Gene Jackson praised Levi and his team for their responsiveness in dealing with traffic issues facing western North Dakota.
“We worry sometimes that we’re not getting enough attention out here from the state,” he said. “But I think the people at this table know, and I’m not sure the public knows, that that’s not the case with DOT.”