City considers taxing method

One down, 11 to go. During Monday's regular city commission meeting, the public remained silent on the issue of special assessments. The commissioners, on the other hand, came to a conclusion on the policy issue. "I don't think we need to resort ...

One down, 11 to go.

During Monday's regular city commission meeting, the public remained silent on the issue of special assessments.

The commissioners, on the other hand, came to a conclusion on the policy issue.

"I don't think we need to resort to special assessments or any kind of special fees on our ongoing street maintenance," Mayor Dennis Johnson said. "I think we have a lot of flexibility with sales taxes; we've had a fair amount of sales tax revenue growth for the past couple of years and of course we have had some property tax growth with some new properties coming online."

Johnson said on some major projects, the city may need to look at alternative means of funding rather than sales and property taxes.


Still, the commissioners were hesitant to say they would never use special assessments.

"Another legitimate use, I think, of special assessments is the volunteer program the city has in place wherein individuals if they want sidewalks replaced..., can voluntarily choose to do special assessments for the cost," Frenzel said. "Plus, they get the costs completed at a very competitive bid, but beyond that I am still very reluctant to see any community use special assessments."

Frenzel also said using special assessments on subdivision developments would also be fine. Johnson has previously said special assessments make sense on new developments.

Commissioner Dukart vocalized one concern she had with choosing not to use special assessments.

"What's going to end up happening when the current 10-year program we're in (on the chip seal project) ends?" Dukart said. "I'm hoping that we're going to have another plan in place."

Johnson allayed those concerns by mentioning the flexibility in the city's sales tax revenues. He said approximately 50 percent of Sales Tax I is used to address infrastructure issues; and once the bond on the West River Community Center is paid, Sales Tax II could be used for anything.

Since many special assessment projects are on infrastructure, City Engineer Shawn Soehren weighed in.

"The fairness term comes up a bit here in the discussions; that's been a big struggle that we've had in looking at specials," Soehren said.


He said sometimes when a resident's property is part of a larger city project, the owner would not end up paying to replace his sidewalk, for example. Whereas if another nearby resident didn't have his property affected by the larger project, he would have to special assess the sidewalk work.

"I think being fair is one thing that needs to be addressed in the process," Commissioner Bill Reitmeier said.

Johnson said since the commissioners agreed not to special assess future chip seal projects, Soehren should factor in a seven-year cycle in initial budget proposals.

City Administrator Greg Sund said he would write up a draft of the city's policy on special assessments, based on the commissioners' discussion.

During a strategic planning meeting in January, the city identified a dozen policy issues to discuss at regular city commission meetings. Special assessments was chosen as the first issue to debate.

In an unrelated matter, Soehren also reported on St. Benedict's special use permit request.

After the previous city commission meeting, the commissioners sent the request back to the planning and zoning commission to work out an issue with a neighbor opposed to the permit change.

"At the meeting, Mr. Frenzel had made some comments in regards to the parties trying to get together to communicate but at that point, they hadn't had an opportunity," Soehren said.


Since the meeting, Soehren said one of the parties is looking to acquire an attorney to speak on her behalf.

The planning and zoning meeting, where the issue was tabled, was held on March 21. Soehren said the topic would be discussed again during the next planning and zoning meeting.

In an unrelated matter, Sund asked the commissioners' opinion on whether to retain Mackoff Kellogg's services, since City Attorney Tim Priebe is leaving the law firm in July.

After hearing the options, to hire an in-house attorney, put out a new request for proposals or keeping with Mackoff Kellogg, the commissioners unanimously agreed to stay with the current firm.

Priebe said with the commissioners' decision, he could begin to prepare a new attorney to take over his responsibilities. Attorney Matt Kolling expressed an interest in the position.

At the commissioners' request, Sund said he would begin to meet with Kolling, along with any other Mackoff Kellogg attorneys who may be interested.

In another unrelated matter, the city voted unanimously to pass the second reading of the forestry ordinance. With the ordinance changed, Skip Rapp, public works manager for forestry, said he would present at a future meeting a list of trees that would be prohibited to be planted in the city.

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