With new infrastructure comes additional costs and Richardton is no exception. As part of a special assessment, a unique charge that government units can assess against real estate parcels for certain public projects, the city plans to replace nearly every street in town. This comes not long after a previous special assessment was leveraged to fund a sewer lagoon in 2014 — an assessment many are still paying.
A sewer lagoon is a large pond into which the sewage or effluent from the city sewage system flows. The sewage goes from one’s toilet through the sewer system and then will end up in a pond where the remaining solids will be eaten by various naturally-occurring bacteria living within the lagoon.
In the state of North Dakota when a city proposes various improvements they have to publish their resolution explaining the need for the improvement so the public can see it. This resolution is usually published in a website or newspaper. From there, affected residents can write letters expressing their support or opposition to the project. If more than half of the letters or “votes” are in opposition of the project, the proposal fails to go through and is void.
Not all residents are entitled to a vote, only the affected property owners who comprise what is called the special assessment district may vote.
Most major rehabilitation, infrastructure and improvement projects surpass the funds available to complete, thus the city moves forward with the special assessment. Many municipalities will offset the costs diverted to property owners by assuming a portion of the cost. In Richardton the city plans to assume 40% of the $7 million dollar estimated project — leaving the remaining 60% on the shoulders of property owners in the district.
Richardton Auditor Marcy Kuntz said she believes the city received several grants for the lagoon prior to the special assessment — highlighting the efforts of the city to offset the financial burdens placed on property owners.
Earlier this month, the Richardton City Council proposed a complete Mill and Overlay project, the process of grinding off the top layer of existing asphalt pavement by means of a large milling machine and replacing this layer with a new riding surface. The “street rehab project,” encompasses nearly all of the streets in Richardton.
The timing of the project, with the previous special assessment still lingering, has a couple residents crying foul and saying that they are still paying for the sewer lagoon and are opposed to adding more financial burden in the form of taxes.
"Richardson built a useless addition to the lagoon, and we are paying a total of $10,000 dollars per resident for it," Jeff and Carmen Karch said in a Facebook post. "[The city] said it was [be]cause of the large influx of people going to be moving here because of the oil boom.”
The Karch’s added, “Think we gained 10 people."
Kuntz clarified that most residents did not pay $10,000 and instead said that the cost paid in full at the time of the assessment by a majority of property owners was $3,448.28 per special assessment.
“If they paid over the full length of the amortization, the total is $4,396.55.,” Kuntz clarified.
Kuntz was able to confirm that the payment amounts for the sewer lagoon varied from property owner to property owner, and that $10,000 per resident was not the norm.
Kuntz said if the street rehabilitation proposal is approved, residents will have to pay two different sets of taxes for at least one year. The first set the result of the lagoon; the second for the street rehabilitation program — should the proposal pass.
In a previous Press article, Richardton City Council President Tom Roll said those in the special assessment districts will be paying for the sewer lagoon until 2024. Kuntz agreed with Roll, she said if the current proposal passes, taxes from both projects will only coincide during the 2023 tax year.
“...this street project is not going to happen right now, so it’s not going to be on ‘22’s specials. It is maybe gonna be in ‘23’s special,” Kuntz said of the proposed street rehabilitation project.
As has been widely reported, the economic impacts of COVID and the downturn of the oil industry severely affected many North Dakota cities, including Richardton.
According to documents obtained by The Press, oil and gas revenue has dropped to an all-time low, netting Richardton $183,021.18.
Despite the current economic situation, Kuntz said she believes these improvements are necessary for the survival of Richardton.
“I think (street rehab) makes economic sense… When a community doesn’t improve, it dies,” Kuntz said.
When asked as to how residents would respond to increasing taxes, Kuntz said she believes that residents understand that city council members live in town and will be paying for these improvements along with everyone else. She also recalled receiving positive feedback from residents regarding the city’s plans to repair streets. Kuntz added that the people of Richardton understand and are willing to do what it takes, whatever that may be.
The project is yet to be voted on and remains in the early stages of discussions and planning. The city of Richardton will further address the special assessment proposal in the resolution of necessity which is scheduled for publication. Property owners seeking to address the special assessment, either voicing support or opposition to the project, have until March 26 to submit a letter to the city of Richardton or attend a commission meeting.