An assessment hearing for 2019 street repairs brought lots of angry citizens to Stillwater City Hall on Oct. 1.
Of the 4.1 miles of streets included, some work remains to be done because of wet weather delays, Assistant City Engineer Reabar Abdullah said. Per the City’s assessment policy, approximately $1.4 million of the total $2.4 million project will be paid through assessments to property owners.
Laura Podgornik, a first-time home buyer, said her $2,800 bill came as a surprise. “To get a notification two weeks ago and then have to pay by November 1 or have it financed otherwise is very troubling to me,” she told the Council. She said the notice gave no information about what the project would entail. “I found out within a day they would drill out the entire front of my driveway forcing it to be unusable,” she said.
James DeCaro, a Sherburne Street homeowner, said his sidewalk and driveway apron were replaced with inferior materials, decreasing rather than upping property value. He urged the Council to explore a different method of financing such projects.
Joe Samuelson, who lives on North Second Street, agreed the City has a communication problem, but the larger issue is how street repairs are financed. “You’re not willing to tax everybody across the city,” he said. “You have to be willing to put money into infrastructure. You have to find another mechanism to do this.”
Marketa Palkova-Resong said she moved into her house last May and was greeted by a bill. “I’m not sure what I will be paying for,” she said. “I wish I had something in my hand that would show me what’s going to be happening on the street.”
Public Works Director Shawn Sanders said neighborhood meetings were held last spring to discuss the project, with notices sent out to all property owners. Another notice was sent in March after the Council approved the feasibility study, and another in May. Regular emailed construction updates are available to anyone who signs up for them, he added. Information also is posted on the City’s web site under Street Projects.
Several residents questioned why assessments are billed before work is completed. Sanders explained that the City pays the contractor monthly as work is performed. The assessment hearing must be held 30 days prior to sending the assessment roll to the County to put on the tax rolls, he explained.
“Essentially we have to pay for it and we don’t have a giant pile of money sitting there to pay contractors,” commented Mayor Ted Kozlowski. He said he didn’t personally believe street projects add to property values, and would be willing to look at a different assessment system. But change would be hard, especially for those still paying off assessments for previous projects.
“If you want to see a group of very angry people . . . When we talk about fairness and equity, it’s 15 years of ripping a bandaid off. There will be enormous amounts of pain either individually every year for a small group, or collectively for everybody for a long time. No one enjoys this but we do have to fix our streets, our gutters, and sidewalks.”
Residents wishing to appeal their assessment must have filed a written or verbal objection by the close of the October 1 meeting, a notice of claim within 30 days, and a notice of objection with the District Court within ten days after that. Assessments are payable over a period of ten years with 2.75% interest.
Meanwhile, after much discussion about possible damage to city infrastructure due to its weight, the Council gave the green light to the Ice Castle for the 2019-2020 season. This will be the attraction’s third year in Lowell Park; nearly 100,000 people visited the Ice Castle in 2017-2018. Based on past concerns about spring clean-up after the venue was closed, impacts to the park, the gazebo, and water usage, a long list of conditions was part of the agreement, approved by unanimous vote.
The Council also honored firefighter Tim Bell for over 50 years of service. Hired in 1968 as a part time police officer, Bell has served as a policeman, firefighter/engineer, captain and assistant chief. When asked when he will retire, Bell said, “All I can say is I’ve really enjoyed the last 50 years and I look forward to the next 50.” Oct. 6-12 is Fire Prevention Week. The public is invited to a Fire Department Open House on Oct. 12.
The Council also recognized Stillwater Rotary for 100 years of service to the community, and proclaimed Oct. 10 as “Stillwater Rotary Day.” A recognition celebration is set for Oct. 10 at JX Event Center.