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Baxter OKs multi-million dollar street project

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BAXTER — After years of consideration, numerous meetings and hours of discussion, Baxter City Council members voted 4-0 in favor of a multi-million dollar street project affecting about 70 property owners.

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“I’m surprised this place isn’t packed,” Franklin Drive resident Tim Wright said.

Wright said after looking at his assessment and the decreased value of his home it’s disturbing to take 25 percent of his home’s value in an assessment for city water, sewer and a paved road.

“There should be people standing with something like this,” Wright said of the council chambers. “I think they don’t really understand or don’t care what this is going to cost them. ... This is a $5,000 to $8,000 out of your wallet plus the assessment. I don’t know how many people can afford it ... I’d like to chew some rear-end, where are some of these people? Where are you?”

About 27 people attended the special meeting with a variety of questions on project details.

Wright said he wondered if people were going to walk away from their homes and knew of others in the area facing foreclosure.

“The truth is these homes are not worth the investment,” Wright said. “They are not $250,000 homes. ... I look at the value of my home and I’m scared to death.”

Wright commended the council and thanked members for their efforts, saying he truly appreciated efforts to keep costs down.

Karin Cheney, a Woida Road resident since the 1970s, said they’ve waited 15 years for the ability to hook up to the city sanitary sewer.

“If we wait again, it will probably be to the point where no one can afford it,” Cheney said, adding the septic system is a burden when it comes to trying to sell and putting in a new one is more costly than the road project.

“You kind of have to look ahead, it is painful,” Cheney said, adding by waiting it will be unaffordable.

Mayor Darrel Olson said one of the reasons city hall wasn’t packed was because he estimates about 60 percent of the people want this project.

“Of course it’s a lot of money,” Olson said. “No one is denying that.”

Olson said the city sharpened the pencil and looked at ways to reduce costs to property owners. “This is a huge area that’s always had water problems,” he said, adding whatever the council decides Tuesday some will leave unhappy.

Wright asked if the issue could be put to a public vote. Holman said he doesn’t take it lightly but the council is elected to make that decision.

“Can you imagine what it would be like if you had to vote on every decision in this city,” Don Narveson, Wildflower Drive, who attended numerous meetings on this issue. So many he said his wife was going to have his mail sent to city hall. Narveson said he has a 15-year-old septic system. “I can see the writing on the wall,” he said.

As Narveson was speaking another man, Herb Swedin, Franklin Drive, interrupted loudly from the audience disputing whether people knew about the project. Olson said the council minutes are published as well as numerous workshop discussions on these streets. Swedin yelled the city lied as residents sought paving for Franklin and were denied because they didn’t have 75 percent of the signatures in favor. The project received 43 percent previously. When Wright asked people to let Narveson speak, Swedin left the room for a time.

At earlier hearings, council members heard from residents who have waited years for water and sewer. They said not having those services two blocks from the commercial district on Highway 371 puts them at a disadvantage when trying to sell their homes.

Olson said paving alone seals the areas fate for another decade without providing sewer and water.

Other residents, who have long called the area home, said they could afford a paved street but the full assessment costs for utilities and hooking up to them will force them out of their homes after they survived as homeowners through the Great Recession.

“I’ve never seen the city contribute this much to a project,” said Council member Rob Moser, adding six or seven years ago assessments were $23,000 to $25,000 and the city is doing a lot to make this affordable.

Council member Todd Holman said the council also needs to think of the whole city’s infrastructure and water and fire protection, too.

“The economy still is not strong enough for this,” said Janie Lapka, Wildflower Drive. “I think it’s too shaky right now.”

Total project cost is $3,197,697, about $500,000 more than first projected last fall.

For land with buildings, the total assessment is expected to be $16,500 or a yearly estimated payment of $1,611 with an anticipated interest of 5.2 percent. The actual rate won’t be determined until the bonds are sold for the project.

“It’s a difficult decision,” said council member Jim Klein.

Property owners along Franklin, Wildflower and Garland drives and those on Woida Road, from Inglewood Drive to about 720 feet east of Wildflower are subject to the assessments.

For undeveloped lots, the assessment is $14,800 with a yearly payment of $1,445 and may be deferred for 15 years for owners who have additional lots next to developed property. That may be green space next to their homes. Costs are $1 annually until year 16 through 30. If that undeveloped land is sold, or a building permit is issued before the 15-year deferment is up, the assessment is triggered for payment.

Payments may be made in installments during a 15-year period with the first payment in January of 2015.

COST BREAKDOWN

• Municipal costs for a sewer availability charge (SAC) fees are $600 for existing homes and $3,000 for new homes. Water availability costs (WAC) are $600 per existing home and $2,800 per new homes.

• Other fees include a lift station fee of $500 for existing homes, a city inspection fee of $40, a city excavation permit of $45 and a water meter for $300.65.

Along with the effort to extend city water to residents, fire hydrants will be installed every 600 feet and will be on Franklin and Wildflower as well as Woida.

Homeowners have the responsibility of hiring contractors to get service lines from the main line to their homes. They will then have monthly fees for water and sewer combined about $40 to $50.

Because of the dewatering costs, a big part of the project, residents were urged to get their connections in conjunction with the project to save $3,000 to $4,000 or more per home on average.

Those with shallow wells could run dry with the dewatering, but the city will work with residents if that happens to meet water needs with temporary above ground piping in the interim. Temporary mailboxes will be used while the project disrupts the neighborhoods but residents will be able to have their own mailboxes back at their homes once it is completed.

NEXT STEPS

Plans are for 26-foot wide paved streets at Wildflower and Franklin and a 40-foot wide street for Woida with curb and gutter. Trees will be cleared in the right-of-way. The storm-water system will be designed to handle a 100-year flood. With Woida, a paved trail will be created on the streets north side. The city is covering the entire cost of the trail.

Once the project is completed, areas where residents maintained and mowed will be resodded. Other areas will be reseeded.

Construction is expected to take about four months. Work is expected to be completed by Oct. 24. Construction will likely start on the south end of Wildflower Drive.

DEFERRING PAYMENT AND APPEALS

The city council has the option of deferring payment of the assessment if certain criteria is met for homestead properties owned by anyone 65 and older, retired because of permanent or total disability or those ordered into active military service.

Property owners have the right to appeal assessments to district court. Residents needed to present a written objection to the assessment amount at Tuesday’s special meeting.

Then the city must be served with a notice of appeal within 30 days after the council votes to adopt the assessment. Notice of the appeal must be made to district court within 10 days of notifying the city.

Council member Mark Cross was absent.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
(218) 855-5852
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