Baxter City Council approves North Forestview project
Council members also voted amends assessment policy for project noting unprecedented situation.
How to work a street and municipal sewer project into an established neighborhood was always a challenging decision for city government and became more so after the coronavirus crisis.
After many months of meetings, discussion and feedback, Baxter City Council members Tuesday, April 21, made a final decision on whether to move forward with the project, seek new bids or put the project known collectively as the South Interceptor North Forestview project off for a future date.
Four bids were received for the project. All were higher than the engineer’s estimate for a base bid of $7,862,518 and bid alternate of $300,465.50 for a combined total of $8,162,983.50. The lowest bid was by RL Larson for $8,277,231.18 with an alternate of $272,209.04 for a combined total of $8,549,440.22 — a 6% increase from the engineer’s estimate. The alternate portion of the bid covers street and storm sewer improvements to Ironwood Drive for the Knute Nelson senior living development project planned next to Mapleton Road and slated to be completed in 2021. Knute Nelson is being assessed with the cost associated with the bid alternate.
The total project, with the sewer, street and stormwater improvements is projected to cost $10,876,604, including construction, contingency, land acquisition, equipment and other fees.
The council voted 4-1 in favor of moving forward with the project with council member Mark Cross opposed. In a second vote moments later, the council also approved three options to help residents faced with the assessments:
Extend the payment of partial and full special assessments without interest from the original April deadline to June 30, 2020.
Reduce the 2020 assessment interest rate to a flat 2.5%, which represents a reduction from the 4.5% estimated for the rest of the year.
Extend the special assessment repayment term from 15 to 20 years, which the city noted would lower the initial annual payment by about $272.
“For a typical $16,200 special assessment on a developed parcel in the North Forestview segment of the project, the combined three proposed components would result in a reduction of the annual assessment installment from the current $1,562 annually over 15 years to approximately $1,261 annually over 20 years, an initial annual reduction $301,” the city reported.
“I’m encouraged by those options,” Council member Connie Lyscio said.
Mayor Darrel Olson said one of his concerns was setting a precedent.
“And I think the response or the answer is we haven’t been in this particular situation in the past either,” Olson said. “Maybe it deserves a second look with some of these options, which maybe we haven’t done in the past. Today is a new normal. The next project may be back to the normal normal. … It’s something we haven’t done before but maybe it is justifiable because of the situation we find ourselves in right now.”
Council member Zach Tabatt said he was willing to move forward on all three options. Tabatt said these aren’t normal circumstances.
“We’re in a position right now where it seems like the right thing for us to do to maximize flexibility and remove whatever burden we’re capable of,” Tabatt said, “Because while this project is moving forward, it’s still a difficult time for people.”
The full council voted to revise the city’s assessment policy for this project.
Since the project came before the council, members heard a robust outpouring of those who were opposed to the project, saying the scope wasn’t needed. They cited the assessment cost as being too much and stated septic systems were currently serving the area without a need for a city system. Those in favor of the project pointed to a deteriorating street, concerns for the environment and long-term growth of the city.
The city council wrestled with the decision and the cost to residents along with the special circumstances of serving a long-standing neighborhood.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the concern for special circumstances rose to a new level with council members noting the current and uncertain economic situation.
Tuesday, meeting via Zoom for the second time with council members in separate locations, the council members once again considered the options. Two emails were received from the public, both speaking in favor of moving forward with the project, which has been talked about since the early 2000s.
Olson said he knows there are residents who are opposed to the project, but to say no one wants it is not a fair statement either.
With a topic that has prompted many hours of discussion, the call for the vote Tuesday came fairly quickly with options detailed in the council packet of information. Two parties, representing four of the 178 parcels involved in the project area, filed assessment appeals in district court. The city reported the assessments for those parcels totaled $226,800 or less than 6% of the net assessments for the $10.7 million project. Thirteen prepayments of assessments, or $196,200 were received as of April 17.
The city noted the sanitary sewer line was needed to relieve existing lift stations and accommodate growth in the city’s southwest portion, where the new Baxter Elementary School and the Knute Nelson development are going. The city report also pointed to the deteriorating streets in the North Forestview neighborhood and lack of flood control next to Highland Scenic Road. The city also noted the project will employ 76 people and generate about $2,855,000 in wages and benefits.
City Administrator Brad Chapulis noted the contractor could start on the project as early as next week.
Renee Richardson, managing editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchBizBuzz.