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City defends street bills

October 25, 2011
Lee Smith - Staff Writer , Fairmont Sentinel

FAIRMONT - When the city fixes the street in front of your home, you can expect to pay. How much is known. What's fair is up for debate.

Or so suggested a few citizens Monday when they appeared before the Fairmont City Council to ask about their assessments for street repairs the city undertook this past summer.

Jim Bartz of 1920 Albion Ave. said his $7,500 assessment seems like a lot of money, since he paid about the same for his house back in 1956.

He said living on Social Security brings in about $1,500 per month, which is not a lot considering the other bills he and his wife face. He said he understands the city has a deferral for senior citizens like himself, but deferring the assessment just adds to the cost (through interest) and transfers the burden to his children.

Bartz also complained about cars speeding along Albion Avenue, which underwent reconstruction from Northwest Belle Vue Road to Lair Road this year. (The street is expected to re-open sometime this week as work wraps up.)

City Administrator Jim Zarling responded to Bartz's concerns, saying he is sure the police will do what they can to enforce the speed limit along Albion. As for assessment costs, Zarling reminded those present that what the city assesses property owners is just a portion of the total cost. He said the work on Albion Avenue cost the city $525 per foot, but the city is only assessing abutting property $75 per foot.

Zarling said that by state law the city must assess 20 percent of the project cost to landowners in order to sell improvement bonds, which the city uses regularly to finance road work.

"Without special assessments, we'd have gravel streets," he said.

Finally, Zarling agreed that giving senior citizens a deferral transfers costs to a time when their property is sold. However, the deferral is a state law meant to help keep seniors in their homes. Despite the deferral for seniors, Zarling said the city must keep making principal and interest payment on its debt, which means other citizens are financing (through property taxes) any deferrals.

In discussing assessments, Zarling made clear that property owners can pay them immediately or pay them off with interest (5 percent) over 15 years.

Another citizen, Matt Schmidt of 3607 Cedar Park Rd., suggested there is something unfair about assessments if a person has an odd-shaped lot that is narrow in front and wide in back. Because the city averages the lot width when making assessments, Schmidt believes his neighbor is probably paying too much.

Schmidt's comments related to resurfacing work done on Cedar Park Road, from Arthur Street to the Cedar Park parking lot. Schmidt noted he has one lot that is not usable, except for deer and squirrels, so he questioned the assessment on that lot.

Zarling reminded council members that the city appointed a citizens task force about 20 years ago to consider issues like these and others. He said that while people may disagree, the task force put a good deal of discussion and thought into how to assess special cases, such as corner lots, oddly shaped lots, cul-de-sacs and others.

On the issue of a lot that is not "buildable," Zarling said some people may consider a lot that plays host to squirrels, rabbits and deer to be more valuable than another piece of property. Others may look at it and just consider whether it can host a structure. The lesson? When someone chooses to buy a property, they have to consider all these things in the equation, along with the assessments they may face some day.

As they wrapped up the public hearing, the council approved the assessment rolls for 2011, with the exception of some properties owned by Kenneth R. Krueger, who submitted his objection in writing, as is needed to appeal an assessment. Krueger will have a chance to make his case before the council next month.



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