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Fairmont couple appeals assessment

FAIRMONT — Only one property owner impacted by the assessments for the Lake Avenue reconstruction project appeared at a public hearing during the Fairmont City Council meeting Monday.

John Hovick, who owns property at 115 and 123 W. Blue Earth Ave. with his wife, Marilyn, asked for a 50 percent reduction of the $11,360 assessment, based on his claim that they already paid assessments for a full reconstruction project in 1989.

While resurfacing and overlays are used to repair streets, total reconstruction, which includes infrastructure, curb and gutter, sidewalks and streets, usually lasts 50 years and longer.

The Hovicks also cited the $1,200 they have spent to repair the sewer at the properties since the Lake Avenue project started in late July.

City Attorney Mark Rahrick advised the council via telephone on the process of appealing and modifying an assessment. The property owner is required to submit a signed written objection to the assessment during the public hearing, which the Hovicks did, and within 30 days, the property owner must file that appeal in district court.

“From the City Council’s perspective, the City Council has the discretion to modify any special assessments either now or after you approve this resolution. You can always go back and amend it,” Rahrick said.

Even if the Hovicks do not file the appeal in court, the council has every right to collect the full assessment, but also maintains the ability to modify the amount if that is what is deemed as fair, he said.

Rahrick recommended the council approve the resolution assessing the property owners but continue discussion with the Hovicks to resolve the matter within 30 days, before the property owners filed the appeal in court.

Councilman Randy Lubenow questioned the fairness of giving relief to the Hovicks but not the rest of the property owners on the street.

Mayor Debbie Foster noted that the Hovicks have been in business at that address for more than 30 years, which makes it unique when compared to the other property owners, and claim to already have paid assessments for a full reconstruction in 1989.

Councilman Tom Hawkins noted that all the property owners along the construction route received notification of the assessment hearing, but no others appeared at the hearing or submitted a written protest.

It will cost an estimated $1,400 per foot for the $4.9 million Lake Avenue reconstruction project. Abutting property owners are assessed $80 per frontage foot. The remainder is paid through infrastructure funds, utility funds, property taxes and general obligation bonds.

Turning to other business, the council discussed the merits of having the accounts payable as part of the meeting’s consent agenda. Items on the consent agenda usually do not generate discussion and can be approved collectively with a single motion, second and vote, all of which expedites the meeting. However, the council can add or remove any item to the agenda prior at the start of the meeting.

Lubenow expressed his desire to move the accounts payable, which usually runs over $1 million per month, to a separate agenda item, as it had been until recently. He also supported an overall report, similar to those done as school board meetings, highlighting any large or unusual payments.

Foster noted that the council agendas are distributed on the Thursday prior to council meetings, allowing a couple of days for council members and the public to ask any questions about payments directly to Paul Hoye, city finance director.

“If there’s a member of our community that sees something on that check register, they can call him and ask him what that was for. Council members, you have that same privilege. Questions are good,” Foster said.

Hawkins said moving it back to a separate agenda item wouldn’t take any more meeting time.

City Administrator Cathy Reynolds noted that a municipality’s consent agenda is a common location for accounts payable.

“If somebody has a question, they can request to move it off, which is a very simple process,” she said.

She said having a discussion or report about the accounts payable at every meeting is on a very different level than having a question about one line item.

Lubenow conceded to keeping the accounts payable on the consent agenda since it can be moved to a separate agenda item at the start of each meeting.

“I felt like I’m doing something wrong by asking questions on the bills,” he said. “It’s not that I don’t trust anybody at the city. I just think citizens have the right to know when things come up unusual.”

Foster said asking those questions on the days prior to a council meeting is different than waiting to bring it up at a meeting when Hoye would have no opportunity to research a particular item and give accurate information.

“Letting him know or letting Cathy know what your questions are about the checks, that shouldn’t stop,” Foster said. “There should always be questions if council members look in depth at that register, as well as the community asking questions.”

In another matter, the council approved the sale of land to Dick and Sarah Gerhardt and the purchase of land from them for the Dutch Creek watershed project. The city will sell 35 acres adjacent to County Road 39 south of West Lair Road to the Gerhardts for $1 and purchase 36.81 acres along Dutch Creek from them for $230,000.

According to Troy Nemmers, city engineer/public works director, the land transfers are needed for the Dutch Creek project, which will include installation of a small bioreactor to remove nitrates from the watershed in an effort to improve the quality of lake water. Financed mainly through grant funds, the project also includes construction of sediment control and wetland restoration.

Lubenow, who cast the lone dissenting vote on the sale of the 35 acres, noted that the city had purchased the 35-acre tract of land from Gerhardt in 2003 for $77,000.

Nemmers said that purchase had the intent to use the land for a sedimentation pond.

“The intent of the property owner and the city, back when that agreement was done in 2003, is not the same as what we’re accomplishing with this project,” Nemmers said. “There’s other rules and requirements with grant funding that commits us to other things that we aren’t able to do under the previous arrangements.”

In other business, the council:

— Approved the sale of Titus, the Fairmont Police Department’s K-9 dog, to Sgt. James Tietje for $1,000. Tietje, who has trained and worked with Titus since 2018, will be leaving the police force at the end of this week. Selling the dog to another department or retraining him to work with another officer was determined not to be in the best interest of the city. Chief Mike Hunter said the department will take a pause and re-evaluate the city’s K-9 program.

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