Week of February 9, 2020

Last week the city council held a town meeting to discuss how we should pay for road mill and overlays.  Since we are starting a new round of such improvements (the city last overlaid all its roads in the late 1990s), we wanted to lay a consistent path for the next round of improvements, starting with Lake Avenue this year.

The issue is whether it is better to pay for the mill and overlay through our annual tax levy or by special assessments to the affected property owners.  There are many issues involving the decision: higher home value properties would pay a greater percentage under the tax levy approach, many properties are nuanced by multiple frontages and odd sizes, front footage versus per lot unit, etc.  Plus should city assess city parks?  
Then there is the fact that much of the town exits the city via Hall Avenue and Cedar Street creating more wear and tear costs for those abutting residents compared to other, less used roads. Special assessment statutory requirements add a lot of extra professional billable hours and costs.  And some raised the question of how can you assess property when the value seems amorphous.

A good cross-section of the city attended with more weighing in by email.  The discussion was helpful to most in attendance, and it showed the issues the council was having.  In the end, a large portion (about 70%) of those weighing in decided it was best to pay for these improvements by general tax levy.  The Roads Committee had previously endorsed this option as well.

Two residents summed up their support of a tax levy by stating we are a community in which we all enjoy the benefits of our resources together--the greater good is served by sharing the costs for such.  (Both of these residents took this position despite the fact that they personally would incur more taxes due to the location of their residences.)

I was so proud of our residents who came together with different interests and perspectives and worked through the issue is a very thoughtful manner.  It was the best of democracy in action.  I and the council are very appreciative of the conversation.  It allowed us to reach a consensus this week to pay for mill and overlay improvements via our tax levy.  Next up: we will need to start long-term planning for paying for the upkeep of all our roads (the cost of mill and overlaying all city roads will exceed $1 million.)  However, MNDOT previously told us that because we have been doing regular crack seal and seal coating of our roads, most of them should last another ten years.  This gives us time to plan for our future needs.