Janesville City Council’s typically quiet and brief meetings turned into a nearly two-hour session Monday, as nearly three zone residents showed up for a public hearing on the city’s upcoming streets projects.
The project is part of the city’s comprehensive plan which has been developed over the past few months. The estimated cost could hit close to $2 million and includes sewer, water and street improvements on East 3rd Street from Main Street to East Teal Street and North Market Street to North Street.
But it was the city’s assessment policy which brought several to the hearing and council meeting to voice criticism.
Janesville’s assessment policy, used to fund the infrastructure improvements, is basically a 70-30 split, with property owners directly abutting the respective projects carrying the brunt of the costs.
Jason Femrite, project engineer from Bolton & Menk, provided a “final assessment roll” for the 2018 street and utility improvements. The East 3rd Street project affects only seven property owners at an estimated cost of $493,175.
Of that total, the city’s cost is expected to be $296,900; assessments to property owners is set at $127,243.
In the more comprehensive North Market and East Allyn work, the total cost is estimated at $1,452,500. That split is set at $839,500 to the city and $359,766 in assessments to property owners.
But several Janesville residents argued that the city’s assessment policy and eventual tax burden is excessive. Paul Arnoldt, who lives on North Market Street, has voiced his displeasure on several occassions and on Monday suggested the city’s assessment policy violates state law.
“I’ve tried to be a positive part of the process,” Arnoldt told city officials, “and stressed the need for fairness. I want this project to be the best it can be. But it appears as if my concerns have fallen on deaf ears.”
Arnoldt cited guidelines from the Minnesota League of Cities and suggested that “constitutionally, statutory and case laws have been violated.”
“I believe the City Council should table the final assessment roll,” Arnold said.
But the council voted 5-0 after the hourlong hearing to approve the $2 million street improvement project.
Arnoldt hinted during and after the meeting that the city’s assessment plan could be headed toward a lawsuit.
Another Janesville property owners, Steven Mayo, also voiced criticism at the project costs and assessments. He told city officials he’s already paid over $50,000 after two past incidents which caused backup into his basement but received just $20,000 in insurance coverage.
“It’s cost me $50,000 to fix my house and now I’m going to be assessed to fix the problem,” Mayo said. “We’ve already paid our money.”
Seniors can defer assessments
City Administrator Clinton Rogers reminded those in attendance that property owners 65 and older can submit a request to defer their assessments for up to 30 years. Property owners that can establish “an inability to pay” may also request the deferment, Rogers added.
Others in attendance did applaud the city for moving forward on infrastructure improvements which have been long delayed.
Bill Adams, superintendent of the Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton school district which is being impacted by the pending street improvements and construction disruptions, said he was “sympathetic” to the burden placed on affected property owners. But he also praised the city for moving forward on needed improvements.
“I appreciate the efforts of the city to try and take care of some of these issues,” Adams said.
And family members of Harriet Fox told city officials they are “very, very happy that we’re fixing these problems” and not burdening elderly property owners like their mother. Fox would be eligible for the 65-older deferment plan, with the assessments only due either when the house is sold or after 30 years.
That situation likely moves the repayment to the next generation of family members.
November 15, according to Rogers, is the deadline to file for an assessment deferment.
Project construction is expected to begin sometime in May and continue through the summer.