by Eric Hagen
The Andover City Council Jan. 17 unanimously approved final assessments for two road projects that took place last year.
The projects were to pave a gravel road and reconstruct an already paved road that connects to this gravel road within a neighborhood in northeast Andover.
The gravel road began north of Crosstown Boulevard N.W. as Butternut Street N.W. The road curved through the neighborhood and became 173rd Avenue N.W. and then became Flintwood Street N.W., which then turned into a paved section that was reconstructed when the other road segments were reconstructed.
Paving the gravel road cost $273,713.56, according to City Engineer and Public Works Superintendent David Berkowitz, who led the designs for both of these projects. The property owners are responsible for covering approximately 50 percent of the project costs while the city taxpayers pay for the rest through the road and bridge fund.
One property owner has a parcel so large that it could be subdivided, but they have not done so. Due to this possibility, a deferred assessment was applied to this lot. Interest will accrue for the first 15 years and would begin to depreciate over the following 15 years. If the property is not subdivided within 25 years, the assessment goes away.
The gravel road project assessment is $7,556.08. The 17 assessed property owners can pay the full amount without interest before Feb. 17. If the resident wants to spread out the payments over the maximum 10-year period, the annual payment would be $954.93. The interest rate is 4.5 percent.
Berkowitz informed the residents that they could pay off the remaining balance before 10 years has passed, but interest would accrue to the end of the year, so he recommended residents wait until the end of a given year if they choose not to pay off the entire amount before Feb. 17.
The same pay-out rules apply for the Flintwood reconstruction. This project cost $103,381.48. Because the road was asphalt before, the city’s normal assessment policy was that the city would pay at least 75 percent while benefiting residents would pay the remaining 25 percent.
In this case, the city paid for 76.64 percent of the project, which totaled $79,232.68. The six residents have an assessment of $4,024.80. At a previous meeting, the council promised the residents on the north half of Flintwood that there would be a ceiling on how much they were assessed if the project bid came in higher than the engineer’s estimate. The ceiling was 4 percent over the estimate. If not for this council pledge, the assessment per lot would have been $4,227.66.
The annual payment would be $508.65 should a resident in this project area choose to take 10 years to pay off the principal and interest.
Resident raises concerns
The council held public hearings on these projects last year, but this final public hearing was required so residents could ask questions or raise concerns before the elected officials approved the final assessment.
Doug Asfaly, who lives on the portion of Flintwood Street that used to be gravel, questioned why he was paying for culvert replacements below a few other driveways in the project area when his 30-year-old culvert was not replaced. He claimed that his culvert was plugged.
“I’m thinking I shouldn’t have to pay as much money as someone who did get a new culvert,” Asfaly said.
There were three or four residents who did not get a new culvert, he said.
Berkowitz told the Anoka County Union during a Jan. 26 interview that an inspector following up on Asfaly’s concerns found the city had cleaned his culvert and added extensions on the south end of the culvert and the city ditched 52 lineal feet to make sure the drainage would work. Berkowitz said if silt is in the culvert, the city would clean it out to make sure the whole neighborhood drainage system works.
Mayor Mike Gamache told Asfaly during the Jan. 17 council meeting the city’s philosophy is to split the costs evenly between all properties because as Berkowitz said, the entire drainage area is looked at to make sure there is proper drainage from the roadway.
“Our policy is that we are fixing the entire roadway and that includes the entire drainage system, so in doing that everyone shares the cost,” Gamache said. “Whether it was done on your property or on your neighbor’s property it still affects the entire flow of the water…”
According to Councilmember Julie Trude, the city is paying for approximately 50 percent of the costs of paving the gravel road. The city’s old policy, which was changed when the council was discussing this specific project, was that residents living along gravel roads would pay 100 percent of the costs of paving the road.
The thought process was developers and eventually the people who bought the homes had to pay for the paved roads in front of their home at some point, so it would only be fair that residents who paid less to live by a gravel road would pay the whole costs when the road was paved. However, a resident living on the north half of Flintwood Street questioned during a public hearing last year why the city would reconstruct his street, but not pave the gravel road he has to drive on to get to his paved street.
The council agreed that the time was right to pave this gravel road and changed the city’s assessment policy to entice the residents along the gravel road to petition for this project.
Trude said that the city would spend more time on accounting than engineering if it specifically determined assessments for each lot based on what improvements were in front of their property.
She said the council would sit in a meeting for five hours for road projects if it was analyzing whose mailbox was moved or who has a wider driveway.
“All of us want to spend public funds and your funds as cautiously as necessary…” Trude said. “There’s a substantial public subsidy.”
Asfaly told Trude that she sits there for five hours because she chose to do so.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org