Residents upset with assessments

The city of Blaine is in its third year of a program requiring residents and business owners to contribute to road projects through special assessments.

Several people who came before the Blaine City Council March 21 did not argue that their roads need a bituminous overlay. But they did question why the city did not pick up the whole bill or why it was not addressing traffic problems that would persist after the new road surface is in.

Beth Nelson, who lives in the 9000 block of Terrace Road, said her property values have been going down for five years and 2013 is the first time during this period that her property taxes were finally slated to decrease. She is now facing the $535.05 assessment that each affected residential property owner would have to pay.

John Hartinger owns Suite 300 within the shopping center building at 1250 126th Ave. N.E. He said he will be paying $36,777 in property taxes in 2013 and said his building has “been under siege” because of property taxes and the 125th Avenue (Main Street) and Highway 65 interchange project and Main Street reconstruction.

“Folks, that’s a lot of money and you’re going to hit me again,” Hartinger said.

According to City Engineer Jean Keeley, Hartinger’s assessment would be $2,070.45.

There could be 728 parcels impacted by overlay projects in 2013, which includes residential and commercial properties throughout the city.

This compares with 600 parcels assessed in 2011 and 250 assessed in 2012 for the first two years of the city’s new pavement management program, meant to catch up on road repairs with the assistance of special assessments charged to property owners who front a street being worked on.

Keeley estimates that the entire 2013 overlay project will cost $1,157,255, with about 35 percent of that being paid by assessments. The whole city tax base would pay the remaining 65 percent through the city’s pavement management program budget.

While residential property owners would pay $535.05 for this year’s overlay projects, commercial/industrial property owners would pay $10.70 per front foot.

A couple of people said the past city councils should have set more money aside so that property owners would not have to be assessed today. One resident named Jeremy Flaten, who lives on 91st Avenue, said they are being asked to step up to the plate to fix the problems of the past 20 to 30 years. Hartinger had similar thoughts.

“I’m just sick of it,” Howard Mostad said when expressing his frustration about being taxed for something else.

Mayor Tom Ryan, who is on his 27th year on the council, said if the city would have raised taxes even more on everybody instead of assessing a portion of every project, people would still be upset. Ryan said it is important to keep the roads maintained to delay more expensive road reconstructions.

The council March 21 only ordered city staff to prepare plans and specifications that companies will use to base bids on, which Keeley said the council will see at the second meeting in May. The council could amend the contract up until the day before work starts in July in case it wants to eliminate or modify a portion of the project, she said.

Councilmember Mike Bourke said the council is looking out for its constituents because road bids have been coming in below estimate, so the time is right to get as many projects done as possible.

Ryan said the city will probably never be caught up with road projects because once it works on every road in the city, it will be time to cycle through the process again. He said paying $500 for a project that could lengthen the road life by more than 15 years is a good investment rather than waiting for the road to fall apart and hit residents with a few thousand dollars assessment for a road reconstruction.

This particular project will is add 1.5 inches of bituminous overlay to reinforce the road and mill the edges so the curbs are at the right height. Some curb sections will need more repair.

According to Keeley, roads with cracks would still see eventually see cracks come through, but the city does crack sealing for these areas.

Councilmember Dave Clark said that the fact that the city started the pavement management program two years ago shows the city came to the realization that there needed to be a better long-term plan.

“We do the best we can,” Ryan said.

Linda Sorenson lives just east of Highway 65 on 131st Avenue, which is one of the streets set for an overlay in 2013. Once the overpass went in at 129th Avenue, she noticed a lot more traffic coming through the neighborhood.

She is worried about people’s safety and whether the road will last more than 10 years because of the heavy amounts of traffic.

Sorenson would like the city to evaluate how to improve traffic flow to lessen the number of trips through the neighborhood, she said.

Councilmember Kathy Kolb said she was concerned about how the surrounding neighborhoods would be affected when the overpasses went in, which also happened at 121st Avenue/Paul Parkway, because there are two fewer direct accesses to Highway 65.

Keeley said the city is going to conduct a traffic count and speed study this spring on 131st Avenue to see if stop signs or any other types of safety improvements are warranted.

Another resident who lives on Xylite Street east of the Anoka County-Blaine Airport claimed that semi-trucks are driving down the road, which Ryan said should not be happening. (Note to editor: I left message with Ryan to find out more about this).

Although Councilmember Wes Hovland supported the city progressing with putting together the plans and specifications for these projects and seeking bids, he said the city must look into these traffic issues.

“We simply can’t ignore it because we’re rehashing issues that have come before us time and time again and we simply have not solved the problems,” Hovland said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]