Ramsey seeks bids for 2014 streets maintenance projects

The Ramsey City Council March 25 adopted a list of street improvement projects it would like to tackle this year, assuming bids come in favorably at the April 25 council meeting.

Although the city has set aside $500,000 for preventative maintenance, the most extensive repair work on the worst roads will be delayed until a resolution can be reached on the natural gas and electric franchise fees for roads discussion.

City Administrator Kurt Ulrich said the charter commission will meet April 17 to discuss conceptual charter amendments.

“These maintenance projects we can do, but these other major road reconstruction projects we really need a policy around them as we move forward,” Ulrich said.

This means that Garnet Street and 168th Avenue within the Now and Then Estates neighborhood will not be reconstructed this year, even though City Engineer Bruce Westby has called it one of the worst streets in the city.

In the meantime, the city will focus on overlay, seal coats, and crack seal projects on various streets.

A reconstruction project includes more than pavement replacement. It addresses any problems with the base beneath the road in case there are bad soil conditions. It fixes stormwater drainage problems that can lead to puddles and the road deteriorating more rapidly.

After reconstructions, overlay projects are the next most extensive type of maintenance because it restores the structural integrity of the pavement.

Seal coats consist of sealing the cracks and then the pavement surface to prevent stormwater runoff from stripping oil from the pavement and to prevent the sun from oxidizing the pavement, which both cause pavement to become brittle and crack over time, according to Westby.

Only one overlay project is budgeted for in 2014 on Sunwood Drive just west of Nowthen Boulevard. One of the seal coat projects is on 173rd Avenue between Baugh Street and Nowthen Boulevard. Alpine Drive between Armstrong and Sunfish Lake boulevards will mostly see crack sealing this summer if the council approves a bid April 25, but a portion between Variolite Street and Ramsey Boulevard would get a seal coat.

Crack sealing projects are the least extensive, but help prevent stormwater from getting into and damaging the pavement more rapidly.

Councilmembers Randy Backous and John LeTourneau were absent from the March 25 council meeting. The remaining five elected officials unanimously approved seeking bids for these maintenance projects, but some stated their frustration that they are continuing to push off the needed reconstruction projects.

“This isn’t even a Band-Aid, what we’re proposing to do here,” Councilmember Mark Kuzma said. “Our council is trying to come up with a solution to fix the roads, but right now it’s being addressed to how we’re going to do that. I just want to say I’m frustrated.”

Councilmember Jason Tossey said he is frustrated that the city has not spent the dollars it has already allocated and instead has sought new revenue sources.

“What are we doing?” Tossey asked. “Let’s get these roads done. We have the funding. Let’s do it.”

The city budgeted for $1,327,500 for road improvement projects in 2013 but only spent $454,910. Including $349,619 for engineering staff time on the projects, $522,971 in revenue remained that was transferred to the Public Works Improvement Revolving Fund to be used for future roads projects, according to Finance Director Diana Lund.

Ulrich said later on in the council meeting during his administrator’s report that the goal is to be consistent. The council has said that if it adopts franchise fees, it would get rid of special assessments. Westby has said that special assessments for a road reconstruction project could exceed $10,000 if 50 percent of project costs were assessed.

No residents will be assessed in 2014 for the overlay, seal coating or crack sealing maintenance projects. Prior to 2013, 50 percent of total project costs for overlays were assessed to abutting property owners while seal coat projects were assessed at a declining percentage from 50 percent in 2007 to 15 percent in 2012. These assessments have ranged from hundreds of dollars to over $7,000, according to Westby.

Another funding tool

At its March 11 meeting, the council on a 6-1 vote approved some League of Minnesota Cities 2014 legislative goals.

Kuzma voted no because he opposes the League’s ongoing proposal to allow cities to publish legal notices electronically on their own rather than designate an official newspaper. Kuzma said many small-town newspapers rely on this legal advertising and he supports these papers. The Anoka County UnionHerald is the legal newspaper for the city of Ramsey.

Although Kuzma does support the League’s proposal to allow cities to set up Municipal Street Improvement Districts.

Rep. Ron Erhardt, DFL-Edina, is the chief author of House File No. 745. The bill that cities should be able to either set up citywide districts or smaller districts throughout the city and collect annual fees solely dedicated to street maintenance.

If a council sets up a citywide district, it could annually renew the fees.

If smaller districts are established instead of one large district, property owners in each district would be subject to these new municipal street improvement fees for at least five years and perhaps up to 20 years before the council could reevaluate the program. The money collected in each district would be specifically for that area of the community.

Westby called this an alternative to franchise fees for funding long-terms road needs and similar to the structure of the stormwater and street lights fees the city already includes on utility bills.

It is somewhat similar to special assessments, Westby said, because the city would have to adopt fees for different property classifications such as residential and commercial within a street improvement district.

In the case of the smaller districts, public hearings are required before a plan is adopted. However, the House bill contains no language stating that property owners could counter-petition a project, which the Ramsey city charter allows for special assessment projects.

The House bill allows no special assessment in an area the city sets up one of these street improvement districts.

Westby said if passed, the legislation would only allow cities the option to have Municipal Street Improvement Districts, but would not require it. The bill is broad enough that each community would have the option on how to set it up.

“I’m hoping what we can do is at least put this in our tool box and have a robust discussion later about the pros and cons of it and whether it’s appropriate for our use or not,” LeTourneau said.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]