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Council Member Linea Palmisano, who represents southwest Minneapolis, said she is open to other ways of paying for roadwork.
“It is something that could deserve a very serious study in the future,” she said. “ … Assessments are hard in general. This is the way we do them currently, but I can see other models that might work better.”
St. Paul levied $2.8 million in street assessments last year — a slight decrease — but that was for reconstruction. The city does not charge property owners extra for resurfacing roads, as Minneapolis does. Officials said the city is considering it, however.
“The streets are failing faster than we can repair them,” said assistant St. Paul engineer Dan Haak. “It’s a huge concern.”
Property owners in some cities are waging fights over assessments with mixed success.
In February, Ramsey County Judge Lezlie Ott Marek ruled in favor of the city of Maplewood after a group of residents challenged the constitutionality of street assessments of $5,000 and $5,800. She wrote in a decision that the increase in home value that would be brought by the project met or exceeded the assessments.
Last year, Rochester lowered assessments for several homeowners after their lawyer threatened to sue the city, claiming that the fees did not correspond to an increase in home values. And Edina changed its policy in 2012 after complaints about fees as high as $22,000, giving property owners longer to pay, cutting interest rates in half, and assuming the cost of sidewalks, trails and lighting connected to the street projects.
In Minneapolis, the city agreed to reduce Wagner’s assessment in February to $107,000 following an appeal. Owners of six other properties appealed in the last three years, and wound up reducing their fee in four of those cases. In February, council members approved a reduction of a $312,930 assessment against Minnetonka Moccasins to nearly half. One appeal brought by Riverland Ag Corp. to contest a $144,195 assessment is still open.
Steve Binenstock said he dropped his appeal of a $6,480 assessment on a rental duplex at Penn Avenue S. after realizing that legal fees, especially if he lost and had to pay for the city’s, would cost another few thousand.
“I was not going to be getting back six-and-a-half thousand dollars in value for the work that was done,” he said. Binenstock also questioned why property owners on heavily traveled Penn Avenue were assessed far more than those on quieter streets nearby.
Size figures into how properties are assessed and commercial buildings are charged more than residential ones. The city inspects pavement condition of streets every three years and develops a list of capital projects based on their age and quality.
One benefit of using special assessments is that the city can collect money from entities that are typically exempt from paying property taxes. In the last three years, the city’s public school system forked over more than anyone else, $633,455, while churches paid $341,237.
Nonprofit Project for Pride in Living faced more than $200,000 in assessments recently. But CFO Jack Katzmark admitted that the roads around its job training facility in southeast Minneapolis needed the work — even though the initial bill made him say “uh-oh.”
“They were necessary improvements, believe me,” he said. “Those streets were in very poor shape.”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210
Twitter • @Mrao_Strib
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