WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council has approved assessments totaling $2,506.55 in unpaid costs for mowing grass and weeds on 14 properties. The city hires contractors to mow grass and weeds in response to complaints about the lack of timely mowing by property owners.
The council takes comments from affected property owners before approving the assessments. The current charges will be assessed for collection in 2013.
Local businessman Bill Graves, owner of a former motel property at 609 Litchfield Ave. S.E., contested the $133.89 charge against the property he bought on Nov. 5, 2011.
Graves said the former owner should be required to pay the charge.
Graves on Tuesday described for the council the calls and steps he thought were reasonable to determine if any assessments were due on the property before he bought it. Graves said he was not complaining about the amount, but said it was the principle of the issue.
City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday said attempts were made to mail two payment notices to the owners of record in August 2011. Halliday said both notices were returned because the former owners did not leave a forwarding address.
Council member Ron Christianson asked Halliday if selling agents typically are aware of unpaid charges. Halliday said the city gets calls all the time. But Halliday said he could not say that the city did not receive a call about this property. He said the city does not document incoming calls from closing companies or abstract companies.
Christianson asked if the process could be changed to make sure these incidents don't happen again.
Halliday said the city wouldn't be chasing potential sales. "They're going to have to come to us with the volume that's out there,'' he said.
Christianson thanked Graves for cleaning up the lot.
"It was a mess until he cleaned it up,'' Christianson said.
Council member Bruce DeBlieck asked City Attorney Robert Scott for an opinion on assessing a charge that occurred under someone else's ownership.
Scott said the city has an ordinance and independent statutory authority to assess unpaid charges. Scott said it's incumbent upon anyone buying property to make the proper inquiries, which he said should be made to the city.
He said the assessment runs with the land and he said imposing the assessment is clearly legal.
The council approved a resolution certifying the unpaid charges to the Kandiyohi County auditor for collection in 2013 property taxes.
In related business, the council held a public hearing and voted to certify $379.26 in unpaid garbage removal costs assessed against a fire-damaged property at 201 Havana St. N.E. for collection in 2013.
Also Tuesday, Willmar Municipal Utilities Commission member Jerry Gesch introduced Wesley Hompe as the new utilities general manager.
Hompe, formerly utility staff electrical engineer, was selected from 23 applicants and was one of two finalists interviewed by the commission and a citizens' panel Aug. 27 to fill the vacant general manager position.
Gesch said Hompe has 22 years of experience, is familiar with Willmar and knows the electric industry. Hompe, who served as interim co-manager, thanked the council, staff and others for their support.
Hompe said the utility is facing changes and retirements and said he hopes to move forward in the right direction.