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Objections abound for Willmar street improvement assessments

The Willmar City Council on Monday heard objections from 17 residents regarding the amount they are being assessed for 2022 street improvement projects throughout the city. Objections ranged from being assessed for more linear feet than the actual linear feet of the property to the assessments exceeding the amount by which the property benefits.

Winston Hearn of Duininck digs while looking for utility lines along Charlotte Street SE on Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
Winston Hearn of Duininck Inc. digs while looking for utility lines along Charlotte Street Southeast on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — The Willmar City Council on Monday heard objections from 17 residents regarding the amount they are being assessed for 2022 street improvement projects throughout the city.

Objections ranged from being assessed for more linear feet than the actual linear feet of the property to the assessments exceeding the amount by which the property benefits.

Following the public hearing and some discussion, the council approved, in a split 6-2 vote, a motion to continue the public hearing to the next City Council meeting, which will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, in the Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services building.

A worker uses a road roller to compact new road material deposited along 6th Street SW on Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
A worker uses a road roller to compact new road material deposited along Sixth Street Southwest in Willmar on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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Council members Julie Asmus and Justin Ask voted against the motion. Council members Rick Fagerlie, Tom Butterfield, Michael O’Brien, Vicki Davis, Andrew Plowman and Audrey Nelsen voted in favor.

By doing so, the council has opened the door to allow even more residents to attend the next hearing and make their objections known.

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Asmus noted it would likely be the case across the board that residents feel the assessments exceed the benefit to the property.

“If you’re going to leave the meeting open, then, in my opinion, you would allow people to speak again, which you’ll probably have all 17 of them saying what those (residents) said,” Mayor Marv Calvin said.

“Or 60 more,” Asmus added.

Calvin told the council it has been cautioned about the assessments for street improvements exceeding the benefit to the properties being assessed, and that it should not be a surprise to anybody that residents were objecting.

Nelsen noted that the cost of assessments seemed to be significantly higher than in previous years.

“Where are we at with how this affects the value of the property and the amount that’s allowed?” she asked, noting that if issues apply across the entire project, the city and council need to look at them as a whole.

“With all the concerns, I don’t know how we can proceed,” Fagerlie said. “We’ve never had an assessment hearing like this before.”

Residents' objections regarding their assessments

A commercial property owner, Robert Pierskalla — who owns a triangular, non-buildable lot with no approach on which he places an outdoor advertising sign — is being assessed more than $3,000 for 52 linear feet of property on a street getting an overlay.

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Noting that his property taxes are only $4 per year, he asked the city for a waiver or recalculation, adding that this amount of an assessment is more than 700 years of property taxes and the street improvements add no value to his property.

“It just seems unreasonable,” he said.

Maison Olson of Bolton & Menk Inc. watches as road work is conducted along 6th Street SW in Willmar on Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
Maison Olson of Bolton & Menk watches as road work is conducted Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, along Sixth Street Southwest in Willmar.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

“Minnesota law prohibits the amount of the assessment to exceed the benefit accrued to the property as a result of the improvement,” resident Tyler Waldemarsen said. “In my case, I am currently being charged $11,000.”

He told the council that improvement of property is measured by the increase in the market value of the land due to the improvement, and a special assessment that exceeds the special benefit is a taking of property without fair compensation. This violates both the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution, he added.

“As courts have made clear, the special benefit is the increase in market value of the land as a result of the improvement,” he continued. “In many published and unpublished opinions, the appellate courts have routinely upheld decisions that went against the city because the district court found a lack of adequate evidence of a market value increase equal to or exceeding the amount of the special assessment.”

Former Willmar City Clerk Kevin Halliday objected to the assessment on a rental property he owns.

“We know the final assessment total cannot exceed the value of the improvement of the property, and the final step in setting that total really needs to survive a staff review of benefits,” he said, explaining that his property is not benefiting from any of the street improvement work being done — for which he is being assessed $7,000.

Residents on Sixth Street Southwest asked why another project was occurring on their street when it was torn up in 2008 and they were assessed at that time.

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“The period of time between reconstruction seems to be a bit small,” said Thomas Anderson, who also noted his linear footage is smaller than what he is being assessed.

Anderson also objected to being charged for stormwater improvements that do not benefit his property. “There is no benefit to me at all from that, so I am paying for something I will not be benefiting from, so I object to that part,” Anderson said.

Luverne Stadtherr also objected to being assessed again for Sixth Street Southwest reconstruction.

“We won’t be able to afford that. We’re elderly people; this is supposed to be our retirement home and Social Security just doesn’t cover that kind of increase, so the money is not going to be there. No matter if you put it on the taxes, it’s still going to be a hardship,” he said.

“When I received the letter from the city, I was shocked at the amount,” said Shelly Hedlund, who is being assessed nearly $20,000 and was previously assessed in 2008 for Sixth Street Southwest improvements. “I’m not understanding why we are doing it again in such a short amount of time.”

A diver for Duininck hauls away dirt along Charlotte Street SE road construction in Willmar on Tuesday, August 16, 2022.
A driver for Duininck Inc. hauls away dirt from road construction along Charlotte Street Southeast in Willmar on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Street improvement projects assessment costs

Upon opening the public hearing Monday before the Willmar City Council, city engineer Jared Voge of Bolton & Menk gave a presentation regarding the street improvement projects and the assessments.

Complete street reconstruction took place on 13th Street Southwest from Litchfield Avenue to Trott Avenue; Litchfield Avenue Southwest from 13th Street to approximately 100 feet west of 11th Street; Sixth Street Southwest from 19th Avenue to Willmar Avenue; 17th Avenue Southwest; Charlotte Street Southeast from Johanna Avenue to Becker Avenue; and Industrial Drive Service Road.

Street overlays took place on 19th Street/Lakeland Drive from First Street to Willmar Avenue and on Seventh Street Northwest/County Road 41 from Park Avenue to 15th Avenue.

The total project cost is approximately $9.2 million — of which approximately $3.82 million was for street reconstruction, $1.18 million was for sanitary sewer, $1.18 million was for water mains, $794,000 was for storm sewer, and $2.24 million was for mill and overlay.

Total assessments were approximately $2.4 million. Street reconstruction was assessed at $87.75 per linear foot; sanitary sewer main reconstruction was assessed at $20.75 per linear foot; sanitary sewer service was assessed $720 each; water main reconstruction was assessed at $27.50 per linear foot; one-inch water service was assessed $910 each and six-inch water service was assessed $2,610 each; storm sewer reconstruction was assessed at $18.25 per linear foot; and mill and overlay was assessed at $58.50 per linear foot.

The assessment term is 15 years at a rate of 5.1% and the annual estimated payment if paid over the 15 years is $97 per $1,000 in assessment. However, residents could pay the assessment in full before Oct. 31, 2022, and not be charged any interest. They can also make a partial interest-free payment before that date, and pay the remaining balance in installments.

Assessment payments that are not paid off are collected by Kandiyohi County annually with property property taxes.

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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