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Assessing the situation in Afton

Since the downtown flood hazard mitigation project discussion initiated, the positives have always been touted– less flooding, better groundwater, better runoff management – but the burdens were the focus of the April 15 City Council meeting.

Nearly two dozen people attended last week’s meeting in an effort to have their voices heard regarding the proposed project, specifically in regards to the assessments.

The flood hazard mitigation project is comprised of several components including roads, sanitary waste, the city’s levee and drainage.

The total cost of the project is expected to be $9 million – $1.9 million for roadway and drainage improvements, $3.4 million for sanitary sewer improvements, $199,000 for sanitary sewer septic removal and $3.5 million for levee improvements.

An additional $6 million is estimated for the County Road 21 improvements.

The majority of the flood hazard mitigation project will come from outside funding sources, such as grants, through both state and county.

State funding, from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Public Facilities Authority and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, will cover $5.4 million of the project.

Washington County’s share of the project is still yet to be determined, since it is currently in the process of planning for the Country Road 21 project, but the contribution is estimated to be in the $6 million range.

Afton will be responsible for covering $3.6 million of the project costs, which will divided up among assessments, $2.16 million, the city’s capital improvement fund, $1 million, and the city’s general fund, $1 million.

As part of the project, Afton’s engineers developed a feasibility report, which was presented to City Council last week, which helped to determine whether or not the project is feasible and cost effective.

Through the feasibility report, the engineers worked with an assessor to determine the maximum assessments for residential and commercial properties in the Old Village.

Assessments were determined by considering zoning, highest and best use, relative locations, onsite improvements and land value and size.

Several residents and business owners spoke during the April 15 public comment portion of the meeting regarding the preliminary assessment numbers.

The preliminary assessments for residential properties range from $11,550 to 13,900 for a 20-year period.

The average assessment is $12,600, which equates to $1,010 annually.

Many of the residents who spoke last week expressed frustration over the fact that the entire city wasn’t being assessed.

Meg Kershbaum, whose mother Elaine lives in the Old Village, said the improvements will benefit the city as a whole because it will increase safety, provide clean water, provide a better downtown, provide better access to roads, bring in increased tourism, give Afton better financial viability and increase jobs.

“These projects should be assessed to the greater community,” she said, “not just the 100 people in the Old Village.”

Other residents mirrored Kershbaum’s sentiments.

“This is one community and we have to act that way,” Deb Nelson said. “The cost that is being borne by the village is a hardship, not only for the businesses but for the residents.”

“We should start acting like a city of one, not a city of two,” David Schmidt said.

The preliminary assessments for small commercial properties range from $13,900 to $55,900 with an average assessment of $23,600, or $1,890 annually.

For large commercial properties, the assessments range from $67,800 to $263,100 with an average of $138,440, or $11,110 annually.

Several people representing Afton’s businesses spoke last week as well.

“People want to know that they’re going to have a job tomorrow,” said Gordy Jarvis, of the Afton House Inn. “I commend you so far on the work you’ve done with it and I have a dream that you people can get it done.”

The business representatives agreed with most everyone that the assessments should be charged citywide.

Following the public comment portion of the meeting, Mayor Dick Bend thanked everyone for their input.

“I guess we feel the weight on our shoulders up here,” he said. “We’re responsible to you and your pocketbooks.

“I hope we can do it too in a way that hurts the fewest people.”

The timeline

Now that Afton City Council has accepted the feasibility report, the city’s engineers can go to work ordering plans and specifications before approving them at the end of May.

The remaining project checklist includes: authorization of advertising for bids, bidding the project, preparing assessments, holding an improvement and assessment hearing in August, awarding the bid and beginning construction.

The estimated construction start date is May of 2016 with construction being completed in June of 2017.

“We are a long way away from final decisions,” Bend said. “We don’t have the information available to make good policy decisions yet.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

(651) 702-0976