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City’s new road assessment policy called into question

Woodbury resident Kim Wilson understands the need for the proposed road rehabilitation project scheduled for her neighborhood in 2016. She’s just not necessarily happy about the way it will be funded.

One of two speakers at the public hearing for the 2016 road rehabilitation project, Wilson cited her opposition through facts and figures before a room full of affected property owners who were in attendance at the Nov. 18 Woodbury City Council meeting. And while council members acknowledged her facts to be true and accurate, the city will still use its one-year-old assessment policy to pay for the improvements in Wilson’s neighborhood.

Due to its large scale, the 2016 road rehabilitation project is being bid as two separate projects, according to Woodbury Principal Engineer Tony Kutzke. The project area includes the residential area east of Wilmes Lake, west of Woodbury Drive, south of Hudson Road, and south of Valley Creek Road, through the entrance of Colby Lake Drive. Another section is along Parkwood Drive and Pouliot Parkway in the west section of the city, and another section of Woodlane Drive, south of Military Road. The final section is along Pioneer Drive, east of Radio Drive, to Interlachen Parkway. 

The general scope of the residential project is pavement surfacing with spot curb repairs, Kutzke said. That portion of the project also includes spot utility repairs on the sanitary sewer system and water main, as well as stormwater quality improvements and spot trail improvements.

The second bid area — which Kutzke said is eligible for funding through Minnesota State Aid dollars, or MSA — includes more major roads, including the Pouliot Parkway and Parkwood Drive section south of Valley Creek Road, and the section of Pioneer Drive from Radio to Interlachen. It also includes the Woodlane Drive section of the project.

Along Pouliot Parkway and Parkwood Drive, work will be done to resurface pavement and make spot curb and utility repairs. The Woodlane Drive project is a full-depth pavement replacement project in which the city plans to add 4-wide-shoulders to the roadway, and lowering two peaks of the road to improve sightlines, Kutzke said. 

The work on Pioneer Drive will be a full road reconstruction project, including construction of a four-lane median-divided road, and a roundabout at the intersection of Pioneer Drive and Interlachen Parkway.

“Due to the existing right-of-way there, and the skewed intersection characteristics, this is a great application for roundabout use, and we have good balance of traffic volumes, and it will allow us to get ped movements through this intersection which do not exist at this current time,” Kutzke said. 

A number of trees in the right-of-way will also be removed and replaced.

Project costs

The project is estimated at about $14.6 million, Kutzke said. Of that, $8.5 million is in the work in the residential area; $780,000 is estimated for the Pouliot Parkway and Parkwood Drive section; the Woodlane Drive project is estimated at $1.6 million on the Woodlane Drive project; and nearly $3.7 million for the Pioneer Drive section.

Of the project costs, about $11.3 million is included for the street reconstruction. The balance, he said, will be brought out between storm sewer, water quality, sanitary sewer and water main improvements.

Funding for the projects will come through a variety of sources, Kutzke said. About $3.7 million will be used from the city’s Street Reconstruction/Maintenance Fund; $3 million will come through the MSA Road Construction Fund, and the Storm Water Utility Fund will account for $1.1 million. Additional dollars will come through the General Fund - Parks and Recreation/Forestry Division, the Watershed District Contribution; and the Water and Sewer Utility Fund.

The bulk of the funding, though, will come through assessments. According to Kutzke, assessments will fund more than $6.1 million of the projects. 

The residential property area includes about 1,600 single family homes, and another 156 multifamily units. The average assessment on the single-family home will be $3,100, while multifamily units will be assessed between $1,100 and $1,700.

Two commercial units are included in this area, as well. Kutzke said those units will be assessed about $6,250 each. 

“These estimated assessments could change. These are the preliminary report estimates, which are estimated costs based on the engineers’ thoughts on what the project might cost. Once the project is designed and goes out for bid, all estimates for the assessments are recalculated, and prior to the assessment hearing, they are finalized with actual bid cost, so these numbers are certainly expected to change,” he said.

The Woodlane Drive assessments are set up on the city’s fee schedule, which bases the assessments on the size of the parcels. Each separate parcel will obtain an assessment based on the schedule; there are some ag property 

Pouliot Parkway and Parkwood Drive homes are multifamily, with high density. The properties there will be assessed vary between $17,000 and $90,000; and the number of units in those parcels vary. The estimated assessment per unit is just less than $400, he said. Assessments on the one commercial property in the area will be about $99,400.

Assessments for the Quarry Ridge area off of Pioneer Drive are a bit unique, because that area is subject to road rehabilitation projects from both 2015 and 2016. The 192 units in Quarry Ridge area going to be assessed approximately $800 for the 2016 project, and $153.80 for the 2015 project. The 2015 piece was for the Interlachen Parkway rehab; the city will do the assessment hearing for both of those projects in the same night, which is why both numbers were included in Kutzke’s presentation. 

Assessments for the commercial properties, which include the YMCA, a school and few businesses, range from $98,000 to $130,000.

An objection

Wilson said she did not object to the work that needs to be done near her home. Rather, she objects to a new policy, enacted in 2014, that sets a “floor” for assessments in these project areas. 

Last year, the city council adopted an adjustment to the special assessment policy, which placed more of the burden for projects on the benefiting property owners. Prior to last year, benefiting property owners were assessed an amount equal to one-third of the project costs, while the city carried the remaining two-thirds of the cost. 

The policy change dictates that benefiting property owners are still assessed one-third of the cost, but when applicable, are also assessed a one-time “floor” fee. Housing of five or more units is exempt from the policy.

By Wilson’s numbers, each single-family unit paid $1,162 more than they would have the year before, and each multifamily housing unit paid $383. In full, she said, the new assessment policy generated a revenue of $1.5 million from the single-family homes, and $36,000 for the multifamily.

“The grand total was $1.6 million of increased revenue by imparting that floor for each homeowner,” Wilson said. 

For 2016, one-third of the cost means homeowners would pay about $1,100, and $682 for the multifamily homes. The floor value increases to $2,474 this year for single-family homes, and for $1,237 for multifamily.

“In essence, the project cost for street and storm in the 2016 residential is $5.9 million, the homeowners are being assessed right over $4 million. The city is paying $1.8 million, of taxpayer dollars, and in 2016, that means that the homeowners are paying 69.2 percent, and the city is paying 30.8 percent,” she said. 

Councilmember Paul Rebholz commended Wilson on the thoroughness of her research but also noted that the amended assessment policy was a necessity to complete all of the work that needs to be done around Woodbury now and in the future. 

“There’s a lot of ways to fund these projects. At the end of the day, whether the city pays for it out of quote ‘city coffers,’ we’re all residents in the community so we’re going to pay that one way or the other. The assessments have gone up, but it was a decision that we made after we studied it with a road task force, and it’s a change that was made after a lot of thought and a lot of discussion,” he said. 

City Engineer Klayton Eckles added that the changes to the assessment policy came only after a Street Rehabilitation Task Force studied a number of alternatives for funding the improvements. 

“If we didn’t have another funding source like assessments, these roads might sit for 10 more years and fall apart and then we’d have a really big job to fix them,” Eckles said. “No matter what, the citizens of Woodbury have to pay for this, whether it be through assessments or through taxes. The task force thought this was the fairest way to go.”

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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