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Council rejects assessment on lots

By Staff | Nov 15, 2011

City council rejected the proposed “infill assessment” for unimproved properties that are fronted by city utilities but not hooked in to the system.

It was a near unanimous decision, with only Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz supporting the proposal, which would have reduced scheduled water and sewer rate increases to zero over the next two years.

Rates are scheduled to increase 5.5 percent next year and 3.5 percent the following year.

Chulakes-Leetz said it was time for non-ratepayers to finally kick in and be part of the solution.

Councilman Kevin McGrail disagreed, calling the infill proposal the “Ghost of Christmas Past” because lot owners would be charged again although they paid infrastructure assessments previously.

“Moving forward with this is going to be counterproductive we need to restart the utilities. Why do we keep ignoring the obvious answer?” McGrail asked.

The new assessment, or “capacity reservation fee” would have affected some 16,000 properties. The fee would have, in essence, advanced the impact fee portion of the utility assessment previously due when the property was developed and so “impacted” the city-owned water and sewer plants.

The assessments already levied on these properties were to pay for pipes in the ground, lift stations and other improvements to make the properties utility ready.

The new assessment would have equated to $5,136 per lot in District 1, and $6,750 per lot in District 2.

Councilman Marty McClain said the city is going to need to adjust how it views the North Reverse Osmosis Plant; instead of a burden that’s being shouldered by the ratepayers, McClain said the city needs to look at the plant as an asset, one that could be paid off if every property owner in the city paid a onetime fee of $900.

Like a taxpayer who pays for a service they may not use, the city as a whole could benefit from paying off the debt of the plant, he said.

“Everyone in the city is paying for dredging even if you don’t live on the water,” McClain said.

Mayor John Sullivan was still worried that the city would end up owning an inordinate amount of lots once owners decided the assessment was higher than the value of the lots themselves.

“This could turn out to be the exact opposite of where we’re trying to go I’m not willing to roll the dice with the ratepayers’ money,” Sullivan said.

Had the proposal been approved, lot owners would have had the chance to finance the assessment over a 20 year period.

Of the new council members, District 5 council woman Rana Erbrick was the most verbal about the proposal, saying she wasn’t in favor of it now, or while on the campaign trail.

The proposal was denied with a 7 1 vote, with Chris Chulakes-Leetz the sole council person in favor of moving forward, or delaying the decision for a couple of weeks.

In other business, city council voted to amend capital expansion fees for redeveloped properties.

Water and irrigation fees were decreased while wastewater fees were increased.

Utilities Director Jeff Pearson said the fee adjustment allows the city to recapture some of the debt on the existing facility in the north.

Councilmember Kevin McGrail said the city now has a clear idea of the rates.

“We now have clarity on what it costs to create the water and treat the water,” McGrail added.