City council approves $1.6M west side project
MORRIS – The Morris City Council voted to move forward with a $1.6 million construction project on Morris' west side and took the first step towards changing the way road improvement projects are paid for at their meeting on Tuesday.
The low bid for the improvement project on West Ninth, 10th and 11th Streets was from Breitbach Construction of Elrosa, Minn.
In accepting the bid and approving the project, council also voted to change the city's assessment policy, upping the assessment for roads to 30 percent and increasing the assessment for storm sewers from 50 percent to 75 percent.
Without these assessment increases, City Manager Blaine Hill and members of the council argued that the city will not be able to keep up with needed street improvement projects without raising taxes nearly 10 percent each year.
“You cannot afford to keep doing the work that needs to be done if you're going to be raising tax levies by that much money,” said Hill.
The project will affect all residents living on West Ninth, 10th, and 11th Streets between Pacific Avenue and Park Avenue and residents of Idaho Avenue and Nevada Avenue between West 9th and Park Avenue.
The planned road reconstruction project will include reconstructing streets and repairing or replacing water mains, sanitary sewer lines, storm sewers, curb and gutter and sidewalks.
When the project was first presented to homeowners last October, Hill proposed upping the assessment on streets from nothing to 75 percent. That, coupled with a a higher project cost, meant homeowners were initially looking at a $10,000 to $15,000 assessment on a 50' lot.
During the first presentation, homeowners expressed frustration that they may be asked to pay such a high percentage for the project when other property owners had not.
Rather than immediately increasing the assessment, council members and Hill expressed support for taking a tiered approach, increasing the assessments by a small percentage on each project.
On Tuesday, Hill said his goal is to ultimately assess 75 percent for roads.
“We have to look at it every year, but the idea is we're going to transition it,” said Hill.
The final assessments for this project are estimated at $9,500 and $10,000 per property. The additional assessment for 30 percent of the cost of the road will be about $2,000 per property, Hill said.
In total, the city will assess homeowners 30 percent of the cost of pavement; 75 percent of the cost of water, sanitary sewers and storm sewers; and 100 of the cost of curbs, gutters and sidewalks.
The only strong opposition to the project voiced at Tuesday's meeting came from former city manager Ed Larson, who argued that the city should continue with the same policy – to not assess affected property owners for road improvements – and slow down the pace of construction to what the city can afford to do.
“Maybe the city needs to step back and say 'Yeah, we need to do these projects but we can't sustain these things every year,'” Larson said.
“We couldn't afford, as a city, to keep up with what needed to be fixed so now we're sitting here with everything failing,” responded Hill. “What are we going to do? We have to do this to start catching up. That's the bottom line.”
“You have to start somewhere,” added council member Brian Solvie. “If you're going to make the stand that the city isn't going to pay for the streets and we're going to assess them, you have to start somewhere. If you don't, you never will and then you'll pay for every improvement with your taxes.”
The final assessment amounts will be determined near the end of the project once all of the project costs are finalized and reviewed at a final assessment hearing, Hill said.
Homeowners will have the option to pay off the assessment immediately, or spread it out over 15 years at an interest rate of approximately 4 percent.
• The council agreed to issue $6 million in bonds on behalf of Service Options for Seniors and St. Francis Health Services. The city carries no liability for the bonds and is simply acting as a conduit for the financing.
• The council accepted a donation from the Morris Kiwanis Club for a new piece of equipment for the spray park at Pomme de Terre Park. Under the agreement, the city will purchase and install the new equipment and the Kiwanis will reimburse the city over the next three years.