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Scott Neal, February 7, 2012 | Scott Neal
This was the first story I read in today’s paper. I did a TV interview about it with KARE-11 early in the afternoon and just got off the phone with Joe Soucheray’s “Garage Logic” radio show. There’s always lots of loose ends to a story like this. When one media source starts it, we often have to clean it up.
The story leaves the reader with the impression that – out of nowhere – the City zapped an unsuspecting property owner with a big bill that they weren’t expecting. That’s not exactly true. It’s true that the pending special assessment is sizeable, but it’s also true that the City provides at least a year, and typically two years, advance notice that a project is coming to a neighborhood. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s never a surprise – if you’re paying attention.
The other detail of the story that seems to be complicated for us to explain, and therefore complicated for the media to re-explain, is that residents who live along a road that is part of our street reconstruction program do not pay 100% of the costs related to project. The Star-Tribune gives readers the opposite impression.
Here’s the complicated part. Yes, adjacent residents pay for 100% of costs related to replacement of the street. However, the costs of the replacement of the street are not 100% of the project’s total cost. The total cost of the project includes the costs of the gutters, curbs, storm sewer improvements, water utility lines and sanitary sewer lines. Of these non-street related costs, adjacent residents pay 0%. These costs are born by other funding sources, such as the City’s Storm Water Fund, Utility Fund, or other capital funds that have been accumulated over the years from lots of miscelleanous sources.
The mathematical result is that adjacent residents of a project often pay about half of the total project cost and the other half is carried by the City, which in this case, is a proxy for all the other taxpayers/residents in town.
Is that fair? That’s not a question that I can really answer. It’s a question for our elected leaders. At the moment, they are hearing many voices saying it’s not fair. I’m certainly open to other ideas about how to fund these public infrastructure projects, but in the end, we really need to do them. Putting them off because we can’t decide how, or if, to change our funding formula is not good stewardship for our future.