An estimated $7 million street improvement project on the south side of Mandan is moving forward after the city commission decided Tuesday protests by landowners due to the proposed high special assessments were “insufficient” at just under 13 percent.
Although the project is moving forward, members of the commission voiced on more than one occasion that if bids, which are slated for an April letting, come in considerably higher than anticipated, they have the option to reconsider.
“If it came in 20 percent under and it looks really good, that’s fine. If it comes in to a point where it’s at currently, even, or higher, then we can say, ‘Just a minute. Those people down there can’t afford it. We’ll can this one and we’ll look for another option or look for a different way of doing business,’” Commissioner Dennis Rohr said.
The Southside Street Improvement Project includes the reconstruction of roadways, repaving of alleys, curb and gutter repairs, sidewalk improvements to ensure ADA compliance, storm sewer improvements and extension of the sanitary sewer. The replacement of streetlights was considered, too, but is not in the estimate.
The special assessment district lies roughly within the confines of First Avenue Southwest to 13th Avenue Southwest and First Street Southwest to Seventh Street Southwest. In addition to residential property, the district contains land owned by the city, school district, railroad, water resource district and park district, with the latter owning 54 percent.
At the end of the 30-day protest period, 12.8 percent of the area in the special assessment district protested, according to City Engineer Justin Froseth. If you didn’t factor in public lands, the percentage is 35, he said. Another way to examine it is by parcels - 135 of 304 protested, which equates to 44.4 percent.
Had more than 50 percent of the area protested, the project would not have been allowed to proceed, per the North Dakota Century Code.
Approximately 25 citizens, many who questioned the validity of the protest percentages, attended Tuesday’s city commission meeting, where they had the opportunity to voice their concerns in regard to the project.
High specials was a major topic of discussion, as well as the “heavy” use of the neighborhood’s roads by park facility goers. Numerous citizens requested the cost be spread out evenly across the entire city.
John Gartner, who owns property in the special assessment district, said not only is he going to have to pay $9,000 annually in specials, his overall tax bill will increase due to having to pay for a share of the assessments related to the city, school and park district.
“I don’t know how people can afford this,” he said. “I don’t know how any of you guys can sleep at night knowing you’re going to do this to people.”
DeNae Kautzmann, who co-owns and manages three properties in the special assessment district, said she feels a citywide assessment is warranted.
“We have a lot of people down in that area using our roadways,” she said. “I believe the improvements need to be made. But for our little neighborhood to shoulder the costs of this, I think, is unconscionable.”
The Mandan City Commission recently designated $1.5 million in sales tax dollars toward the project, which will cover about 20 percent of the total cost. Should the Operation Prairie Dog bill pass this legislative session, Mayor Tim Helbling said he'd like to see it used as the funding mechanism, rather than the city's sales tax.
To further cut costs, the commission may consider removing the alley work and a portion of the storm sewer improvements from the project.
“I’m completely open to options. To me, the alleys aren’t an absolute necessity,” Commissioner Amber Larson said.
Helbling said he feels the project is necessary to help move the community forward.
“Just imagine if we let all the roadways go completely,” he said. “It’s something that needs to happen to make the community continue to grow and prosper.”
If the project continues to move forward, construction is likely to begin later this year, Froseth said.