Brainerd’s 2011 street projects are in the books, but how to pay for them is another matter.
The Brainerd City Council on Monday held assessment hearings on a handful of items, and lengthy discussion on the bonds being proposed to pay for the projects.
All action, however, was delayed until the Nov. 7 council meeting as a variety of issues came before the council.
The projects in question were the reconstruction of the west frontage road on South Sixth Street, the reconstruction of South Seventh Street from Paul to Vine streets, resurfacing of Northwest Sixth Street from Charles to Washington streets, resurfacing Charles Street from Northwest Eighth to Northwest Third streets, reconstruction and sanitary sewer replacement of Southeast 19th Street, resurfacing of North Second Street from Washington to Ivy streets and South Alley Block 78 construction. There also were assessment hearings for downtown special services and nuisance abatement.
Only one property owner, John Kurtzman, spoke during the assessment hearings. Kurtzman said one of his parcels was valued at $16,000 and the assessment was $6,000, and its not accessible from South Seventh Street.
A motion to hold over the South Seventh Street project to allow staff time to address Kurtzman’s issue failed by a 4-3 vote, with council members Bonnie Cumberland, Lucy Nesheim, Kelly Bevans and Dale Parks against.
City Engineer Jeff Hulsether said if Kurtzman’s assessment was removed, the city would pick up the cost. However, council member Kevin Goedker said it was his recollection that if an assessment is changed, all other property owners would pick up the extra cost.
A motion was made to approve all assessments but Kurtzman’s. Goedker and Nesheim said that they would abstain from voting on the South Sixth Street frontage project, and Nesheim asked that the project be pulled to allow her to vote on all the others. Council President Mary
Koep said she’d like to take each assessment separately. Instead, the motion was withdrawn and a hearing on a sidewalk that wasn’t included Monday would be taken up at the council’s Nov. 7 meeting.
Hulsether said there would be a concern in certifying the assessments to the Crow Wing County auditor-treasurer by the Nov. 30 deadline because property owners are allowed 30 days to prepay all or part of the assessment.
Nesheim said only South Seventh Street should be held. “The rest of the assessments should move forward in a timely manner so it won’t complicate things for all residents,” Nesheim said.
Koep instead instructed staff to work with the auditor-treasurer on the process.
The $1,795,000 bond issue to pay for the projects wasn’t settled Monday, either.
Council member Bob Olson offered a motion for a $1 million bond issue using $795,000 from the construction funds for the projects. His proposal would reduce the overall tax levy on the bonds by about $922,000. The yearly levy would be $54,000 instead of $147,000, he said.
“Whenever we have a chance to lower tax levy for the citizens of Brainerd we should,” Olson said. “We can do it now.”
Olson’s motion died for lack of a second.
Koep said she was puzzled by the entire process and wondered why the city’s financial advisor, Paul Steinman of Springsted, would include a bond sale that would result in raising the city’s levy. Steinman said his only recommendation was to move forward with the sale and he would structure the bonds to what the council was comfortable with.He said he had no dog in the fight.
“All I am trying to do, working through your staff, is to get to an amount of money you need to pay your bills when they come due,” Steinman said.
Nesheim spoke in favor of the $1,795,000 bond issue. She said the amount was necessary to take care of improvements now and into the future.
“To have anything less than this doesn’t save money for our citizens in the long run,” Nesheim said. “It just delays the paying.”
A motion to issue $1,795,000 in bonds failed by a 4-3 vote, with council members Olson, Koep, Goedker and Kelly Bevans voting against.
Olson and Koep said the heart of the issue was the College Drive project, which they said they believed would use funds from the $1,795,000 bond issue when the city in the past said no local funds would be used. Resident Jeff Czeczok shared the same concerns during the assessment hearings.
“I think that’s, unfortunately and, candidly, the elephant in the room,” Koep said.
Olson said council members voting against a $1 million bond issue weren’t representing taxpayers.
“There are some people on the council who want College Drive so badly, that’s where they want to use the $795,000,” that was eliminated from his proposal, Olson said. “They won’t tell you that publicly. It should be put into your pockets, citizens.”
Nesheim responded that when all is said and done, there would only be a $165,000 taxpayer investment on College Drive, a majority of which is being paid for through the use of state aid and federal funds. Koep disagreed, saying the use of state aid means streets in the city won’t be taken care of.
The council, by a 4-3 vote, referred the motion to its Nov. 7 meeting and requested that Steinman speak individually with council members and come up with three proposals for a bond sale. Voting against were Nesheim, Parks and Bevans.