BAXTER — Has the economy recovered far enough that Baxter residents are willing to take on the full cost of street assessments or should the city look at an interim fix for now?
Baxter City Council members gathered in a work session Monday night to look at its five-year financial plan. A major player in the plan comes with street improvements. On one hand, street improvements may help fuel economic development and provide construction jobs. On the other hand, residents who have been struggling to make ends meet with the new economic realities may have trouble paying an assessment of tens of thousands of dollars. That sticker shock had city officials considering a bevy of options, including waiting to put in utilities until the recovery has traveled farther down its own road.
For residents, the decision could be whether they are willing to wait for city services if the option is perhaps $4,000 for an 2-inch overlay, or an assessment of $14,000 if the city tax levy dollars were used to offset costs, or pay a full $25,000 to $30,000 for the new street and services. A full update on Woida Road with connecting residential streets of Wildflower and Franklin could cost $2.8 million. If the city used the tax levy, perhaps $706,828 of it to keep assessments lower, residents may have a special assessment of $14,000.
Council member Rob Moser noted the Great Recession’s lingering effects.
“I think we’d have a difficult time with $14,000,” Moser said. “We still need to buy some time. It’s just going to take some more time.
“We’re still recovering from the recession. ... I’m just saying I think it would be a tough sell.”
Council member Jim Klein said people may not like the $14,000 but he doesn’t think it will get any cheaper. Staff questioned whether it may be time to change the city’s assessment policy that puts 100 percent of the cost to the property owner. Klein said he didn’t think the city would change it. Mayor Darrel Olson reminded Klein the $14,000 was a subsidized number. Olson said he doubted the economy was ready to take on a full reconstruction street costs.
For Woida Road, a well-traveled street in Baxter, a full project could put in a 40-foot roadway with bike lanes with curb and gutter, extend water and put in sewer like Inglewood. The commercial district is already served by sewer. Or a bare-bones plan could put down a new layer of bituminous pavement that may not last more than a year before cracking. As an intermediate step, the existing pavement could be removed, the street graded and a new layer of pavement put down without widening the street that may last five, 10 or even 15 years.
As for the road’s design, Klein said. “We don’t need bikeways. We don’t need four-lane roads.”
Capping the residential assessment was a choice for Clearwater Road, another main street in the city that leads to Whipple Beach. Olson said with Clearwater as a main collector route and well-traveled path to the park and beach, assisting on the assessment seemed justifiable. Breaking from that pattern for less traveled residential streets would be a change in policy. Monday, staff was looking for direction on what information to gather and what to tell residents when they call for information. Council member Todd Holman asked staff to come up with defined recommendations, independent of the varying views of the council and then let them hash out the policy.
Other streets on the city’s short list for consideration at Monday’s session included: Cypress Drive, Isle Drive, Wildflower and Franklin. Klein said his top priorities were Woida Road and Isle Drive. Moser concurred on Isle but said an interim fix may work for Woida now, noting when that main street is redone it should include a trail.
The council then met in a closed session to discuss the contested annexation of the Dondelinger property with the city attorney. The council then adjourned without additional discussion.