BAXTER -- It's a modest neighborhood when compared to the other upscale housing developments sprouting up throughout the city of Baxter. The majority of the 61 homes on Forest Drive and Fox Drive are single- and double-wide mobile or manufactured homes.
The city wants to improve the roads and extend city sewer to the neighborhood this summer because city officials say there is a high rate of failing septic systems in the neighborhood.
But many residents, most of whom are retired and rely on their monthly Social Security payments to get by, told the Baxter City Council on Tuesday they can't afford to pay for road and sewer improvements that could cost them $10,000 per household, or about one-third the value of some of their properties.
The city council held a preliminary assessment hearing Tuesday to present the estimated costs of the project to residents. The total project cost is estimated at $739,950. With an 8 percent interest rate over a 12-year period, homeowners would have to pay $6,580.33 for sewer improvements and $3,153.10 for the roadway improvements.
You know, you're going to force a lot of people out of their homes and that's not very nice." Berniece Weiss Baxter resident
These costs do not reflect the price homeowners would have to pay to have sewer pipes extended from the roadway to their homes or the cost to remove the old underground septic systems.
Baxter requires homeowners to hook up to city sewer and water within one year after the improvements are made.
As many as 65 percent of individual septic systems in the Forest Drive/Fox Drive area need to be replaced or could potentially be classified as failing septic systems, said City Planner Todd Holman.
"About 6.5 million gallons of sewer are going into the ground in that small area each year," said Holman. "If 65 percent of it isn't being treated well, it is an issue."
Neighbors presented a petition opposing the road and sewer project with about 26 signatures.
"This is a financial hardship for many of us," said Suzanne Kirby, 610 Forest Drive N. "This is money you're taking out of our pockets."
"We're all on a fixed income and any expenses like this would be a burden," said Dennis Ward, 511 Forest Drive N. His wife, Maura, has health problems that require her to receive dialysis three times a week at St. Joseph's Medical Center. A home health care nurse also visits their home three times a week. Ward said he is worried the road construction would make it impossible for him to leave their home to take his wife to her medical appointments.
Jennifer Wilson, assistant pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, said many of her church members live in the Forest Drive/Fox Drive area and are worried about how they're going to find the money to pay for these assessments if the project goes through.
"You know, you're going to force a lot of people out of their homes and that's not very nice," said Berniece Weiss, 640 Fox Place N.
Weiss said she walked around the neighborhood, asking people to sign the petition. She said several people were in tears when they discussed the project, telling her they didn't know what they would do if the project moved forward because they couldn't afford the assessments.
The council decided to table the issue so council members could have time to come up with ideas to resolve the issue.
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