Wyoming giving citywide street fund one more try

7/24/2014 4:26:00 PM

Wyoming giving citywide street fund one more try

by DENISE MARTIN - Chisago County Press

Wyoming City Council voted 4-1 last week to try again for voter approval to proceed on streetwork with a citywide levy. Voter approval is necessary when a project is being proposed to be covered with less than a 20 percent assessment against benefitting property owners, explained City Attorney Mark Vierling.

The no vote was Linda Nanko-Yeager.

And, just in case voters again defeat the internal funding approach-- council also held a 429 hearing Monday night, before ordering specs for street projects identified as priority in the engineer’s feasibility study. (See map.) The hearing is a mandatory first step for municipalities to charge project costs back through assessments.

November will be the second time Wyoming voters are asked about this. The previous bond issue, using internal funding to service the debt, was defeated in a referendum August 27, 2013. The vote was 549 no to 362 yes.

In a nearly three-hour public hearing last week Wyoming council chambers filled with residents on both sides of a repeat referendum.
Steve Sicheneder’s remarks summed up one side of the debate when he stated, “Let’s move on.” Others accused the council of not accepting the fact “they lost” and questioned if this second authorization is defeated, will there be yet another ballot.

Wyoming policy allows roadwork to be assessed at 20 percent and the city picks up 80 percent. In the Phase One streetwork plan assessing will run about $1,900 for the property owners on the six miles of worst-condition street.

The scope allows for pavement management and maintenance, not constructing brand new roads or major upgrades -- like curb and gutter to a rural segment.
Sicheneder, and at least 10 other residents, pleaded with council to quit their quest for a “painless” way to pay for roads and just get started, using the 20 percent assessment model.

This is pitting people against each other,” Sicheneder concluded.

Lisa Iverson said this inertia (seeking voter okay so as to not directly assess) has to stop. “Council needs to come together as a team...this has grown contentious.”  But, there were just as many people who supported the opposite side of this. They declared when you live in a city your-pride-of place responsibility means contributing to the streets.

Craig Carpenter rents-out four houses. Road maintenance should be a shared expense, he said, it’s like an association fee, where everybody contributes to known future costs. He told council, “My taxes should maintain the roads...” adding, “...obviously somebody who lives on a nice road” doesn’t want to chip in for a deteriorating road, but he said that’s what people in a community do.

Resident Jerry Owen supported offering another vote, noting school districts will put referenda on ballots many times.
Council member Steve Zerwas favors the no-assess approach and wants a second vote, because many can’t afford even 20 percent project assessments. He told the audience, “We looked for what will do the least damage to the taxpayer.”

Wyoming is levying and collecting $500,000 in property tax supporting a road account now. The idea is that this would service the bond debt using $300,000 annually for payments, and the $200,000 will build to the point where the city can almost cash-flow roadwork.

But, Council member Linda Nanko-Yeager said putting away the $200,000 annually (if begun in 2016) would build to $800,000 by 2020--and the engineer has estimated roadwork needs in 2020, in Phase 2, in excess of $1 million.

The city will need to sell more bonds to attack the second phase, she said, plus it would still be paying off the first debt.

She felt residents can afford what the recent study showed: Phase One abutting property owners should expect assessments around $1,900 per property (unit). People get a few years to pay off assessments.

Mayor Eric Peterson responded that spreading the cost citywide, avoiding assessing, gets more miles done, faster. “It’s better than what we have been doing, which is nothing.”
Citizen Ken Anderson asked about the $500,000 account and wondered if it goes away should the internal funding of debt be voted down again.
Mayor Peterson said the city will need that money to cover the city’s 80 percent on roadwork. It isn’t going to disappear he said.
Mayor Peterson stated this shouldn’t be so complicated. You can continue to pay into the $500,000 fund as a city, which taxpayers are already doing. Or, you can pay into the fund which the city will dip into to pay 80 percent of maybe one mile of roadwork a year AND be assessed when it comes time for your street to be done.
The vote will be at the general election.

Whatever the outcome-- it was made clear Wyoming will bond for Phase One work to commence in 2015. The vote determines if it’s paid back assessing or if the half-million becomes a debt service account.

Meanwhile, the council voted 5-0 to prepare specs for Phase One (see map) based on the 429 feasibility report. City Engineer Mark Erichson said construction would commence spring of 2015.

Projects identified come to about $4 million, including fire hydrants and sanitary sewer work that is paid out of the sewer and water fund. Streets alone are about $3 million.